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The definitive option for or against God — Hell

Learn a lesson from the Demons: A Follow up on the 1999 catechesis series on the reality of heaven, hell, and purgatory by Pope John Paul II. This installment: The Reality of Hell And The Danger of Damnation… [General Audience, Wednesday, 28 July 1999].

 “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell’” (CCC n. 1033).

1. God is the infinitely good and merciful Father. But man, called to respond to him freely, can unfortunately choose to reject his love and forgiveness once and for all, thus separating himself for ever from joyful communion with him. It is precisely this tragic situation that Christian doctrine explains when it speaks of eternal damnation or hell. It is not a punishment imposed externally by God but a development of premises already set by people in this life. The very dimension of unhappiness which this obscure condition brings can in a certain way be sensed in the light of some of the terrible experiences we have suffered which, as is commonly said, make life “hell”.

In a theological sense however, hell is something else: it is the ultimate consequence of sin itself, which turns against the person who committed it. It is the state of those who definitively reject the Father’s mercy, even at the last moment of their life.

Hell is a state of eternal damnation

2. To describe this reality Sacred Scripture uses a symbolical language which will gradually be explained. In the Old Testament the condition of the dead had not yet been fully disclosed by Revelation. Moreover it was thought that the dead were amassed in Sheol, a land of darkness (cf. Ez. 28:8; 31:14; Jb. 10:21f.; 38:17; Ps 30:10; 88:7, 13), a pit from which one cannot reascend (cf. Jb. 7:9), a place in which it is impossible to praise God (cf. Is 38:18; Ps 6:6).

The New Testament sheds new light on the condition of the dead, proclaiming above all that Christ by his Resurrection conquered death and extended his liberating power to the kingdom of the dead.

Redemption nevertheless remains an offer of salvation which it is up to people to accept freely. This is why they will all be judged “by what they [have done]” (Rv 20:13). By using images, the New Testament presents the place destined for evildoers as a fiery furnace, where people will “weep and gnash their teeth” (Mt 13:42; cf. 25:30, 41), or like Gehenna with its “unquenchable fire” (Mk 9:43). All this is narrated in the parable of the rich man, which explains that hell is a place of eternal suffering, with no possibility of return, nor of the alleviation of pain (cf. Lk. 16:19-3 1).

The Book of Revelation also figuratively portrays in a “pool of fire” those who exclude themselves from the book of life, thus meeting with a “second death” (Rv. 20:13f.). Whoever continues to be closed to the Gospel is therefore preparing for ‘eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thes 1:9).

3. The images of hell that Sacred Scripture presents to us must be correctly interpreted. They show the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. Rather* than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy. This is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the truths of faith on this subject: “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell'” (n. 1033).

“Eternal damnation”, therefore, is not attributed to God’s initiative because in his merciful love he can only desire the salvation of the beings he created. In reality, it is the creature who closes himself to his love. Damnation consists precisely in definitive separation from God, freely chosen by the human person and confirmed with death that seals his choice for ever. God’s judgement ratifies this state.

We are saved from going to hell by Jesus who conquered Satan

4. Christian faith teaches that in taking the risk of saying “yes” or “no”, which marks the human creature’s freedom, some have already said no. They are the spiritual creatures that rebelled against God’s love and are called demons (cf. Fourth Lateran Council, DS 800-801). What happened to them is a warning to us: it is a continuous call to avoid the tragedy which leads to sin and to conform our life to that of Jesus who lived his life with a “yes” to God.

Eternal damnation remains a real possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it. The thought of hell — and even less the improper use of biblical images — must not create anxiety or despair, but is a necessary and healthy reminder of freedom within the proclamation that the risen Jesus has conquered Satan, giving us the, Spirit of God who makes us cry “Abba, Father!” (Rm. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).

This prospect, rich in hope, prevails in Christian proclamation. It is effectively reflected in the liturgical tradition of the Church, as the words of the Roman Canon attest: “Father, accept this offering from your whole family … save us from final damnation, and count us among those you have chosen”.

