VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI urged nations to protect religious freedom, the environment and the family in a speech to five new ambassadors to the Vatican.
The pope welcomed the diplomats from Sudan, Burundi, Pakistan, Estonia and Iceland June 1 as they presented him with their credentials.
While Catholics are a minority in the countries the ambassadors represent, the pope said the church promotes a “spirit of fraternal collaboration” among all people and is “anxious to pay witness to the Gospel.”
People must never be discriminated against or marginalized because of their beliefs or religious traditions, he said, emphasizing that the freedom of religion is one of humanity’s “essential rights” that needs to be protected.
True religious beliefs “cannot be a source of division or violence,” he said. On the contrary, they are “the foundation of a conscience that (regards) all people (as) brothers and sisters to protect and help thrive,” said the pope.
The pope appealed to nations to not exploit the resources of poorer countries “with impunity” and asked that poorer countries be able to “have their share of world growth.”
Wealthier nations are especially called to help work for a more equitable distribution of the world’s resources, he said.
In his address to Iceland’s ambassador to the Vatican, Stefan Larus Stefansson, the pope praised the country for making significant contributions to peace and development around the world. He said protecting the environment and promoting sustainable development would have a positive impact on creating peace among peoples.
While “the world’s resources are limited … the duty to implement policies to prevent the destruction of that natural capital is not always observed,” he said.
“Any irresponsible exploitation” and hoarding of resources “reflect an inhumane concept of development,” said the pope.
In his address to Juri Seilenthal, the new Estonian ambassador to the Vatican, the pope reminded him that the health of a community “depends in no small measure on the health of its families.”
He said governments need to support families because it is in the family that “the young are trained in goodness, generosity, forgiveness and fraternal concern for others, and given a sense of personal responsibility for building a world of freedom, solidarity and hope.”
Speaking to Burundi’s new ambassador to the Vatican, Domitille Barancira, the pope honored the life of the late Archbishop Michael A. Courtney, the Vatican nuncio assassinated in her country in December 2003.
The pope expressed his hopes that authorities would be able to “shed light on the assassination” and bring those responsible for the killing to justice.
Burundi is slowly emerging from the aftermath of deadly ethnic violence between Hutu and Tutsi factions, and the pope praised the country’s attempts “to cure the wounds of war with the balm of forgiveness” based on justice.
In his address to Ahmed Hamid Elfaki Hamid of Sudan, the pope urged the African nation to end its military campaign against the region of Darfur and implement a political solution that respects the country’s minorities.
He said “the force of weapons” could not put an end to “this deadly conflict.”
The only “viable solution” that would bring peace is one based on justice, dialogue and negotiation “in order to arrive at a political solution to the conflict in respect of cultural, ethnic and religious minorities,” the pope said.
In his address to Ayesha Riyaz, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan’s new ambassador to the Vatican, the pope praised Pakistan’s multilateral efforts aimed at bringing “greater stability to your region and to protect innocent lives from the threats of terrorism and violence.”
Democracy guarantees the freedom to publicly express different political views but in such a way that “civil order is maintained and social harmony protected and fostered,” the pope said.
He noted Pakistan’s recent electoral reforms “aimed at facilitating the full participation of all citizens,” including minorities, and he praised recent legislation “aimed at eliminating unjust forms of prejudice and discrimination against women.”
“During an era in which threats against religious freedom are becoming more ominous throughout the world,” the pope urged Pakistan to protect the rights of minorities “to live, worship and perform works of charity,” and to safeguard them from intimidation and “acts of violence.”