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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 105 (Suppl.), December 2007



Inaugural Address 


Cardinal Renato Raffaele MARTINO

President of the Pontifical Council

for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People


Dear Friends,

It is my pleasure to welcome you to this XIII World Seminar of Catholic Civil Aviation Chaplains and Chaplaincy Members on the theme: “Dialogue in Airport Chaplaincies: towards a response to terrorism.”

Once again, you have come to Rome, to the See of Peter, first of all to signify your fidelity to his successor, Christ’s Vicar on earth. At the same time you will discuss, with your fellow chaplains and chaplaincy members from the different airports in the world, the pressing challenges facing your ministry, with a view to renewing your pastoral commitment to, and active concern for, those whom you serve. In particular, you will discuss how to eventually counter the threats and actions of terrorism in dialogue with your colleagues who belong to other Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities, and with those who follow other religious traditions. 

There is no doubt that the attack of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York and other U.S. targets, on September 11, 2001, was a “historical event”. Not that terrorism did not exist before that moment, but because on that day the whole world felt vulnerable. Since then the world has somehow lost its sense of security and lives in a state of fear.

Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have all condemned terrorism, but they have also pleaded not to return hatred for hatred, violence for violence, to “reject the ways of violence, [and] to combat everything that sows hatred and division within the human family.”[1]

In 1972, at the General Audience immediately after that terrible incident at the Olympic Games in Munich, when young Palestinians killed Israeli athletes, Paul VI did not hesitate to say, “We deplore this event, which truly dishonors our time, a time that was striving for peace and fraternity… And in the face of these deaths …, we cannot but be greatly saddened and express our uneasiness in strong terms of outrage. … God does not wish for there to be any other episodes like these… Hatred generates hatred, blood calls for blood, and vengeance for vengeance. Where is this leading? … We cannot help but deplore this with great sadness and vehemence. Yes, again; but with the vehemence of love. Poor us! Poor us, we who are still at such a level of ignorance and incivility. We also deplore the manner [of the attack] – which has become common, almost fashionable – a devious method, because it is directed against persons who do not expect it, who cannot defend themselves. We cannot help but raise our voices …and the swelling of our emotions, which still want to be sentiments of fraternity, peace, and love in a world that remains so disturbed by this scene of violence and blood.”[2]

In 2002, John Paul II recalled the September 11 events in his World Day of Peace Message for that year, defining it as a terrible crime: “On that day, a terrible crime was committed: in a few brief hours thousands of innocent people of many ethnic backgrounds were slaughtered. Since then, people throughout the world have felt a profound personal vulnerability and a new fear for the future. Addressing this state of mind, the Church testifies to her hope, based on the conviction that evil, the mysterium iniquitatis [‘mystery of iniquity’], does not have the final word in human affairs.…But in the present circumstances, how can we speak of justice and forgiveness as the source and condition of peace? We can and we must, no matter how difficult this may be; a difficulty which often comes from thinking that justice and forgiveness are irreconcilable. But forgiveness is the opposite of resentment and revenge, not of justice. In fact, true peace is ‘the work of justice’ (Is 32:17)…. It is precisely peace born of justice and forgiveness that is under assault today by international terrorism….”[3]

Likewise, Pope Benedict XVI expressed concern for the spread of terrorism, during his Apostolic Visit to Cologne, on the occasion of the XX World Youth Day in August 2005. Meeting with representatives of some Muslim communities on August 20, he said, “Terrorist activity is continually recurring in various parts of the world, plunging people into grief and despair. Those who instigate and plan these attacks evidently wish to poison our relations and destroy trust, making use of all means, including religion, to oppose every attempt to build a peaceful and serene life together. Thanks be to God, we agree on the fact that terrorism of any kind is a perverse and cruel choice which shows contempt for the sacred right to life and undermines the very foundations of all civil coexistence. If together we can succeed in eliminating from hearts any trace of rancour, in resisting every form of intolerance and in opposing every manifestation of violence, we will turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism that endangers the lives of so many people and hinders progress towards world peace.”[4]

Pope Benedict in fact considers terrorist actions the fruit of a tragic and disturbing nihilism and of religious fanatical fundamentalism. “Despite their different origins and cultural backgrounds, both show a dangerous contempt for human beings and human life, and ultimately for God himself. Indeed, this shared tragic outcome results from a distortion of the full truth about God: nihilism denies God's existence and his provident presence in history, while fanatical fundamentalism disfigures his loving and merciful countenance…. In analyzing the causes of the contemporary phenomenon of terrorism, consideration should be given, not only to its political and social causes, but also to its deeper cultural, religious and ideological motivations.”[5]

Terrorism does not only “commit intolerable crimes, but because it resorts to terror as a political and military means, it is itself a true crime against humanity.”[6] Hence, it is necessary to fight it. To do this, the international community must “undertake new and creative political, diplomatic and economic initiatives aimed at relieving the scandalous situations of gross injustice [like the widening gap between the rich and the poor], oppression and marginalization which continue to oppress countless members of the human family. History in fact shows that the recruitment of terrorists is more easily achieved in areas where human rights are trampled upon and where injustice is a part of daily life.”[7]

