BY MARK GREAVES
THE UNPRECEDENTED threat
of terrorism should not cause governments to abandon human rights laws, Pope Benedict XVI has said in his message for the 2007 World Peace Day.
In a statement sent to heads of state around the world, Pope Benedict wrote that terrorism had "unleashed completely new forms of violence".
But he warned leaders that efforts to combat this new threat must be bound by "ethical limits".
The Pope argued that recent conflicts — such as the fighting between Israel and the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon — had "largely ignored" international humanitarian law.
In an era where "wars are not declared", governments needed to establish "clearer rules to counter effectively the dramatic decline that we are witnessing," he said.
In a message released on December 12, Pope Benedict said: 'The heart-rending situ ation in Lebanon and the new shape of conflicts, especially since the terrorist threat
unleashed completely new forms of violence, demand
that the international commu nity reaffirm international humanitarian law and apply it to all present-day situations of armed conflict, including those not currently provided for by international law. Moreover, the scourge of terrorism demands a profound reflection on the ethical limits restricting the use of modern methods of guaranteeing internal security," he added.
Commenting on the Pope's message, Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, called the worldwide struggle against terrorism "the Fourth World War. The Cold War was the third."
"But this war does not have the parameters of the wars we experienced in history," the cardinal said. "This must push countries to ask, 'What should we do?' and to develop [human rights1 regulations."
According to Cardinal Martino, the message was meant as a continuation of last year's World Peace Day message, in which the Pontiff described peace as "the fruit of an order which has been planted in human society by its divine Founder".
This year's message, entitled "The Human Person, the Heart of Peace" and released for World Peace Day on January 1,2007, emphasises that authentic peace can only be achieved through an adherence to this natural order, One "disturbing symptom" of the world's lack of peace, the Pope said, was the way religious believers were
stopped from practising their faith. "Speaking of Christians in particular," the Pope explained, "I must point out with pain that not only are they at times prevented from doing so; in some states they are actually persecuted, and even recently tragic cases of ferocious violence have been recorded."
In recent months Muslim extremists in Iraq have reportedly crucified a 14-year-old boy and beheaded a Catholic priest. The persecution of minorities has led to half the Christian population fleeing the country.
In November the crisis prompted the Catholic bishops of America to call for a safe haven to be established for Christians and other Iraqi minorities.
The Pope explained that Christians were not only threatened by violence but also by the "systematic cultural denigration" of their beliefs by governments that were militantly secular.
Pope Benedict also drew attention in his message to society's "widespread violation" of the right to life.
"Alongside the victims of armed conflicts, terairism and the different forms of violence, there are the silent deaths caused by hunger, abortion, experimentation on human embryos and euthanasia. How can we fail to see in all this an attack on peace?" he asked.
The Pope explained that peace was not only threatened by our actions — by terrorism, religious persecution and by violence against the unborn — but also by "indifference as to what constitutes man's true nature".
A "weak" vision of the person, the Pope argued, makes us "easy prey to oppression and violence". A "relativistic conception" of
the person leaves that person with "constantly negotiable rights" rather than rights which are absolute.
The desire by some governments to acquire nuclear weapons, the Pope said, was "another disturbing issue".
Pope Benedict quoted Gauditen et Spes, the pastoral constitution of the Second Vatican Council, in arguing that the use of nuclear weapons would be "a crime against God". He urged governments to dismantle all nuclear arms, warning leaders that "threatening clouds continue to gather on humanity's horizon".
The Pope pointed to "unjust inequalities" as another source of tension in the world. "Particularly insidious among these are, on the one hand, inequality in access to essential goods like food, water, shelter, health; on the other hand, there are persistent inequalities between men and women in the exercise of basic human rights.
"In some cultures," the Pope added, "women are still firmly subordinated to the arbitrary decisions of men, with gave consequences for their personal dignity."