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Satisfying that deepest human longing — Heaven

Reread this 1999 catechesis on the reality of heaven by Pope John Paul II last night before bed. Think, supreme and definitive happiness…

“Heaven is the transcendent dwelling-place of the living God…” Pope John Paul II

1. When the form of this world has passed away, those who have welcomed God into their lives and have sincerely opened themselves to his love, at least at the moment of death, will enjoy that fullness of communion with God which is the goal of human life.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “this perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed is called “heaven’. Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfilment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (n.1024).

Today we will try to understand the biblical meaning of “heaven”, in order to have a better understanding of the reality to which this expression refers.

2. In biblical language “heaven””, when it is joined to the “earth”, indicates part of the universe. Scripture says about creation: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gn 1:1).

Heaven is the transcendent dwelling-place of the living God

Metaphorically speaking, heaven is understood as the dwelling-place of God, who is thus distinguished from human beings (cf. Ps 104:2f.; 115:16; Is 66:1). He sees and judges from the heights of heaven (cf. Ps 113:4-9) and comes down when he is called upon (cf. Ps 18:9, 10; 144:5). However the biblical metaphor makes it clear that God does not identify himself with heaven, nor can he be contained in it (cf. 1 Kgs 8:27); and this is true, even though in some passages of the First Book of the Maccabees “Heaven” is simply one of God’s names (1 Mc 3:18, 19, 50, 60; 4:24, 55).

The depiction of heaven as the transcendent dwelling-place of the living God is joined with that of the place to which believers, through grace, can also ascend, as we see in the Old Testament accounts of Enoch (cf. Gn 5:24) and Elijah (cf. 2 Kgs 2:11). Thus heaven becomes an image of life in God. In this sense Jesus speaks of a “reward in heaven” (Mt 5:12) and urges people to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (ibid., 6:20; cf. 19:21).

3. The New Testament amplifies the idea of heaven in relation to the mystery of Christ. To show that the Redeemer’s sacrifice acquires perfect and definitive value, the Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus “passed through the heavens” (Heb 4:14), and “entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself” (ibid., 9:24). Since believers are loved in a special way by the Father, they are raised with Christ and made citizens of heaven. It is worthwhile listening to what the Apostle Paul tells us about this in a very powerful text: “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:4-7). The fatherhood of God, who is rich in mercy, is experienced by creatures through the love of God’s crucified and risen Son, who sits in heaven on the right hand of the Father as Lord.

4. After the course of our earthly life, participation in complete intimacy with the Father thus comes through our insertion into Christ’s paschal mystery. St Paul emphasizes our meeting with Christ in heaven at the end of time with a vivid spatial image: “Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thes 4:17-18).

Sacramental life is anticipation of heaven

In the context of Revelation, we know that the “heaven” or “happiness” in which we will find ourselves is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is our meeting with the Father which takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit.

It is always necessary to maintain a certain restraint in describing these “ultimate realities” since their depiction is always unsatisfactory. Today, personalist language is better suited to describing the state of happiness and peace we will enjoy in our definitive communion with God.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums up the Church’s teaching on this truth: “By his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has “opened’ heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ. He makes partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will. Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ” (n. 1026).

5. This final state, however, can be anticipated in some way today in sacramental life, whose centre is the Eucharist, and in the gift of self through fraternal charity. If we are able to enjoy properly the good things that the Lord showers upon us every day, we will already have begun to experience that joy and peace which one day will be completely ours. We know that on this earth everything is subject to limits, but the thought of the “ultimate” realities helps us to live better the “penultimate” realities. We know that as we pass through this world we are called to seek “the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1), in order to be with him in the eschatological fulfilment, when the Spirit will fully reconcile with the Father “all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (Col 1:20).

Pope Benedict XVI Homily on Solemnity of Mary: Lack of Hope In Life Is the “Dark” Evil of Modern Society

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As this year is also ending, we are gathered in the Vatican Basilica to celebrate First Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God. The liturgy makes this important Marian feast coincide with the end and the beginning of the solar year. Our hymn of gratitude for 2007 which is drawing to a close and for 2008 which we are already glimpsing is therefore combined with contemplation of the mystery of the divine motherhood. Time passes and its inexorable passing induces us to raise our gaze in deep gratitude to the One who is eternal, to the Lord of time. Let us thank him together, dear brothers and sisters, on behalf of the entire diocesan community of Rome. I address my greeting to each one of you. In the first place, I greet the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishops, the priests and consecrated persons as well as all the lay faithful who are gathered here. I greet Mr Mayor and the Authorities present, and I extend my thoughts to the entire population of Rome and in a special way to all those in conditions of difficulty and hardship. I assure them all of my cordial closeness, strengthened by constant remembrance in prayer.

