In a comprehensive survey of the global scene, Pope Benedict XVI has warned that the world’s future is at stake and greater efforts must be made to reduce global poverty, end regional conflicts, and restore ethics to global financial systems.

The Pope addressed diplomats from 177 countries, all accredited to the Holy See, Jan. 8 in the ornate Sala Regia Hall at the Vatican. It was the final Vatican ceremony for Mary Ann Glendon, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, who vacated her post Jan. 19. The embassy, which this year marks the 25th anniversary of formal U.S.-Holy See relations, has not yet announced a replacement.

The Pope gave his address, despite suffering from a cold. A Vatican source said the Holy Father had lost his voice the night before, and there was some concern he wasn’t going to be able to read his speech. In the end, he managed to do so — and in flawless French.

He told them, “Today more than in the past, our future is at stake, as well as the fate of our planet and its inhabitants, especially the younger generation, which is inheriting a severely compromised economic system and social fabric.”

Benedict observed that despite so many efforts, “the peace we so desire still remains distant.” He called for the “redoubling” of efforts in “security and development” and urged governments to respond firmly to a recent wave of anti-Christian violence and discrimination in countries such as India and Iraq. Government leaders, he said, must commit themselves “to ending intolerance and acts of harassment directed against Christians,” make reparations, and outlaw “all forms of hatred and contempt.”

In his speech, which has become known as his “state of the world” address — a kind of papal commentary on foreign policy — he reiterated his deep concern for global poverty and stressed that “to build peace we must give new hope to the poor.” In the current “sensitive phase of the history of humanity,” he said, moral and ethical principles are crucial to improving the condition of millions of people living in precarious situations.

He remembered those suffering from the current global economic crisis and noted that the number of poor people is increasing, even within rich countries.

Part of the solution would be to implement a system of ethics “based on the innate dignity of the human person” — a difficult but not impossible task, he said. He also referred to the food crisis and global warming, highlighting that it is “even more difficult” for those living in some of the poorest parts of the planet to have access to nutrition and water.

The Pope decried terrorist attacks around the world but found hopeful signs in places such as the Philippines, where the government and rebels have opened new negotiations. He also called for an effective strategy to fight hunger and promote local agricultural development, along with a reduction in military spending, which he said diverts enormous resources away from development projects.

The Pope said it was particularly important that countries protect religious freedom with legislation in line with international norms — not only in Asia but also in all Western societies.

But it was his comments on the Middle East that garnered most public attention. Pope Benedict appealed for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and the resumption of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, with the support of the international community. The current violence, he said, has provoked “immense damage and suffering for the civilian population.”

“Once again, I would repeat that military options are no solution and that violence, wherever it comes from and whatever form it takes, must be firmly condemned,” he said, adding that both sides should agree to “the rejection of hatred, acts of provocation and the use of arms.”

Upcoming regional elections, he went on, would be crucial in choosing leaders who can lead their people to reconciliation. (Israel, Iran and the Palestinian Authority are expected to go to the polls in the coming months.)

He encouraged Iraqis to “turn the page” and rebuild their country without discrimination on the basis of race, ethnic group or religion. He said Iran was also important to regional and global peace, and he encouraged “tireless efforts” to negotiate a solution to the country’s nuclear program.

The Pope then looked ahead to his visit to Cameroon and Angola in March and said he was praying that Africans could build peace by fighting moral and material poverty. He said he was especially concerned about the plight of child refugees in Africa and the “critical” socioeconomic situation in Zimbabwe, but he noted a “glimmer of hope” in Burundi, which has signed a recent peace agreement.

He also referred to hopeful signs in Latin America, both in terms of cooperation with the Holy See and government efforts to crack down on the drug trade.

In conclusion, he stressed “the poorest human beings are unborn children,” and he drew attention to others who suffer from poverty: “the infirm, the elderly left to themselves, broken families, and those lacking points of reference.”

“Poverty is fought if humanity becomes more fraternal as a result of shared values and ideals, founded on the dignity of the person, on freedom joined to responsibility, on the effective recognition of the place of God in the life of man,” he said.

Speaking to the Register after the address, British Ambassador to the Holy See Francis Campbell praised the speech for being “a comprehensive tour de monde” with many new themes introduced.

“It is a very substantial contribution to the current debate,” he said, “and is consistent with previous ones: It is very detailed and covers all the main points — there is not a region left out.”

Edward Pentin writes

from Rome.