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Pope addresses global audience at U.N.

The pontiff, addressing the U.N. General Assembly on his first papal trip to the U.S., said the organization's work is vital. But he raised concerns that power is concentrated in just a handful of nations.
Image: Pope Benedict XVI.
Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives at JFK International Airport on Friday.Keith Bedford / Reuters
/ Source: news services

Pope Benedict XVI told diplomats at the United Nations on Friday that respect for human rights was the key to solving many of the world's problems, while cautioning that international cooperation was threatened by "the decisions of a small number."

The pontiff, addressing the U.N. General Assembly on his first papal trip to the U.S., said the organization's work is vital. But he raised concerns that power is concentrated in just a handful of nations.

"Multilateral consensus," he said, speaking in French, "continues to be in crisis because it is still subordinated to the decisions of a small number."

The world's problems call for collective interventions by the international community, he said.

Benedict, only the third pope to address the United Nations, made the remarks after three dramatic days in which he repeatedly discussed America's clergy sexual abuse scandal.

The setting contrasted dramatically with the intimacy of a meeting Thursday, in which he prayed with weeping victims of childhood sexual abuse by priests.

Addressing a wide-range of issues
Speaking in French and English from the Assembly's green marble podium, he gave a wide-ranging address on issues such as globalization, human rights and the environment.

The international community must be "capable of responding to the demands of the human family through binding international rules," said the 81-year-old pope, who spoke after meeting privately with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

He said the notion of multilateral consensus was "in crisis because it is still subordinated to the decisions of a few, whereas the world's problems call for interventions in the form of collective action by the international community."

While Benedict did not mention any specific country, this appeared to be a reference to the United States, which led the 2003 invasion of Iraq even though the Security Council refused to approve it.

The Vatican strongly opposed the recourse to war.

Benedict called for "a deeper search for ways of pre-empting and managing conflicts by exploring every possible diplomatic avenue, and giving attention and encouragement to even the faintest sign of dialogue or desire for reconciliation."

On human rights
In an apparent reference to the conflict in the Sudanese region of Darfur, the pope said that every state had the "primary duty" to protect its citizens from human rights violations and humanitarian crises but outside intervention was sometimes justified.

"If states are unable to guarantee such protection, the international community must intervene with the juridical means provided in the United Nations Charter and in other international instruments," he said.

The pope called human rights, particularly religious freedom, "the common language and ethical substratum of international relations," and added that promoting human rights was the best strategy to eliminate inequalities.

"Indeed, the victims of hardship and despair, whose human dignity is violated with impunity, become easy prey to the call to violence, and they can then become violators of peace," he said in an apparent reference to social causes of terrorism.

Benedict called for religious freedom to be protected against secularist views and against majority religions that sideline other faiths — an apparent reference to Muslim states where some Christian minorities report discrimination.

"It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one's rights," Benedict said.

Across from the U.N., several hundred supporters, many of them Hispanic, gathered behind metal police barricades.

"Benedetto!" many shouted in Spanish.

A group of New Jersey Catholics held up a banner for the German-born pope that combined German — "Willkommen Pope Benedict XVI" — and English sentiments: "You Rock!"

A small anti-pope contingent included a group calling itself Forum for Protection of Religious Pluralism.

Financial consultant Padmanabh Rao, a Hindu from Woodbridge, N.J., complained that the Vatican is converting people in India to Catholicism.

Queens contractor William Salazar, who identified himself as a Navajo Indian, said Catholic priests "came to America and they killed our children. Now the pope is sending priests all over the world who are raping our children."

Before the pontiff's speech, Benedict and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met alone for 15 minutes.

Visit to synagogueLater on Friday,Pope Benedict XVI visited an American synagogue, bringing greetings for the Passover holiday and accepting gifts of matzo and a seder plate.

Benedict, 81, stopped briefly at Park East Synagogue on Manhattan's Upper East Side, near the Vatican residence.

"I find it moving to recall that Jesus, as a young boy, heard the words of Scripture and prayed in a place such as this," he said.

At a Roman Catholic church in Manhattan, the pope later warned other Christian leaders against "so-called prophetic actions" that conflict with traditional views of the Bible, a reference to the debate over Scripture that is fracturing churches in America and around the world.

In his visit to the synagogue, Benedict was shown the congregation's collection of parchment scrolls, and two youngsters presented him with the Passover gifts.

The German-born pontiff then offered a gift of his own: a reproduction of a Jewish codex.

"In our lifetime, we have experienced the ravages of war, the Holocaust, man's inhumanity to man and tasted the joy of freedom," said Rabbi Arthur Schneier, who lived in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe.

"This momentous occasion takes places on American soil, where men and women escaping the clutches of oppression and religious persecution have built a nation of democracy and freedom. This is a nation which has allowed all religious communities to flourish."

The Jewish community makes "a valuable contribution to the life of the city," Benedict said. "And I encourage all of you to continue building bridges of friendship with all the many different ethnic and religious groups present in your neighborhood."

A call for 'sound teaching'
At his visit with Christian leaders, the pontiff said allowing individual congregations to interpret the Gospel undermines evangelism at a time when "the world is losing its bearings" and needs "persuasive common witness" to salvation in Christ.

"Only by holding fast to sound teaching will we be able to respond to the challenges that confront us in an evolving world," Benedict said at the evening service with Protestant and Orthodox clergy at St. Joseph's church, which was founded by German immigrants and still regularly celebrates Mass in German. The audience included televangelist Pat Robertson.

"Only in this way will we give unambiguous testimony to the truth of the Gospel and its moral teaching. This is the method which the world is waiting to hear from us."

Benedict did not mention specific issues troubling the churches. However, many Protestant groups have been arguing for years over how to understand what the Bible says about truth, and salvation, and whether it prohibits gay sex.

The U.S. Episcopal Church caused an uproar among its fellow Anglicans in 2003 by consecrating the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

The global Anglican Communion, the world's third-largest religious group, is now near the break of schism. Other mainline Protestant groups based in the U.S. are also divided over the issue.

Several of those denominations sent representatives to the pope's Friday event.

The ecumenical service was one of the many efforts by Benedict to reach out to other Christians and to members of different faiths during his six-day visit to Washington and New York. It is his first visit to the United States since he was elected pontiff in 2005.