In the short Reading from the Letter to the Galatians that we have just heard, speaking of the liberation of man brought about by God with the mystery of the Incarnation, St Paul very discreetly mentions the One through whom the Son of God entered the world: “when the time had fully come”, he wrote, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Gal 4: 4). The Church contemplates in the “woman” the features of Mary of Nazareth, a unique woman because she was called to carry out a mission that brought her into very close contact with Christ: indeed, it was an absolutely unique relationship, because Mary is Mother of the Saviour. Just as obviously, however, we can and must affirm that she is our Mother because, by living her very special maternal relationship with the Son, she shared in his mission for us and for the salvation of all people. In contemplating her, the Church makes out her own features: Mary lives faith and charity; Mary is also a creature saved by the one Saviour; Mary collaborates in the initiative of the salvation of all humanity. Thus, Mary constitutes for the Church her truest image: she in whom the Ecclesial Community must continually discover the authentic sense of its own vocation and its own mystery.

This short but intense Pauline passage then continues, showing how the fact that the Son assumed human nature unfolds the perspective of a radical change of the actual human condition. Paul says in it that “God sent forth his Son… to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4: 4-5). The Incarnate Word transforms human life from within, sharing with us his being as Son of the Father. He became like us in order for us to become like him: children of the Son, hence, people free from the law of sin. Is this not a fundamental reason to raise our thanksgiving to God? A thanksgiving which can only be even more motivated at the end of a year, considering the many benefits and his constant assistance that we have experienced over the period of the past 12 months. This is why every Christian community gathers together this evening and sings the Te Deum, a traditional hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the Most Holy Trinity. This is what we shall also do at the end of this liturgical meeting of ours, before the Most Blessed Sacrament.

As we sing we will pray: “Te ergo, quæsumus, tuis famulis subveni, quos pretioso sanguine redemisti: Come then, Lord, and help your people, bought with the price of your own blood”. This is our prayer this evening: Come with your mercy, Lord, to the aid of the inhabitants of our City in which, as elsewhere, serious needs and poverty weigh on the lives of people and families, preventing them from looking with trust to the future. Many, especially young people, are attracted by a false exaltation or rather, by the profanation of the body and the trivialization of sexuality; so it is difficult to list the many challenges bound up with consumerism and secularism which call into question believers and people of good will. To say it in a word, in Rome one also notes that lack of hope and trust in life that constitutes the “obscure” evil of modern Western society.

But if the deficiencies are evident, there is no lack of light and reasons for hope on which to implore special divine blessings. Precisely in this perspective, in singing the Te Deum we shall pray: “Salvum fac populum tuum, Domine, et benedic hereditati tuæ – Save your people, Lord, and bless your inheritance”. O Lord, look upon and protect the diocesan community in particular, committed on the educational front to responding ever more vigorously to that great “educational emergency” of which I spoke last 11 June when I met the participants in the diocesan convention, or in other words, the increasing difficulty encountered in transmitting the basic values of life and upright conduct to the new generations (cf. Address to the Diocese of Rome Convention, 11 June 2007; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 20 June, p. 3). Let us calmly and with patient trust face this emergency first of all in the context of the family. Moreover, it is certainly comforting to note that the work undertaken in recent years by parishes, movements and associations for the pastoral care of the family is continuing to develop and bear fruit.

Also protect, Lord, the missionary initiatives which involve the world of youth: they are increasing and there are now an important number of young people who are assuming responsibility and the joy of proclamation and Gospel witness in the first person. In this context, how can we fail to thank God for the precious pastoral service offered to the world by the Roman universities? It would be appropriate to start something similar in schools, despite the numerous difficulties.

