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Humanity's four urgent challenges: life, food, peace, freedom

on Saturday, 01 January 2005. Posted in Pope John Paul II

Pope's annual address to diplomatic corps

Life, food, peace and freedom are the four urgent challenges now facing humanity, according to John Paul II. The Pope highlighted these challenges in a full analysis of the international situation, during his traditional new-year meeting, on January 10, 2005, with ambassadors of the 174 countries that have full diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Here are excerpts from this important address:

In my Message for this year's World Day of Peace, I called the attention of the Catholic faithful and of all men and women of good will to the exhortation of the Apostle Paul: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good": vince in bono malum (Rom 12:21)... This is the message – "overcome evil with good" - which I would like to address today to your Excellencies, and through you to the beloved peoples whom you represent and to your Governments. This message also has a specific application to international relations, and it can be a guide to all in meeting the great challenges facing humanity today. Here I would like to point out some of the more significant ones:

The first is the challenge of life. Life is the first gift which God has given us, it is the first resource which man can enjoy. The Church is called to proclaim "the Gospel of Life". And the State has as its primary task precisely the safeguarding and promotion of human life.

The challenge to life has grown in scale and urgency in recent years. It has involved particularly the beginning of human life, when human beings are at their weakest and most in need of protection. Conflicting views have been put forward regarding abortion, assisted procreation, the use of human embryonic stem cells for scientific research, and cloning. The Church's position, supported by reason and science, is clear: the human embryo is a subject identical to the human being which will be born at the term of its development. Consequently whatever violates the integrity and the dignity of the embryo is ethically inadmissible. Similarly, any form of scientific research which treats the embryo merely as a laboratory specimen is unworthy of man. Scientific research in the field of genetics needs to be encouraged and promoted, but, like every other human activity, it can never be exempt from moral imperatives; research using adult stem cells, moreover, offers the promise of considerable success.

The challenge to life has also emerged with regard to the very sanctuary of life: the family. Today the family is often threatened by social and cultural pressures which tend to undermine its stability; but in some countries the family is also threatened by legislation which - at times directly - challenge its natural structure, which is and must necessarily be that of a union between a man and a woman founded on marriage.

The family, as a fruitful source of life and a fundamental and irreplaceable condition for the happiness of the individual spouses, for the raising of children and for the well-being of society, and indeed for the material prosperity of the nation, must never be undermined by laws based on a narrow and unnatural vision of man. There needs to prevail a just, pure and elevated understanding of human love, which finds in the family its primordial and exemplary expression. Vince in bono malum.

The second challenge is that of food. This world, made wondrously fruitful by its Creator, possesses a sufficient quantity and variety of food for all its inhabitants, now and in the future. Yet the statistics on world hunger are dramatic: hundreds of millions of

human beings are suffering from grave malnutrition, and each year millions of children die of hunger or its effects. (...)

In this regard, I would like to recall an important principle of the Church's social teaching, to which I once again made reference in my Message for this year's World Day of Peace and included in the recently-published Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church: the principle of the universal destination of the earth's goods. While this principle cannot be used to justify collectivist forms of economic policy, it should serve to advance a radical commitment to justice and a more attentive and determined display of solidarity. This is the good which can overcome the evil of hunger and unjust poverty. Vince in bono malum.


There is also the challenge of peace. As a supreme good and the condition for attaining many other essential goods, peace is the dream of every generation. Yet how many wars and armed conflicts continue to take place – between States, ethnic groups, peoples and groups living in the same territory. From one end of the world to the other, they are claiming countless innocent victims and spawning so many other evils! Our thoughts naturally turn to different countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where recourse to arms and violence has not only led to incalculable material damage, but also fomented hatred and increased the causes of tension, thereby adding to the difficulty of finding and implementing solutions capable of reconciling the legitimate interests of all the parties involved. In addition to these tragic evils there is the brutal, inhuman phenomenon of terrorism, a scourge which has taken on a global dimension unknown to previous generations. (...)

Bringing about an authentic and lasting peace in this violence-filled world calls for a power of peace that does not shrink before difficulties. It is a power that human beings on their own cannot obtain or preserve: it is a gift from God. Christ came to bring this gift to mankind, as the angels sang above the manger in Bethlehem: "peace among men with whom he is pleased" (Lk 2:14). God loves mankind, and he wants peace for all men and women. We are asked to be active instruments of that peace, and to overcome evil with good. Vince in bono malum.

There is another challenge that I wish to mention: the challenge of freedom. All of you know how important this is to me, especially because of the history of my native people, yet it is also important to each of you. In your service as diplomats you are rightly concerned to protect the freedom of the peoples you represent, and you are diligent in defending that freedom. Yet freedom is first and foremost a right of each individual. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights fittingly states in Article 1 - "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights". Article 3 goes on to state that "everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person". Certainly the freedom of States is also sacred; they need to be free, above all so that they can carry out adequately their fundamental duty of safeguarding both the life and the freedom of their citizens in all their legitimate manifestations.

Freedom is a great good, because only by freedom can human beings find fulfilment in a manner befitting their nature. Freedom is like light: it enables one to choose responsibly his proper goals and the right means of achieving them. At the very heart of human freedom is the right to religious freedom, since it deals with man's most fundamental relationship: his relationship with God. Religious freedom is expressly guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (cf. Article 18). It was also the subject - as all of you are well aware - of a solemn Declaration of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, one which began with the significant words Dignitatis Humanae.

In many States, freedom of religion is a right which is not yet sufficiently or adequately recognized. Yet the yearning for freedom of religion cannot be suppressed: as long as human beings are alive, it will always be present and pressing. Consequently I repeat today an appeal which the Church has already made on numerous occasions: "It is necessary that religious freedom be everywhere provided with an effective constitutional guarantee, and that respect be shown for the high duty and right of man freely to lead his religious life in society" (Dignitatis Humanae, 15).

There need be no fear that legitimate religious freedom would limit other freedoms or be injurious to the life of civil society. On the contrary: together with religious freedom, all other freedoms develop and thrive, inasmuch as freedom is an indivisible good, the prerogative of the human person and his dignity. Neither should there be a fear that religious freedom, once granted to the Catholic Church, would intrude upon the realm of political freedom and the competencies proper to the State: the Church is able carefully to distinguish, as she must, what belongs to Caesar from what belongs to God (cf. Mt 22:21). She actively cooperates in promoting the common good of society, inasmuch as she repudiates falsehood and educates to truth, she condemns hatred and contempt, and she calls for a spirit of brotherhood; always and everywhere she encourages - as history clearly shows - works of charity, science and the arts. She asks only for freedom, so that she can effectively cooperate with all public and private institutions concerned with the good of mankind. True freedom always aims at overcoming evil with good. Vince in bono malum.

John Paul II


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