The Holy See
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Friday 3 October 2003


Mr President of the General Conference,
Mr Director General,
Your Excellencies,

May I first convey cordial greetings to you from His Holiness Pope John Paul II, who closely follows world events and the work of the international community, rejoicing in the reflection made on the future of humanity by the leaders of nations and their representatives in the international organizations. The contemporary world promises great hopes, but also poses some disturbing questions.

The globalization of different sectors of activity can increase the well-being of the populations of the least fortunate countries, but it can also weaken them and make them more dependent on those that are richer, seriously jeopardizing their development. In conveying the contribution of the Holy See to this General Conference, may I be permitted to recall three points, which I consider essential, and on which the different partners in civil society are called to work in ever closer collaboration.

First of all, the respect that is due to every human being. This constitutes the framework of the construction of any society. Numerous ethical and bioethical questions are currently being discussed:  the various aspects of cloning, especially "therapeutic" cloning; the conjugal bonds between men and women, the family, economic relations between countries and continents. The Holy See notes that every reflection must focus on the human person, the inalienable dignity of his biological and spiritual being, the sacred character of his life and the value of conjugal and family ties.

It is obvious that if we make the principal value of the human being an abstraction, the decisions made will definitely be against the human being and humanity in general. Disregard of the conjugal bond, which is the essential bond of the basic cell of society, inevitably leads to invalidating the different social bonds. Failing to recognize the sacred character of life leads inexorably to making the human being and his genetic heritage mere material for experimentation that can be used by ideologies with destructive intentions.

Above all, it must be asserted that gene therapy which uses embryonic stem cells destroys frail human beings and incurs grave risks for humanity. The well known saying: "the end does not justify the means" is a clear reminder that in the examination of any ethical process, the purposes of a process and the means to achieve it must be considered together. At the same time, it is necessary to help scientists and researchers find procedures that are worthy of man.

Education is also an important aspect for the future of society to which it is appropriate to pay great attention. It is not merely a question of teaching, the value of which I certainly do not deny, for it plays an important role in the development of peoples. However, cultural and professional training must be situated in the broader framework of an integral education of the person, for the complete fulfilment of the whole person and every person, both personally and socially.

In this perspective, every society must be attentive to the spiritual and moral dimension, re-evaluating the transcendental element, as is emphasized by the 1996 Report of the International Commission on Education: Education, a treasure is hidden within it. The religious reference in cultural formation, and especially, the openness to transcendence and the freedom granted to religious life and practices, are aspects that permit each being, especially youth, to base their lives on values rather than the purely materialistic that contains many violent elements, of which we are all witnesses.

We must reassert that spiritual life is fundamental to every human being. In this area, the rights of families and their status should be respected because parents, the first educators of their children, are called to hand down to them their cultural and spiritual heritage and to open them to the transcendental dimension of existence.

You will therefore understand that the religious issue, in the broad sense, cannot merely be relegated to the private sphere, for it involves the future of the human being and of society, together with its values and its ethical approaches.

In international life, we are all sensitive to the question of peace, without which it is impossible to build a world order respectful of the human being. Tensions and conflicts on all continents continue to take victims. Peace plans are constantly called into question and do not lead to concrete solutions. Attempts to build more democratic societies sometimes lead to the ousting or even the death of those promoting them. Poverty, endemic disease, violence:  these are among the many questions that challenge the international community and on which it would be right to reflect constantly, in order to find suitable solutions that enable our contemporaries to glimpse a better future and thereby allow them to hope.

It is up to the international community to be ever more committed to building peace, which is certainly one of the greatest challenges for the century that is beginning. It must also do everything within its power to ensure that all people have a land of their own and possess autonomy in their life and in regulating their domestic affairs, and that it is the inhabitants of a nation who are the first to benefit from the country's riches. It will be impossible to establish civil and social peace in a territory while too many foreign concerns prevent a country's population from taking part in local development and wrongfully exploit the property of others.

To restore the land to those who live in it, it is the task of the international community - leaders of nations and international organizations, with respect for international regulations - to be ever more committed to the integral formation of indigenous peoples in order to equip them to take their nation's destiny into their own hands. This is an ethic of solidarity from which no one can any longer escape.

At the end of my intervention, I would like to express my joy, and the joy of the Holy See, at the arrival of East Timor and at seeing that the United States of America is once again part of UNESCO, as a fully-entitled delegation. This will greatly benefit our work, and will also be to the advantage of the United States.

Thank you for your kind attention.

*L'Osservatore Romano. Weekly Edition in Englisha n.42 p.12.