Bless, Lord, the many young men and adults who in recent decades have been ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Rome. At the present time there are 28 deacons who are awaiting priestly ordination, scheduled for next April. Thus, the average age of the clergy is rejuvenated and it is also possible to respond to the increase in pastoral needs, such as going to the help of other dioceses. Especially in the suburbs, the need for new parish complexes is growing, and there are eight currently under construction, after I myself had the pleasure not long ago of consecrating the one most recently completed: the Parish of Santa Maria del Rosario ai Martiri Portuensi. It is lovely to be able to tangibly feel the joy and gratitude of the inhabitants of a neighbourhood as they enter their own new church for the first time.

“In te, Domine, speravi: non confundar in æternum – Lord, show us your love and mercy; for we put our trust in you”. The majestic hymn of the Te Deum ends with this cry of faith, of total trust in God, with this solemn proclamation of our hope. Christ is our “trustworthy” hope, and to this theme I dedicated my recent Encyclical entitled Spe Salvi. But our hope is always essentially also hope for others, and only thus is it truly hope for each one of us (cf. n. 48). Dear brothers and sisters of the Church of Rome, let us ask the Lord to make each one of us authentic leaven of hope in our various milieus, so that it will be possible to build a better future for the whole city. This is my wish for everyone on the eve of a New Year, a wish that I entrust to the motherly intercession of Mary, Mother of God and Star of Hope. Amen!

© Copyright 2007 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Pope Benedict XVI’s State of the World Address – Full Text

Monday, 7 January 2008jj2.jpg

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I extend cordial greetings to your Dean, Ambassador Giovanni Galassi, and I thank him for the kind words that he has addressed to me in the name of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. To each of you I offer respectful greetings, particularly to those who are present at this meeting for the first time. Through you, I express my fervent prayers for the peoples and governments that you represent with such dignity and competence. Your community suffered a bereavement some weeks ago: the Ambassador of France, Monsieur Bernard Kessedjian, ended his earthly pilgrimage; may the Lord welcome him into his peace! My thoughts today go especially to the nations that have yet to establish diplomatic relations with the Holy See: they too have a place in the Pope’s heart. The Church is profoundly convinced that humanity is a family, as I wanted to emphasize in this year’s World Day of Peace Message.

2. It was in a family spirit that diplomatic relations were established last year with the United Arab Emirates. In the same spirit, I was also able to visit certain countries that I hold dear. The enthusiastic welcome that I received from the Brazilians continues to warm my heart! In that country, I had the joy of meeting the representatives of the great family of the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean, gathered at Aparecida for the Fifth General Conference of CELAM. In the economic and social sphere, I was able to note eloquent signs of hope for that continent, as well as certain reasons for concern. We all look forward to seeing increasing cooperation among the peoples of Latin America, and, within each of the countries that make up that continent, the resolution of internal conflicts, leading to a consensus on the great values inspired by the Gospel. I wish to mention Cuba, which is preparing to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the visit of my venerable Predecessor. Pope John Paul II was received with affection by the authorities and by the people, and he encouraged all Cubans to work together for a better future. I should like to reiterate this message of hope, which has lost none of its relevance.

3. My thoughts and prayers are directed especially towards the peoples affected by appalling natural disasters. I am thinking of the hurricanes and floods which have devastated certain regions of Mexico and Central America, as well as countries in Africa and Asia, especially Bangladesh, and parts of Oceania; mention must also be made of the great fires. The Cardinal Secretary of State, who went to Peru at the end of August, brought me a first-hand account of the destruction and havoc caused by the terrible earthquake, but he spoke also of the courage and faith of the peoples affected. In the face of tragic events of this kind, a strong joint effort is needed. As I wrote in my Encyclical on hope, “the true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both for the individual and for society” (Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi, 38).

