The Holy See
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Monday, 22 October 2001


Mr. President: 

Today, it is indeed appropriate that the General Assembly address the topic of the Culture of Peace. The imperfect peace in which our world has dwelt has suddenly been shattered by violent and senseless attacks against innocent human beings. An initial reaction may come in words of war and not in a language of peace, understanding and reconciliation. Yet, institutions such as the United Nations are entrusted with the most serious responsibilities to "Maintain international peace and security and to that end:  to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace..." (The Charter of the United Nations, Chapter 1, Article 1, Paragraph 1).

Peace begins within hearts. It is not simply the absence of war, nor is it sought only to avoid widespread conflict but rather it helps to direct our reasoning and thus our actions toward the good of all. It becomes a philosophy of action that makes us all responsible for the common good and obliges us to dedicate all our efforts to its cause. If, for these reasons, we are convinced that peace is a "good in itself', we must build a culture of peace. Peace is first known, recognized, willed and loved in the heart. Then, in order to establish a culture of peace, it must be expressed and impressed on humanity, on its philosophy, its sociology, its politics and its traditions.

There are a number of definitions for the word "culture" which my Delegation believes provide us with a good starting point for our discussion today. The first speaks of culture as "the art or practice of cultivating", while another defines culture as:  "the total pattern of human behavior and its products embodied in thought, speech, action, and artifacts and dependent upon man's capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations through the use of tools, language, and systems of abstract thought".

Together, both of these definitions seem to provide a foundation for a clearer understanding of culture... and when placed into the context of today's discussion, "a culture of peace" might be seen as "that pattern of human behavior which must be cultivated and transmitted to future generations".
Once we have come to an understanding of what a culture of peace is, we begin to ponder upon ways in which to communicate that understanding and fostering its place in the minds and hearts of humanity.

Establishing a culture of peace and non-violence will necessitate a new language and new gestures for peace. In this search, we will not only educate a new generation but also will educate ourselves for peace and awaken in ourselves firm convictions and a new capacity for taking initiatives at the service of the great cause of Peace.

Education for and a better understanding and realization of peace can benefit from renewed interest in the everyday examples of simple builders of peace at all levels. Our eyes and those of the next generation need to be focused on the visions of peace which will nurture the aspiration for peace and non-violence that is an essential part of every human being.

All of this, of course, is the work that the United Nations, and the peoples of the world have been engaged for many years. It is an ongoing process that is hampered by too many obstacles that continue to resist the movement toward a true and lasting peace for all people.

Situations of conflict exist in today's world where a just solution may have been refused over time, by both parties involved. This has fostered feelings of frustration, hatred and temptations to vengeance to which all must remain attentive. Those who honor God must be in the first rank of those who fight against all forms of terrorism. As mentioned by Pope John Paul II, when he met with religious leaders, in Jerusalem, "If it is authentic, devotion to God necessarily involves attention to our fellow human beings. As members of the one human family and as God's beloved children, we have duties towards one another which, as believers we cannot ignore." (Pope John Paul II, Interreligious meeting at the Notre dame Pontifical Institute, Jerusalem, 23 March 2000).

His Holiness touched upon that same idea last January, when he said, "We all know how hard it is to settle differences between parties when ancient hatreds and serious problems which admit of no easy solution create an atmosphere of anger and exasperation. But no less dangerous for the future of peace would be the inability to confront intelligently the problems posed by a new social configuration resulting in many countries from accelerated migration and the unprecedented situation of people of different cultures and civilizations living side by side." (Pope John Paul II, Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2001).

Acts of revenge will not cure such hatred. Reprisals, which strike indiscriminately at the innocent, continue the spiral of violence and are illusionary solutions that prevent the moral isolation of the terrorists. We must rather remove the most obvious elements that spawn the conditions for hatred and violence and which are contrary to any movement toward peace. Poverty along with other situations of marginalization that engulf the lives of so many of the world's people, including the denial of human dignity, the lack of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, social exclusion, intolerable refugee situations, internal and external displacement and physical or psychological oppression are breeding grounds only waiting to be exploited by terrorists.

Any serious campaign against terrorism also needs to address the social, economic and political conditions that nurture the emergence of terrorism, violence and conflict.

In the midst of this current tragedy and threat to the Culture of Peace, forms of systematic terrorism should not be forgotten. In some cases it is almost institutionalized, possibly based on systems which utterly destroy the freedom and rights of individuals "guilty" of not bringing their thought into line with the triumphant ideology. Today these persons are unable to attract the attention and support of international public opinion and they must not be forgotten or abandoned.

In this light, the world must recognize that there is hope. Building a culture of peace is not preposterous, nor a utopian dream. It is, rather, an attainable reality which, even though just beyond our realization, is still a worthy and reachable goal.

Pope John Paul II has always used the idea of this search for peace as a major theme. His exhortations have been repeated especially often during the past two years, as part of the celebration of the Great Jubilee. In a homily during his visit to Jordan, His Holiness called upon all mothers to be , "Builders of a new civilization of love. Love your families. Teach them the dignity of all life; teach them the ways of harmony and peace." (Pope John Paul II, Homily at Amman Stadium, 21 March 2000).

More recently, His Holiness reminded the young people of Kazakhstan that they should, "Know that you are called to be the builders of a better world. Be peace-makers, because a society solidly based on peace is a society with a future". (Pope John Paul II, Address at Eurasia University, Astana, Kazakhstan, 23 September 2001).

Finally, Mr. President, I would like to conclude with the words of Pope John Paul II, spoken almost twenty years ago, which seem so appropriate for our discussion today:  "I present to you this message on the theme Dialogue for Peace, a Challenge for our Time. I am addressing it to all those who are, on the one hand, people responsible for peace:  those who preside over the destiny of peoples, international officials, politicians, and diplomats. But I am also addressing the citizens of each country. All are in fact called by the need to prepare true peace, to maintain it or to reestablish it, on solid and just foundations. Now I am deeply convinced that dialogue - true dialogue - is an essential condition for such peace. Yes, this dialogue is necessary, not only opportune. It is difficult, but it is possible, in spite of the obstacles that realism obliges us to consider. It therefore represents a true challenge, which I invite you to take up. And I do this without any other purpose than that of contributing, myself and the Holy See, to peace, by taking very much to heart the destiny of humanity, as the heir of the message of Christ and as the first one responsible for that message, which is above all a message of Peace for all men." (Pope John Paul II, Message for the World Day of Peace, 1 January 1983).

Thank you, Mr. President.