In marking their annual visit to Rome, Pope Benedict XVI, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, has told the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican that peace is an integral way of life, not merely the absence of conflict.
At the beginning of the week the pontiff declared: "Peace cannot be a mere word or a vain aspiration. Peace is a commitment and a way of life which demands that the legitimate aspirations of all should be satisfied, such as access to food, water and energy, to medicine and technology, or indeed the monitoring of climate change. Only in this way can we build the future of humanity; only in this way can we facilitate an integral development valid for today and tomorrow".
The Pope used the occasion to address a range of international issues, areas of crisis and problems faced by humanity in the past year, expressing his hope for a world ever more open to peace, inter-cultural and inter-faith dialogue.
As well as remembering the natural catastrophes in hit Latin America and Asia, the Pope expressed concern for the Middle East: "I am glad that the Annapolis Conference pointed towards the abandonment of partisan or unilateral solutions, in favour of a global approach respectful of the rights and legitimate interests of all the peoples of the region."
He continued: "I appeal once more to the Israelis and the Palestinians to concentrate their energies on the implementation of commitments made on that occasion, and to expedite the process that has happily been restarted".
On Iraq, the Pontiff urged prcatical solutions: "At present, terrorist attacks, threats and violence continue, especially against the Christian community, and the news which arrived yesterday confirms our concern; it is clear that certain difficult political issues remain unresolved," he said.
"In this context, an appropriate constitutional reform will need to safeguard the rights of minorities. Important humanitarian aid is necessary for the peoples affected by the war; I am thinking especially of displaced persons within the country and refugees who have fled abroad, among whom there are many Christians," he continued.
Of Africa, the Pope declared: "I should like first of all to reiterate my deep anguish, on observing that hope seems almost vanquished by the menacing sequence of hunger and death that is unfolding in Darfur. With all my heart I pray that the joint operation of the United Nations and the African Union, whose mission has just begun, will bring aid and comfort to the suffering populations."
He went on: "In recent days Kenya has experienced an abrupt outbreak of violence. I join the Bishops in their appeal made on 2 January, inviting all the inhabitants, especially political leaders, to seek a peaceful solution through dialogue, based on justice and fraternity".
Pope Benedict XVI's address also focussed on some important points of progress in 2007 and emphasising the increasing will for dialogue of many parts of the world.
He said: "In order to be true, this dialogue must be clear, avoiding relativism and syncretism, while at the same time it must be marked by sincere respect for others and by a spirit of reconciliation and fraternity. The Catholic Church is deeply committed to this goal. It is a pleasure for me to recall once again the letter that was addressed to me, on 13 October last, by 138 Muslim Religious Leaders, and to renew my gratitude for the noble sentiments which were expressed in it".
In defining the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted 60 years ago, as one of the greatest achievements of the United Nations, the Pontiff welcomed the approval of the resolution calling on States to institute a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
He concluded: "Diplomacy is, in a certain sense, the art of hope. It lives from hope and seeks to discern even its most tenuous signs. Diplomacy must give hope. The celebration of Christmas reminds us each year that, when God became a little child, Hope came to live in our world, in the heart of the human family".