VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Welcoming in the new year at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI said a world suffering from wars and terrorism can find peace only through respect for human dignity and human rights.
The pope celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Jan. 1, which the church marks as World Peace Day, and quoted from his peace day message that was sent to governments around the globe. The theme of the message this year was “The Human Person, the Heart of Peace.”
In order for peace agreements to last, the pope said, they must be based on respect for the dignity of the human being created by God. This dignity is the foundation of peace and cannot be viewed as something subject to popular opinion or negotiations between parties, he said.
He urged the international community to make greater efforts to ensure that “in the name of God a world is built in which essential human rights are respected by all.”
Every Christian has a special vocation as a peacemaker, he said.
“Faced with threats to peace, unfortunately always present, and situations of injustice and violence that continue to persist in various regions of the world, faced with continuing armed conflicts often forgotten by the vast public opinion and the danger of terrorism that disturbs the serenity of peoples, it becomes more necessary than ever to work together for peace,” he said.
Speaking afterward from his apartment window above St. Peter’s Square, the pope returned to the theme of his peace day message, saying the value of the human person is the key to lasting peace.
“Today one talks a lot about human rights, but it is often forgotten that they need a firm foundation, not a relative one, not one subject to opinion,” he said.
“And this foundation can only be human dignity. Respect for this dignity begins with the recognition and protection of the person’s right to live and to freely profess his religion,” he said.
The pope offered a prayer to Mary for increased respect for human dignity and for the “firm repudiation of war and violence.”
On Dec. 31, the feast of the Holy Family, the pope prayed at his noon blessing for all families, especially those in difficulty.
“May they know how to resist the disunifying pressures of a certain contemporary culture that undermines the very foundations of the family institution,” he said.
Later the same day, the pope presided over a prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica to give thanksgiving at the end of the year. He said he wanted to offer particular thanks to Mary for the “special protection” she gave him during his pilgrimage to Turkey a month earlier.
The pope also reflected on New Year’s Eve celebrations, a few hours before Rome exploded in its annual midnight frenzy of fireworks and “spumante.”
Such festivities are common social rituals, the pope said, but are often experienced as “an evasion of reality, as if to exorcise the negative aspects and invoke improbable fortunes.”
The Christian approach to the end of the year should be far different, he said. Like Mary, the mother of God, the Christian community should be keeping its gaze fixed on the baby Jesus, he said.
The pope then paid an evening visit to the Vatican’s own Nativity scene, a tall structure erected in the middle of St. Peter’s Square. After kneeling in the square to pray, he was helped up inside the replica of the grotto of Bethlehem for a close-up view of the larger-then-life statues.