In the context of his visit to Argentina, Archbishop Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, gave a lecture at the Argentine Catholic University (UCA) on the Holy See's role in the promotion of human rights in the international realm, especially in the United Nations, where he was the Pope's delegate for 16 years.
Archbishop Martino spoke on the occasion of the International Days whose theme was "The Safeguarding of the Fundamental Rights of the Human Person."
The event took place to commemorate the 40th anniversary of John XXIII's encyclical "Pacem in Terris." It was organized by departments at UCA and at the Lateran University of Rome.
The archbishop said that the Holy See is "a force of the moral order," and, it is precisely "moral force, not political force, which confers ability to act in the international scene. Moreover, in addition to political commitment, modern humanity is in extreme need of moral commitment."
He outlined four areas in which the Holy See is committed, the first of which is the promotion and defense of human rights.
In this connection, he recalled "the decisive contribution of the Holy See -- the latter the fruit of memorable battles waged in the conferences of Cairo and Beijing -- for recognition, in juridical and political instruments, of the international community, of the right to life from conception, and of the affirmation of the personal dignity of women."
In Cairo, in 1994, the Holy See had to address a veritable siege on human rights, as preference was being given to "indiscriminate demographic control," Archbishop Martino said.
He said that experts in the manipulation of statistics did everything possible to deflect attention from the focus of the conference -- population and development -- to "women's reproductive rights." The figure of the traditional family was attacked and denigrated, and pressure was exerted to have an "international right to abortion" proclaimed, he said.
In order to avoid this situation, the Holy See engaged in a complex negotiation in which it had the "providential support" of the Argentine delegation, the archbishop said. In the end, abortion was specifically excluded as a "means of family planning."
The same happened in the 4th World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. But "with the support of a small group of countries, among them Argentina, the Holy See once again was in a position to impede the proclamation of abortion as a human right and to ensure that references to the family and to maternity were included" in the final document, the Vatican aide said.
The Holy See's second commitment in the international area is the promotion of the right to development, in favor of the neediest countries, Archbishop Martino said.
"The world today is frightened by a fragile peace and lacking in hope because of broken promises," he said. "Too many people live a life devoid of hope, with few possibilities to build a better future. The family of nations cannot allow one more day to go by without really trying to achieve these objectives, making concrete progress in the eradication of poverty."
The Holy See's third commitment is the promotion of the right to peace, in the areas of disarmament, the nonproliferation and elimination of weapons of mass destruction. Archbishop Martino lamented: "Nuclear disarmament has not made progress. On the contrary, it has taken disturbing steps backward."
"There cannot be moral tolerance for any military doctrine which approves nuclear arms," the prelate added. He reiterated "the Holy See's concern about the present phase of stagnation in the disarmament process due to the lack of cooperation of some nuclear powers."
The peace-making action of the Holy See also calls for "favoring the resolution of conflicts," especially the "forgotten wars," such as those that cover the African continent in blood, he said.
The fourth commitment embraces human rights and the international order.
Archbishop Martino stressed that "the Holy See has expressed in a thousand ways its confidence in the value of the community of nations, which is expressed through international relations characterized by reciprocal respect and common solidarity, or through international organizations which constitute, so to speak, the spinal cord of their life and vitality, and in an international order endowed with a world public authority."
He said that the international community and multilateralism "are points strongly influenced by the political philosophy and daily activity of the Holy See's diplomacy," which "presents itself as a witness of hope that invites the international community to have courage, making itself the spokesman and interpreter, in the international, moral, political and culture plane, of Jesus' invitation to Peter: International community, put out into the deep!"
At the end of his lecture, Archbishop Martino said that he had often heard that "the Holy See's diplomacy is the best."
"I don't know what truth there is in this affirmation," he said. "If the Holy See has great merits, the latter are derived not so much from exquisite political or diplomatic abilities, but rather and above all, from its capacity to give public relevance and prophetic visibility to the religious and moral discourse on the destinies of men and women and on their fundamental rights."
The archbishop said he felt the duty to "render homage to the Holy See, which has been and will continue to be, within the great family of nations, an authentic witness of the dignity of man, and in this, its mission, it will not cease to seek the consensus of nations of good will on the great issues of justice and peace."
"The Holy See," he said, "can exercise its function of the promotion of man and his fundamental rights, of peace and development, all the more effectively the more it concentrates decidedly on what is proper to it: openness to God, the teaching of a universal fraternity and the promotion of a culture of solidarity.
"It is in this perspective that the Holy See is determined to carry out its action, today more necessary than ever, sustained by hope against all hope."