Pope’s speech deplores “culture of death”


VATICAN CITY, Reuters


Pope John Paul, in his Christmas message to the world, said on Monday that a pervasive “culture of death” threatened the future and he also condemned the violence against Christians in Indonesia.

The 80-year-old Pope, looking exceptionally tired, made his comments in his twice-yearly “Urbi et Orbi” (To the City and the World) message from St. Peter’s Square before tens of thousands of people.

Millions of others watched as the address was televised live to some 40 countries. After the address, the Pope wished the world a happy Christmas in 59 languages, including many spoken in the world’s trouble spots.

“You, Lord Jesus, born for us at Bethlehem, ask respect for every person, especially the small and the weak, you ask for an end to all forms of violence, to wars, oppression and all attacks on life,” he said.

The address by the Pope, marking the 23rd Christmas season of his history-making pontificate, began with a religious theme. He spoke about the birth of Christ and the creation of man as depicted by Michelangelo in the famous Sistine Chapel frescoes.

But the message was soon transformed into a general lament of the violence, suffering and indifference in today’s world.

The pathos of the message was underscored by the ailing Pope’s voice, which trembled at times, and his obvious fatigue after celebrating midnight mass in the same square early on Monday morning.

“I am thinking particularly of Indonesia, where our brothers and sisters in faith, even on this Christmas Day, are undergoing a tragic time of trial and suffering,” the leader of the world’s some one billion Roman Catholics said.

At least 13 people were killed in bombings near churches on Christmas Eve in the mainly Muslim country.

The Pope, pronouncing his words with some difficulty, also said he was thinking with “great concern of the Holy Land, where violence continues to stain with blood the difficult path to peace”.

At least 343 people, most of them Palestinians, have been killed in almost three months of violence.

The languages the Pope used to deliver Christmas greetings included Arabic, Hebrew and Indonesian.

The Pope said today’s world was confronted by “alarming signs of the culture of death which pose a serious threat for the future”.

Sin, he said, was reflected in many of today’s problems which continued to mar the face of humanity.

“Children subjected to violence, humiliated and abandoned, women raped and exploited, young people, adults and the elderly marginalized, endless streams of exiles and refugees, violence and conflict in so many parts of the world,” he said.

“We cannot but recall today that shadows of death threaten people’s lives at every stage of life, and are especially menacing at its earliest beginning and its natural end,” he said.

This was a reference to abortion and euthanasia, which he attacked further by saying that people could not anticipate the arrival of death “as though we were masters of our own lives or the lives of others”.

The Pope, wearing a resplendent gold and black cape over his white vestments, said that however dense the darkness appeared, the hope of Christmas and the light of the Nativity had to be stronger.

He said he was encouraged by people who lived their lives by searching for reconciliation, those who fostered respect for the human rights of every person, those countries which had decided to ease Third World debt and to encourage peace talks.

On Jan. 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, the Pope will formally close the Roman Catholic Church’s special Holy Year for the 2000 Jubilee, which began last Christmas.