By Jeff Ziegler
Since 1968, the Church has marked Jan. 1 as the World Day of Peace. The commemoration gives Pope Benedict XVI an opportunity to hone in on what he sees as the key areas that need to be addressed to promote world peace.
In this year's message, the pope warns that humanity is experiencing "great division and sharp conflicts which cast dark shadows on its future."
He focuses on the family as the key vehicle for peacemaking. Not only does this mean promoting policies protecting the nuclear family, he says, but also efforts to create a greater sense that all human beings are part of a global family.
"The first form of communion between persons is that born of the love of a man and a woman who decide to enter into a stable union in order to build together a new family," he said. "But the people of the earth, too, are called to build relationships of solidarity and cooperation among themselves, as befits members of the one human family."
Below we highlight the key points of the pope's message.
Over the past year in the United States and around the world, the institution of the family has come under increas_ing pressure from various legislative initiatives, not the least of which same-sex "marriage."
But the pope said that because the family is the "primary living cell of society," any such attack on the nuclear family "threatens the very foundations of peace."
"This point merits special reflection: everything that serves to weaken the family based on the marriage of a man and a woman, everything that directly or indirectly stands in the way of its openness to the responsible acceptance of a new life, everything that obstructs its right to be primarily responsible for the education of its children, constitutes an objective obstacle on the road to peace," he said.
When society and public policy don't work to ensure that all families have homes, employment, possibility of schooling for children and basic health care, "they deprive themselves of an essential resource in the service of peace," he said.
Just as a family has a "home," the human family has the earth as "our common home," the pope said. He said mankind has to pull together to protect and cultivate the environment because "the problems looming on the horizon are complex and time is short."
He warned against forms of exaggerated environmentalism that see the environment and animal life as "more important than man." And he cautioned about "ideological pressure to draw hasty conclusions" about the state of the environment and how best to protect it. Some analysts saw in his words a subtle reference to over-heated rhetoric on global warming.
The pope said more international agencies might need to be created to coordinate the environmental action of the world's nations.
And he stressed that stewardship of the world's energy resources was an area of particular concern. Wealthier countries should re-examine their "high levels of consumption" and invest more capital in seeking alternative and more efficient energy sources.
Pope Benedict said the prospect of a growing number of countries acquiring nuclear weapons "causes well-founded apprehension in every responsible person," especially given the sharp conflicts that still rage.
At least nine countries possess nuclear weapons. News reports over the last year highlighted international suspicion that Iran, too, is seeking to join the "nuclear club."
"At a time when the process of nuclear nonproliferation is at a standstill," the pope said, "I feel bound to entreat those in authority to resume with greater determination negotiations for a progressive and mutually agreed dismantling of existing nuclear weapons."
But the pope also expressed concern over conventional weapons, evidence of a new arms race, and the profiteering associated with it. Even some developing countries are spending a large portion of the gross domestic product on weapons.
"It is truly necessary for all persons of good will to come together to reach concrete agreements aimed at effective demilitarization," he said.
Jeff Ziegler writes from North Carolina.
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