4. The international community continues to be deeply concerned about the Middle East. I am glad that the Annapolis Conference pointed towards the abandonment of partisan or unilateral solutions, in favour of a global approach respectful of the rights and legitimate interests of all the peoples of the region. I appeal once more to the Israelis and the Palestinians to concentrate their energies on the implementation of commitments made on that occasion, and to expedite the process that has happily been restarted. Moreover, I invite the international community to give strong support to these two peoples and to understand their respective sufferings and fears. Who can remain unmoved by the plight of Lebanon, amid its trials and all the violence that continues to shake that beloved country? It is my earnest wish that the Lebanese people will be able to decide freely on their future and I ask the Lord to enlighten them, beginning with the leaders of public life, so that, putting aside particular interests, they will be ready to pledge themselves to the path of dialogue and reconciliation. Only in this way will the country be able to progress in stability and to become once more an example of the peaceful coexistence of different communities. In Iraq too, reconciliation is urgently needed! At present, terrorist attacks, threats and violence continue, especially against the Christian community, and the news which arrived yesterday confirms our concern; it is clear that certain difficult political issues remain unresolved. In this context, an appropriate constitutional reform will need to safeguard the rights of minorities. Important humanitarian aid is necessary for the peoples affected by the war; I am thinking especially of displaced persons within the country and refugees who have fled abroad, among whom there are many Christians. I invite the international community to be generous towards them and towards their host countries, whose capacities to absorb them have been sorely tested. I should also like to express my support for continued and uninterrupted pursuit of the path of diplomacy in order to resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme, by negotiating in good faith, adopting measures designed to increase transparency and mutual trust, and always taking account of the authentic needs of peoples and the common good of the human family.

5. Turning our gaze now towards the whole of Asia, I should like to draw your attention to some other crisis situations, first of all to Pakistan, which has suffered from serious violence in recent months. I hope that all political and social forces will commit themselves to building a peaceful society, respectful of the rights of all. In Afghanistan, in addition to violence, there are other serious social problems, such as the production of drugs; greater support should be given to efforts for development, and even more intensive work is required in order to build a serene future. In Sri Lanka it is no longer possible to postpone further the decisive efforts needed to remedy the immense sufferings caused by the continuing conflict. And I ask the Lord to grant that in Myanmar, with the support of the international community, a season of dialogue between the Government and the opposition will begin, ensuring true respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

6. Turning now to Africa, I should like first of all to reiterate my deep anguish, on observing that hope seems almost vanquished by the menacing sequence of hunger and death that is unfolding in Darfur. With all my heart I pray that the joint operation of the United Nations and the African Union, whose mission has just begun, will bring aid and comfort to the suffering populations. The peace process in the Democratic Republic of Congo is encountering strong resistance in the vicinity of the Great Lakes, especially in the Eastern regions, while Somalia, particularly Mogadishu, continues to be afflicted by violence and poverty. I appeal to the parties in conflict to cease their military operations, to facilitate the movement of humanitarian aid and to respect civilians. In recent days Kenya has experienced an abrupt outbreak of violence. I join the Bishops in their appeal made on 2 January, inviting all the inhabitants, especially political leaders, to seek a peaceful solution through dialogue, based on justice and fraternity. The Catholic Church is not indifferent to the cries of pain that rise up from these regions. She makes her own the pleas for help made by refugees and displaced persons, and she pledges herself to foster reconciliation, justice and peace. This year, Ethiopia is marking the start of the third Christian millennium, and I am sure that the celebrations organized for this occasion will also help to recall the immense social and apostolic work carried out by Christians in Africa.

7. And finally, focussing upon Europe, I rejoice at the progress that has been made in various countries of the Balkan region, and I express once again the hope that the definitive status of Kosovo will take account of the legitimate claims of the parties involved and will guarantee security and respect for the rights of all the inhabitants of this land, so that the spectre of violence will be definitively removed and European stability strengthened. I should like also to mention Cyprus, recalling with joy the visit of His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos II last June. It is my earnest wish that, in the context of the European Union, no effort will be spared in the search for a solution to a crisis that has already lasted too long. Last September, I made a visit to Austria, partly in order to underline the essential contribution that the Catholic Church is able and willing to give to European unification. On the subject of Europe, I would like to assure you that I am following attentively the new phase which began with the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon. This step gives a boost to the process of building the “European home”, which “will be a good place to live for everyone only if it is built on a solid cultural and moral foundation of common values drawn from our history and our traditions” (Meeting with the Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps, Vienna, 7 September 2007) and if it does not deny its Christian roots.

8. From this rapid overview it appears clearly that the security and stability of the world are still fragile. The factors of concern are varied, yet they all bear witness to the fact that human freedom is not absolute, but is a good that is shared, one for which all must assume responsibility. It follows that law and order are guarantees of freedom. Yet law can be an effective force for peace only if its foundations remain solidly anchored in natural law, given by the Creator. This is another reason why God can never be excluded from the horizon of man or of history. God’s name is a name of justice, it represents an urgent appeal for peace.

