January 9, 2006

Pope Says Terror Provokes ‘Clash of Civilizations’

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict on Monday warned of a clash of civilizations caused by the "moral perversion" of terrorism, called for peace between Israel and Palestinians, and urged cuts in arms spending to feed the poor.

The 78-year-old German Pope offered his considerations of the international scene in his first "state of the world" address -- a traditional new year speech to diplomats accredited to the Vatican from more than 170 countries.

Benedict, elected last April, said parts of the world had witnessed "appalling scenes of military conflict" and urged all nations to shun the "law of might" to solve disputes.

His French-language speech was delivered in a frescoed Vatican hall amid international anxiety for the health of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and its ramifications for Middle East and global peace.

He said the Holy Land was a "nerve point of the world scene" and the solution of problems there was vital for international peace.

"There, the State of Israel has to be able to exist peacefully in conformity with the norms of international law; there, equally, the Palestinian people has to be able to develop serenely its own democratic institutions for a free and prosperous future," he said.

He said peace in the Middle East and elsewhere was possible only when diversity and equality among people was mutually recognized and respected and when all parties in conflict acknowledged their own errors and sought forgiveness.


The danger of a "clash of civilizations" had been "made more acute by organized terrorism, which has already spread over the whole planet," the Pope said.

"Its causes are many and complex, not least those to do with political ideology, combined with aberrant religious ideas. Terrorism does not hesitate to strike defenseless people, without discrimination, or to impose inhuman blackmail, causing panic among entire populations, in order to force political leaders to support the designs of the terrorists," he said.

"No situation can justify such criminal activity, which covers the perpetrators with infamy, and it is all the more deplorable when it hides behind religion, thereby bringing the pure truth of God down to the level of the terrorists' own blindness and moral perversion," he added.

He said he was thinking especially of Iraq, "the cradle of great civilizations, which in these past years has suffered daily from violent acts of terrorism."

Benedict said peace did not mean merely the absence of war.

"One cannot speak of peace in situations where human beings are lacking even the basic necessities for living with dignity," he said, urging the world community to tackle the scourge of starvation, of the homeless, of refugees.

"Are these human beings not our brothers and sisters? Do their children not come into the world with the same legitimate expectations of happiness as other children?" he asked.

He again called for arms spending cuts to help the poor.

"On the basis of available statistical data, it can be said that less than half of the immense sums spent worldwide on armaments would be more than sufficient to liberate the immense masses of the poor from destitution. This challenges humanity's conscience," he said.