Pope Benedict XVI has chosen "Combating poverty. Building peace" as the key theme for his Message for the 42nd World Day of Peace, due to be celebrated on 1 January 2009, the Vatican announced in a communique issued today.
The approach taken by the pontiff, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, "highlights the need for the human family to find an urgent response to the serious question of poverty, seen as a material problem but above all as a moral and spiritual one", says the vatican Information Service.
The communique recalls how the Pope - in a message addressed to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation on 2 June 2008 - denounced the scandal of world poverty in strong terms.
He declared:"Poverty and malnutrition are not a simple fatality, provoked by adverse environmental situations or by disastrous natural calamities. ... Purely technical and economic considerations must not prevail over the duties of justice towards people suffering from hunger".
The statement continues: "The scandal of poverty reveals the inadequacy of current systems of human coexistence in promoting the realisation of the common good. This imposes the need for reflection on the deep roots of material poverty and, consequently, also on spiritual poverty which makes man indifferent to the suffering of others.
"The answer, then, is to be sought first and foremost in the conversion of the human heart to the God of charity, so as to achieve poverty of spirit in the terms of the Message of salvation announced by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven'."
Critics within and without the Church are likely to welcome the tone of the message, while pointing out that the Vatican's own vast wealth and worldly status questions its preparedness to live by its own edicts.