Certainly, the inequalities and abuses existing in the world[8] do not excuse acts of terrorism. In fact, there can never be any justification for violence and disregard for human life. “However, the international community can no longer overlook the underlying causes that lead young people especially to despair of humanity, of life itself and of the future, and to fall prey to the temptations of violence, hatred and a desire for revenge at any cost.”[9] It must be noted “that the victims of the radical breakdown of order which terrorism seeks to achieve include above all the countless millions of men and women who are least well-positioned to withstand a collapse of international solidarity—namely, the people of the developing world, who already live on a thin margin of survival and who would be most grievously affected by global economic and political chaos. [Thus,] the terrorist claim to be acting on behalf of the poor is a patent falsehood.”[10]

Therefore, we have the  right to defend ourselves against terrorism, “a right which, as always, must be exercised with respect for moral and legal limits in the choice of ends and means. The guilty must be correctly identified, since criminal culpability is always personal and cannot be extended to the nation, ethnic group or religion to which the terrorists may belong.”[11] The effort of international organizations, therefore, to protect citizens from terrorist attacks and to identify terrorists before they can enter into action is meritorious and welcome. However, care must be taken not to sacrifice fundamental human rights in the name of security. Terrorists must never the given the possibility to point to a violation of these rights on the part of States because, in the eyes of some, it can only exalt the grievances that they claim justify their aberrant behavior.

Terrorism is also a “cultural” manifestation in the sense that it is, in fact, anti-culture and anti-civilization. It has a warped perception of reality, suffers from xenophobic complexes, has contempt for the other, and cynically abuses religion. Therefore legal measures and being armed are not sufficient to fight it. It is necessary to respond also with cultural instruments capable of offering non-violent alternatives to redress genuine grievances.

In this regard, the world’s great religions, which have their cultural expressions, “need to work together to eliminate the social and cultural causes of terrorism. They can do this by teaching the greatness and dignity of the human person, and by spreading a clearer sense of the oneness of the human family. This is a specific area of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue and cooperation, a pressing service which religion can offer to world peace.”[12] Therefore, it is important for religious leaders to take the lead in publicly condemning terrorism, in proclaiming that spreading hate and violence is antithetical to authentic religion, thus denying terrorists any form of religious or moral legitimacy. It is time to show “that genuine religious belief is an inexhaustible wellspring of mutual respect and harmony among peoples; indeed it is the chief antidote to violence and conflict.”[13] Inter-religious and intercultural dialogue are not optional in this regard, but “a vital necessity on which in large measure our future depends.”[14] Such dialogue has a fundamental role to play in promoting a culture of peace and mutual respect, and in helping people to choose non-violent means of resolving conflict.

We live in a time of violence and unrest, but above all we who believe in Christ have unfailing reasons for hope, and filled with this hope we can commit ourselves to and pray unceasingly for peace. As Pope Benedict XVI said to the delegates of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities and of other Religious traditions who greeted him a few days after his election to the pontificate, “our efforts to come together and foster dialogue are a valuable contribution to building peace on solid foundations… It is therefore imperative to engage in authentic and sincere dialogue, build on respect for the dignity of every human person, [who is] created, as we Christians firmly believe, in the image and likeness of God.”[15] Indeed all believers in Christ should place themselves “at the service of peace in broad cooperation with other Christians, the followers of other religions and with all men and women of good will.”[16]

Allow me to close with the words that concluded John Paul II’s Message for the World Day of Peace in 2002: “May a more intense prayer rise from the hearts of all believers for the victims of terrorism, for their families so tragically stricken, for all the peoples who continue to be hurt and convulsed by terrorism and war. May the light of our prayer extend even to those who gravely offend God and man by these pitiless acts, that they may look into their hearts, see the evil of what they do, abandon all violent intentions, and seek forgiveness. In these troubled times, may the whole human family find true and lasting peace, born of the marriage of justice and mercy!”[17]

As you begin this Seminar, I wish you fruitful days ahead so that, in the airports where you carry out your mission, each of you – individually and as a chaplaincy community –  may be, according to the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, a channel of the Lord’s peace.  


[1] John Paul II, Address to the New Ambassador of the United States of America to the Holy See, 13 Sept 2001 2001/september/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_20010913_ambassador-usa_ en.html.

[2] Paul VI, Speech at the General Audience, 6 September 1972, 19720906_it.html.

[3] John Paul II, Message for the 2002 World Day of Peace,, no. 1.

[4] Benedict XVI, Address at a Meeting with Representatives of some Muslim Communities, Cologne, 20 August 2005, benedict_xvi/speeches/2005/august/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20050820_meeting-muslims_en.html.

[5] Benedict XVI, Message for the 2006 World Day of Peace,, no. 10.

[6] John Paul II, Message for the 2002 World Day of Peace, loc. cit., no. 4.

[7] John Paul II, Address to the new Ambassador of the United Kingdom to the Holy See, 7 September 2002, september/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_20020907_ambassador-greatbritain _en.html.

[8] cf. Benedict XVI, Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis,, no. 90.

[9] John Paul II, Address to the new Ambassador of the United Kingdom to the Holy See, 7 September 2002, loc. cit.

[10] John Paul II, Message for the 2002 World Day of Peace, loc. cit., no. 5.

[11] ibid.

[12] ibid., no. 12.

[13] ibid., no. 14.

[14] Benedict XVI, Address to the Representatives of the Muslim Community in Cologne, 20 August 2005, loc. cit.

[15] Benedict XVI, Address to the Delegates of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities and of other Religious Traditions, 25 April 2005, benedict_xvi/speeches/2005/april/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20050425 _ rappresentanti -religiosi_en.html.

[16] Benedict XVI, Message for the 2006 World Day of Peace, loc. cit., no. 11.

[17] John Paul II, Message for the 2002 World Day of Peace, loc. cit., no. 14.