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Your Excellency, Ambassador Patricio Zuquilanda,
Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Ecuador,

On the occasion of the 34th General Assembly of the OAS, His Holiness John Paul II has charged me to convey a cordial greeting to you, Your Excellency, to their Excellencies the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the American States and of the Caribbean, to His Excellency Dr. César Gaviria, General Secretary of the Organization of American States, and to the Representatives of the Countries with Observer status.

Almost 25 years have passed since 6 October 1979, when the Holy Father visited the headquarters of the OAS in Washington that was to become the first of many international organizations and institutions - since his Visit to the United Nations - to which he had the opportunity to address his Message of peace and friendship.

On that occasion the Pope, "with absolute respect" and in a "spirit of service", voiced certain thoughts on the international situation beginning with an observation that has lost none of its timeliness: "Peace is a most precious blessing that you seek to preserve for your peoples. You are in agreement with me that it is not by stockpiling arms that this peace can be ensured in a stable way. Apart from the fact that such accumulation increases in practice the danger of having recourse to arms to settle the disputes that may arise, it takes away considerable material and human resources from the great and peaceful tasks of development that are so urgent" (Address to the OAS, 6 October 1979, n. 2; L'Osservatore Romano English edition [ORE], 29 October 1979, p. 13).

In these past years, for obvious sad reasons, world attention has been focused on the problem of security. The OAS, at the end of the Special Conference on Security that took place last 28 October in Mexico City, also approved a Declaration on this subject. Among other things it said that peace is a value in itself, based "on democracy, justice, respect and human rights, solidarity, security and respect for international law" (cf. Declaration on Security in the Americas, art. 3).

These "pillars of peace" have a common foundation: the right to life. This right demands for its full exercise a dignified standard of life:  food, housing, education, health care, work, freedom, etc. To guarantee these conditions, immense financial resources are required which are unfortunately too scarce.

Yet, how much wealth is continuing to be squandered today on more and more sophisticated instruments of war, while human beings do not even have what they need for their integral development.

But in many nations of the world, too many arms are being circulated when there is a far greater need for housing, schools, roads, electricity, drinking water and medicines.

It should be recognized that the OAS has also been a pioneer organization in this field. Indeed, it was the first regional institution to adopt the "Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacture of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and other Related Materials" (10 June 1998), which recently held its first Conference to examine its application (Bogota, 8-9 March 2004). The phenomenon of the arms trade, often related to other illegal trafficking, seriously hinders the integral development of the world.

Although it may be an important first step, it is nevertheless not enough to equip ourselves with technological and juridical instruments if we do not insist on the ethical dimension of human dignity. This consideration must be based on a peace-building process that goes to the root of the scourge of the violence found in human hearts today.

As the Holy Father said in his above-cited Address to the OAS: "When we speak of the right to life, to physical and moral integrity, to nourishment, to housing, to education, to health care, to employment, to shared responsibility in the life of the nation, we speak of the human person.... All that you do for the human person will halt violence and the threats of subversion and destabilization" (ORE, 29 October 1979, nn. 5-6, ibid., p. 14).

Only knowledge of the sacredness of life, therefore, and full respect for it at every stage of its development from conception to natural death, can lay the foundations of an authentic "city of peace". In turn, full respect for the right to life also involves the essential but enormous task of doing away with all that prevents people from experiencing it with dignity, in other words, poverty with its many causes and numerous victims.

Some countries are in urgent need of international aid to survive difficult moments and to finance development projects. The Holy See is often asked to recommend or support investment or development initiatives. I take this opportunity to invite the donor countries and financial institutions to make a generous contribution, in the knowledge that a donation today can be a consistent saving in the future and can help in building peace and security.

All that remains for me is to express to all the participants in this General Assembly my best wishes for a fruitful and serene meeting, and I am pleased to express to you, Your Excellency, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, my respects and my deep esteem.

*L'Osservatore Romano. Weekly Edition in English n.28 p.9.