Pope John Paul II, his voice hardened with the frustration of unanswered pleas for peace, began 1995 on Sunday by denouncing those waging war in Africa, the Balkans and elsewhere.
He also reiterated his appeal to women to play a special role as peacemakers.
In impromptu remarks after his traditional New Year’s message for peace, the pope singled out Rwanda and “its still-uncertain future.” He also mentioned Burundi, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
He cited “dramatic hours” of fighting in the Russia-Chechen conflict and “repeated violations of personal safety” in Banja Luka, a town in northern Bosnia that has been ravaged by war.
“It is not by using arms that one constructs a more human world, or a even a national reality worthy of this name,” John Paul said sternly.
John Paul mentioned a Catholic church in Banja Luka where he said several faithful, including children, were taken away on Christmas Day to be sent to the front or to work camps.
The local bishop reported the episode, similar to others in the area. Independent confirmation is hard to come by in such cases.
“I ask those responsible for similar, very grave situations to reflect on the consequences,” John Paul said.
From a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, where 25,000 people gathered in a chilly rain, John Paul prayed for “the gift of peace for families, for nations, for entire humanity… This is our constant invocation that must be sustained by concrete gestures and initiatives.”
“1995, for example, calls to mind the end of the disastrous events of World War II,” the pope said, noting the approaching 50th anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.
“How can one not hope, in the recollection of those events and in looking around at the regions of the world where, unfortunately, combat continues, that the new year finally brings to every part of the world the peace that is so desired?” the pope asked.
Quoting from a message he sent to heads of state last year, John Paul urged women to play a special role as “teachers of peace in the relations between people and generations, in the family, in the cultural, social and political life of nations, especially in situations of conflict and war.”
John Paul’s 1994 was punctuated by health problems and disappointments. Since hip surgery after a fall in late April, the pope has difficulty walking.
The Vatican cut back on his schedule after years of extensive travel abroad. But John Paul is to resume a more demanding schedule in 1995. On Jan. 11, he begins a 10-day pilgrimage that will take him to Australia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.
The pope is also starting the new year with a new honor. A Russian Orthodox Church in Ulyanovsk, the birthplace of Vladimir Lenin, has made John Paul an honorary parishioner, the Interfax news agency said Sunday.