Mankind, which has reached other planets and unraveled many of nature’s secrets, should not presume it can live without God, Pope Benedict XVI said in his Christmas message on Monday.
In an age of unbridled consumerism it was shameful many remained deaf to the “heart-rending cry” of those dying of hunger, thirst, disease, poverty, war and terrorism, he said.
“Does a ‘Savior’ still have any value and meaning for the men and women of the third millennium?” he asked in his Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) message to the faithful in St Peter’s Square.
“Is a ‘Savior’ still needed by a humanity which has reached the moon and Mars and is prepared to conquer the universe; for a humanity which knows no limits in its pursuit of nature’s secrets and which has succeeded even in deciphering the marvelous codes of the human genome?”
He appealed for peace and justice in the Middle East, an end to the brutal violence in Iraq and to the fratricidal conflict in Darfur and other parts of Africa, and expressed his hope for “a democratic Lebanon”.
The pope said he hoped to visit the Holy Land as soon as the situation allowed.
Speaking to tens of thousands of people in a sunny square, he wished the world a Happy Christmas in 62 languages — including Arabic, Hebrew, Mongolian and Latin — but his speech highlighted his preoccupation with humanity’s fate.
Marking the second Christmas season of his pontificate, he said that while 21st century man appeared to be a master of his own destiny, “perhaps he needs a Savior all the more” because much of humanity was suffering.
“People continue to die of hunger and thirst, disease and poverty, in this age of plenty and of unbridled consumerism,” he said from the central balcony of Christendom’s largest church.
“Some people remain enslaved, exploited and stripped of their dignity; others are victims of racial and religious hatred, hampered by intolerance and discrimination, and by political interference and physical or moral coercion with regard to the free profession of their faith.
“Others see their own bodies and those of their dear ones, particularly their children, maimed by weaponry, by terrorism and by all sorts of violence, at a time when everyone invokes and acclaims progress, solidarity and peace for all.”
The pope also made reference to the controversial case of Piergiorgio Welby, a paralyzed Italian man who was denied a Catholic funeral because he had asked to die.
“What are we to think of those who choose death in the belief that they are celebrating life?” he said.
Welby, an advocate of euthanasia, died on Wednesday after a doctor gave him sedatives and detached a respirator that had kept the victim of advanced muscular dystrophy alive for years.
In his midnight mass for some 10,000 people in St. Peter’s Basilica earlier on Monday, the pope said the image of the baby Jesus in a manger should remind everyone of the plight of poor, abused and neglected children the world over.
At that mass a member of the congregation read a prayer in Arabic asking God to encourage “a spirit of dialogue, mutual understanding and collaboration” among followers of the three great monotheistic religions — Christianity, Judaism and Islam.