New Year: Pope calls for Middle East peace accord


VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Pope Benedict XVI has called for a peace accord in the Middle East, embroiled in a "conflict that has persisted for too long," during his New Year Day mass at Saint Peter Basilica.

Marking World Peace Day, he referred to "the scene of the shepherds of Bethlehem visiting Jesus in the manger," asking: "How can you not look again at the dire situation that characterizes this land where Jesus was born?" The 79-year-old pontiff asked: "How can you not implore with insistent prayer that the day of peace arrives as soon as possible to this region, the day when the conflict that has persisted for too long will be resolved? "A peace accord, to be durable, must rest on respect for dignity and the rights of each person," he urged the Vatican diplomatic corps attending the mass Monday. "In the face of the threats to peace that are unfortunately ever-present, in the face of situations of injustice and violence that persist in many parts of the world, before continuing armed conflicts often forgotten by much of public opinion, and the danger of terrorism that disturbs peoples` serenity, it becomes more than ever necessary to work together for peace," he said. On December 12 Benedict sent a message to 1.1 billion Catholics ahead of World Peace Day in which he condemned what he called the transformation of religion "into an ideology," and said that "a war in the name of God is never acceptable." The wide-ranging message also condemned violations of religious freedoms, inequality of the sexes, "disrespectful" attitudes towards the environment, religion transformed into "ideology", terrorism, human rights abuses and the spread of nuclear weapons. "The way to ensure a future of peace for everyone is found not only in international accords for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, but also in the determined commitment to seek their reduction and definitive dismantling," the pope said.

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