9. This realization could help, among other things, to give direction to initiatives for intercultural and inter-religious dialogue. These ever increasing initiatives can foster cooperation on matters of mutual interest, such as the dignity of the human person, the search for the common good, peace-building and development. In this regard, the Holy See attaches particular importance to its participation in high-level dialogue on understanding among religions and cultures and cooperation for peace, within the framework of the 62nd General Assembly of the United Nations (4-5 October 2007). In order to be true, this dialogue must be clear, avoiding relativism and syncretism, while at the same time it must be marked by sincere respect for others and by a spirit of reconciliation and fraternity. The Catholic Church is deeply committed to this goal. It is a pleasure for me to recall once again the letter that was addressed to me, on 13 October last, by 138 Muslim Religious Leaders, and to renew my gratitude for the noble sentiments which were expressed in it.

10. Our society has rightly enshrined the greatness and dignity of the human person in various declarations of rights, formulated in the wake of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted exactly sixty years ago. That solemn act, in the words of Pope Paul VI, was one of the greatest achievements of the United Nations. In every continent the Catholic Church strives to ensure that human rights are not only proclaimed but put into practice. It is to be hoped that agencies created for the defence and promotion of human rights will devote all their energies to this task and, in particular, that the Human Rights Council will be able to meet the expectations generated by its creation.

11. The Holy See for its part never tires of reaffirming these principles and rights, founded on what is essential and permanent in the human person. The Church willingly undertakes this service to the true dignity of human persons, created in the image of God. And on the basis of these considerations, I cannot but deplore once again the continual attacks perpetrated on every continent against human life. I would like to recall, together with many men and women dedicated to research and science, that the new frontiers reached in bioethics do not require us to choose between science and morality: rather, they oblige us to a moral use of science. On the other hand, recalling the appeal made by Pope John Paul II on the occasion of the Jubilee Year 2000, I rejoice that on 18 December last the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution calling upon States to institute a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, and I earnestly hope that this initiative will lead to public debate on the sacred character of human life. I regret, once again, the disturbing threats to the integrity of the family, founded on the marriage of a man and a woman. Political leaders, of whatever kind, should defend this fundamental institution, the basic cell of society. What more should be said? Even religious freedom, “an essential requirement of the dignity of every person [and] a cornerstone of the structure of human rights” (Message for the 1988 World Day of Peace, Preamble) is often undermined. There are many places where this right cannot be fully exercised. The Holy See defends it, demands that it be universally respected, and views with concern discrimination against Christians and against the followers of other religions.

12. Peace cannot be a mere word or a vain aspiration. Peace is a commitment and a manner of life which demands that the legitimate aspirations of all should be satisfied, such as access to food, water and energy, to medicine and technology, or indeed the monitoring of climate change. Only in this way can we build the future of humanity; only in this way can we facilitate an integral development valid for today and tomorrow. With a particularly felicitous expression, Pope Paul VI stressed forty years ago in his Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, that “development is the new name for peace”. Hence, in order to consolidate peace, the positive macroeconomic results achieved by many developing countries during 2007 must be supported by effective social policies and by the implementation of aid commitments by rich countries.

13. Finally, I wish to urge the international community to make a global commitment on security. A joint effort on the part of States to implement all the obligations undertaken and to prevent terrorists from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction would undoubtedly strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime and make it more effective. I welcome the agreement reached on the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, and I encourage the adoption of suitable measures for the reduction of conventional weapons and for dealing with the humanitarian problems caused by cluster munitions.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

14. Diplomacy is, in a certain sense, the art of hope. It lives from hope and seeks to discern even its most tenuous signs. Diplomacy must give hope. The celebration of Christmas reminds us each year that, when God became a little child, Hope came to live in our world, in the heart of the human family. Today this certainty becomes a prayer: May God open the hearts of those who govern the family of peoples to the Hope that never disappoints! With these sentiments, I offer to each one of you my very best wishes, so that you, your staff, and the peoples you represent may be enlightened by the Grace and Peace which come to us from the Child of Bethlehem.

© Copyright 2008 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana