John Paul II

To the 160 diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican

The whole World asks for a just and equitable solution for Jerusalem, as well for Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, Sudan... the pope asks the international community to help in working for Justice and peace

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, ...Today we cannot but rejoice to see here, for the first time, the Representative of the Palestinian People. For more than a year, as you know, the Holy See has enjoyed diplomatic relations with the State of Israel. We had been looking forward to this happy state of affairs, because it is the eloquent sign that the Middle East has resolutely taken the path of peace proclaimed to mankind by the Child born in Bethlehem.

May God assist the Israelis and Palestinians to live from now on side by side, with one another, in peace, mutual esteem and sincere cooperation! Future generations demand this and the whole region will benefit from it. But allow me to confide that this hope could prove ephemeral if a just and adequate solution is not also found to the particular problem of Jerusalem.

The religious and universal dimension of the Holy City demands a commitment on the part of the whole international community, in order to ensure that the City preserves its uniqueness and retains its living character. The Holy Places, dear to the three monotheistic religions, are of course important for believers, but they would lose much of their significance if they were not permanently surrounded by active communities of Jews, Christians and Muslims, enjoying true freedom of conscience and religion, and developing their own religious, educational and social activities. The year 1996 should see the beginning of negotiations on the definitive status of the territories under the administration of the National Palestinian Authority, and also on sensitive issue of the City of Jerusalem.

It is my hope that the international community will offer the political partners most directly involved the juridical and diplomatic instruments capable of ensuring that Jerusalem, one and holy, may truly be a "crossroads of peace". This serene and resolute quest for peace and brotherhood will contribute without any doubt to providing other still existing regional problems with solutions which will respond to the aspirations of peoples still worried about their fate and their future. I am thinking especially of Lebanon whose sovereignty is still threatened, and of Iraq, whose peoples are still waiting for the chance to lead a normal life, safe from all arbitrary action... But there are still too many hotbeds of conflict, more or less disguised, which keep people under the unbearable yoke of violence, hatred, uncertainty and death. I am thinking of course of Algeria, very near to us, where blood is spilled almost daily: we cannot but ardently hope to see established at last, in a just respect for differences, a reasonable settlement and a national plan in which everyone can be considered a partner... (I am thinking of) Southern Sudan where dialogue and negotiation are not welcomed... ...Recognition of others and of their heritage, this latter term being understood in a broad sense, is obviously applicable as well to a specific area of human rights: that of freedom of conscience and of religion. In fact I consider it my duty to return once more to this fundamental aspect of the spiritual life of millions of men and women, for the situation is far from being satisfactory.

Just as countries of Christian tradition welcome Muslim communities, certain countries with a Muslim majority also generously welcome non-Muslim communities, allowing them even to build their own places of worship and to live in those countries in accordance with their beliefs. Others however continue to practise discrimination against Jews, Christians and other religious groups, going even as far as to refuse them the right to meet in private for prayer. It cannot be said too often: this is an intolerable and unjustifiable violation not only of all the norms of current international law, but of the most fundamental human freedom, that of practising one's faith openly, which for human beings is their reason for living... ...

Ladies and Gentlemen, the purpose of these simple remarks has been to make the good wishes which we exchange more relevant. They have sketched a picture made up of lights and shadows, a reflection of the human soul. But it is the pressing duty of the Successor of Peter to remind national leaders, whom you so worthily represent here, that world stability cannot be achieved if certain values are disregarded, values such as respect for life, conscience, fundamental human rights, concern for the most needy, solidarity, to name but a few. The Holy See, being sovereign and independent among the nations, and for this reason a member of the international community, wishes to make its specific contribution to this common commitment. Without political ambition, it is eager above all that humanity's path should be illuminated by the light of the One who, in coming into this world, became our travelling companion, the One "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col 2:3). To him once more I commend your persons, your families and your nations, in particular the younger generation of whom I thought when I launched the appeal: "Let us give children a future of peace!" (Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, 1 January 1996). Upon everyone, for the year now beginning, I invoke abundant divine blessings.