Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Vatican City

Diplomats Urged To Help Iraq Establish Democracy

By JOHN THAVIS, CNS | Published January 15, 2004

In his annual “state of the world” address to diplomats, Pope John Paul II urged the international community to help Iraqis “retake the reins” of their country and establish a democracy that reflects their aspirations.

The pope’s comments Jan. 12 looked beyond his own strong opposition to the war in Iraq and focused instead on the present challenges after the fall of former President Saddam Hussein’s regime.

“The numerous steps taken by the Holy See to avoid the painful conflict in Iraq are well known,” the pope told more than 100 ambassadors accredited to the Holy See.

“What is important today is that the international community help the Iraqis so that they are able to retake the reins of their country and democratically determine a political and economic system consistent with their aspirations,” he said.

The pope skipped over a phrase in his written text emphasizing that Iraqis had been “relieved of a regime that was oppressing them.”

The 83-year-old pontiff, whose speaking capability has been impaired by a neurological disorder, dropped numerous phrases and sections of his French-language text. The printed text is considered official by the Vatican and was distributed to the diplomats.

Seated on a mobile throne in the Sala Regia, an ornate ceremonial room at the Vatican, the pope listened to a tribute from the dean of the diplomatic corps and then read his speech slowly and deliberately.

He told the ambassadors that he was communicating to the world through them and that he felt especially close to the many people suffering from armed conflict, poverty, epidemics and injustice.

At the beginning of 2004, he said, peace is threatened in too many places around the globe.

In his written text, the pope had specific comments about international terrorism, which he said was spreading fear, hatred and fanaticism, and “doing dishonor to all the causes it pretends to serve.”

Any civilization worthy of the name must categorically refuse to have anything to do with violence and must never allow violence to “hold peace hostage,” he said.

“More than ever, there is an urgent need to come back to a more effective collective security which gives to the United Nations its proper place and role,” the papal text said.

“More than ever, it is necessary to learn the lessons of the distant and recent past. In any case, one thing is certain: War does not resolve conflicts between peoples,” it said.

The pope said the conflict in the Holy Land continued to destabilize the entire Middle East and to visit “unspeakable sufferings” upon the Israeli and Palestinian populations.

“I will never tire of telling the leaders of these two peoples: The choice of violence, the recourse, on one side, to terrorism, and on the other side to reprisals, the humiliation of the adversary, hateful propaganda, all lead nowhere,” the pope said in his written text.

He said that reaching a just settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will require the “concrete involvement of the international community.”

The pope also highlighted the continuing bloodshed in parts of Africa, where he said the impact on civilian populations has been dramatic. The conflicts have been fueled in part by the burgeoning weapons trade, he said.

“Along with the direct effects of violence, there is also the impoverishment and deterioration of the institutional fabric, plunging whole populations into despair,” he said.

He paid tribute to the slain papal nuncio in Burundi, Archbishop Michael Courtney, who was gunned down by assailants in late December. The archbishop was serving the cause of peace and dialogue, the pope said.

Pope John Paul also turned his attention to Europe, saying that efforts to marginalize the church and its public voice had endangered religious liberty in some countries.

He said it was proper to speak of the distinction between religion and politics and between church and state, but that did not mean religion was to be excluded from the “public space.”

As he has done repeatedly, the pope criticized European leaders for proposing a European constitution that made no mention of Christianity’s formative role on the continent—including areas of education, human rights and social services.