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In humanity’s failings, pope sees need of God

Times Staff Writer

In a traditional and often grim Christmas Day message, Pope Benedict XVI on Monday said a world that has achieved unimaginable scientific progress still needs God in its unending confrontation with hunger, hatred and war.

Despite the Internet, globalized economies and space exploration, “how can we not hear, from the very depths of this humanity ... the heart-rending cry for help?” the pope said.

Humankind’s technological advance has not solved its most vexing problems, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church added.

“In this postmodern age, perhaps he [man] needs a savior all the more,” the pontiff said, “since the society in which he lives has become more complex, and the threats to his personal and moral integrity have become more insidious.”

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Draped in golden vestments, Benedict marked his second Christmas as pope, delivering the semiannual message “Urbi et Orbi” -- to the city and the world -- from the central balcony of majestic St. Peter’s Basilica. Tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists, in chilly sunshine, filled the square below to hear the noontime address, which was also broadcast to 40 countries.

St. Peter’s Square is an especially popular attraction at Christmastime. It is decorated this year by a 110-foot fir tree from southern Italy’s Sila National Park, said to be the tallest Christmas tree ever to grace the Vatican, and a larger-than-life Nativity scene.

The papal Christmas Day message is often an occasion for giving a sobering account of the state of world affairs, the conflicts and disease plaguing humanity and the way that the faith born with Jesus can provide solace.

“Who can defend him [man], if not the one who loves him to the point of sacrificing on the cross his only begotten son as the savior of the world?” Benedict said.

He cited “with deep apprehension” the Middle East, “marked by so many grave crises and conflicts,” and urged the path be opened “to a just and lasting peace, with respect for the inalienable rights of the peoples living there.”

“I place in the hands of the divine child of Bethlehem the indications of a resumption of dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians, which we have witnessed in recent days, and the hope of further encouraging developments,” the pope added, alluding to Saturday’s rare meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Benedict also called for the survival of a “democratic Lebanon, open to others and in dialogue with different cultures and religions,” and appealed “to all those who hold in their hands the fate of Iraq” that they work to find an end to “brutal violence.”

He also prayed for the end to fratricidal fighting in Darfur and elsewhere in Africa and for the continent’s “open wounds” to heal.

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“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?” the pope said.

“This humanity of the 21st century appears as a sure and self-sufficient master of its own destiny, the avid proponent of uncontested triumphs,” he continued. “So it would seem, yet this is not the case. People continue to die of hunger and thirst, disease and poverty, in this age of plenty and of unbridled consumerism.”

As he did during a Christmas Eve speech, the pope also made reference to a right-to-die case that has roiled Italy.

An Italian man paralyzed by advanced muscular dystrophy, Piergiorgio Welby, whose pleas to be allowed to die were turned down by the courts, died last week when a doctor turned off his respirator.

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The church denied Welby a religious funeral, judging that his death was tantamount to suicide.

“What are we to think of those who choose death in the belief that they are celebrating life?” the pope said.

On Sunday, speaking as Welby was being eulogized by supporters outside the closed doors of his local parish church, Benedict had been more explicit: “The birth of Christ helps us to understand how much value human life has, the life of every human being, from its first instant to its natural sunset.”

wilkinson@latimes.com

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