The pope, speaking at a noon blessing Aug. 17, said he was continuing to follow "with attention and worry" the events in Georgia, where a cease-fire agreement was reached the day before.
A Georgian attack on the breakaway province of South Ossetia Aug. 7 followed by a Russian invasion of Georgia left an unknown number of dead, including civilians, and prompted an estimated 60,000 people to flee their homes.
The pope said the situation of the refugees, in particular women and children who lack basic necessities, requires a generous response by the international community.
"I ask for the opening, without further delay, of humanitarian corridors between the region of South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia, so that the dead who have been abandoned may receive a dignified burial, the wounded may be adequately treated, and people who desire to do so may be allowed to reach their loves ones," he said.
The pope said it was important that ethnic minorities in the region be protected and their fundamental rights respected.
He expressed the hope that the cease-fire, brokered with help from the European Union, would last, and he called for new efforts to encourage "a permanent solution, through dialogue and mutual good will."
The pope made his comments at his summer villa in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, where he was following a reduced summer schedule. Hundreds of people filled the courtyard at the papal palace to cheer the pontiff and receive a blessing.
Meanwhile, the Vatican's diplomatic representative to Georgia, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, told Vatican Radio Aug. 17 that humanitarian aid was not getting through to the needy.
He said he had visited a school near the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, where he found about 1,500 people temporarily housed without toilet facilities or adequate food. Children in particular were suffering, he said.
"I hope humanitarian aid arrives. It's a question of guaranteeing the minimum for survival to these refugees," he said.
Laura Sheahen, regional information officer with the U.S. bishops' Catholic Relief Services, reported from Georgia that CRS was working with Caritas Georgia to provide emergency aid. Caritas Georgia and CRS are affiliates of Caritas Internationalis, the international umbrella group of Catholic aid agencies.
"Caritas is already ministering to hundreds of internally displaced people in Tbilisi by providing hot meals at a soup kitchen, bringing bread and rolls to temporary shelters, and coordinating additional aid through worldwide Caritas partners," Sheahen said in the report posted on CRS' Web site.
Caritas Georgia has been working to help displaced people from the destroyed sections of Ts'khinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. Caritas has been providing food and other needed items to families who fled the Gori region and have taken shelter in safe places, such as an isolated Catholic retreat house and city shelters.
"Because it already had a soup kitchen and large bakery, Caritas Georgia was able to swing into action early in the crisis and now is feeding 300 people three meals a day at one shelter alone," said Sheahen.
Vatican City, Aug. 8 2008
During a gathering with more than 400 priests in the Italian region of Tirol on Wednesday, the feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus, Pope Benedict XVI said Christianity has always encouraged care for the environment based on the conversion of the human person.
During the closed-door meeting at the Cathedral of Bressanone, the Pope spent over an hour responding to six questions posed by the priests from the region. Some of the Pope’s responses were later summarized for reporters by Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombari.
Pope Benedict also pointed out that “there is not always sufficient emphasis on the relationship between the teaching of the Church on redemption and creation. This is an issue in which Catholics can practice their faith, giving examples with lifestyles respectful of the environment,” Father Lombardi said, summarizing the Pope’s response.
The Pope believes that those who are conscious of the fact that God has entrusted man with creation have a solid foundation for respecting the environment, Father Lombardi explained. “But if one denies God, the world is reduced to the material, and in a world closed in on its materialism, it is easier for the human being to make himself the dictator of all other creatures and of nature,” he said.
As examples of the Christian view of man’s relationship with creation, the Pope pointed to St. Paul and medieval monarchism and in general Christian tradition, in which spiritualities sensitive to the environment such as that of the Franciscans have always existed.
Responding later to a question about administering the sacraments to persons without a solid formation in the faith—especially in the case of parents who request baptism for their children—Father Lombardi said that Benedict XVI responded that “when he was younger he was stricter and thought that it was a problem to administer the sacraments so widely. With time, the Pope said, ‘I understood it was necessary to follow the way of the Lord and be open to the mercy that embraces those who only have a hint of faith as well’.”
“Even if we can only see a small flame of desire for communion with the Church, there is reason to go in that direction,” he explained.
Vatican City, Aug. 7, 2008
Four days before the opening of the Olympic Games, Pope Benedict XVI highlighted his hope for China to welcome the Good News when he visited the birthplace of an Italian missioner who died in the mainland almost 100 years ago.
We know that China is becoming ever more important in political and economic life, and in the life of ideas. It is important that this great country open to the Gospel," the scholar-pope said on Aug. 5. Observers interpreted his remarks as a passionate call for full religious freedom in the mainland, and for China to open fully to Christianity and understand it has nothing to fear from the religion.
The pope had already mentioned China earlier in the week. On Sunday Aug. 3, speaking from a prepared text, he publicly conveyed his good wishes to China and all involved in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, due to open on Aug. 8.
On Tuesday evening he touched on the sensitive subject of religion in China. On this occasion he spoke without a prepared text, although the daily Italian-language L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, ran the story on the front page of its Aug. 7 edition.
Pope Benedict recognizes China allows a degree of religious freedom, but within limits. He wants to assuage any fears or concerns Chinese authorities have and help them understand how the Gospel can engage in a full and honest dialogue with Chinese culture, and not cause alienation.
The pope pointed to Saint Joseph Freinademetz (1852-1909), who preached the Gospel in China for 29 years, as an example of how Christianity can truly integrate with all that is good in Chinese culture.
He spoke after visiting the house where the saint was born in Oies, a tiny mountain village in northeastern Italy's Val Badia region. The house attracts pilgrims, many from China, but Pope Benedict made his remarks in the village's new church, which resembles a Chinese pagoda.
The saint joined the newly founded Society of the Divine Word in 1879, after being ordained a diocesan priest 14 years earlier. He served in Hong Kong 1879-1881 and then preached in southern Shandong province, eastern China, for 27 years. He survived the anti-foreigner violence of the Boxer revolt, but died of typhoid in 1908 in Daijiazhuang and was buried there. Pope John Paul II canonized him in 2003.
Elaborating, the Holy Father said: "Saint Joseph Freinademetz shows us that the faith is not an alienation for any culture, for any people, because all cultures await Christ and are not destroyed by the Lord; rather, they reach their maturity (in him)."
Portraits of the saint and historical accounts testify to how much he sought to identify with the Chinese people. He grew a pointed beard and dressed in clothing typical of the time and place. After arriving in China, he never returned home.
"Saint Joseph Freinademetz wanted not only to live and die as a Chinese, but also to remain Chinese in heaven," the pope said. "In this way he ideally identified himself with this people, in the certainty that it would open to faith in Jesus Christ."
Pope Benedict invited the congregation to pray for the saint's encouragement "to go towards Christ, because he alone can unite peoples, only he can unite cultures." He added, "Let us pray too that he may give courage to many young people to dedicate their lives totally to the Lord and to his Gospel."
The village where the saint once lived has only 15 inhabitants today, but 5,000 pilgrims greeted the pope when he arrived by helicopter from the seminary in nearby Bressanone, where he is vacationing.
The visitors' book inside the saint's former house bears the names of many Chinese who came to honor the missioner called Fu Shenfu (priest of happiness), including Divine Word Cardinal Thomas Tien Keng-hsin, the first Chinese cardinal, from 1963.
Pope Benedict added: "May the Lord, through the intercession of Saint Josef Freinademetz, grant many spiritual vocations and open China ever more to faith in Jesus."
Sydney, July 17, 2008 - Pope Benedict on Thursday told a huge gathering of young people that they were inheriting a planet whose resources had been scarred and squandered to fuel insatiable consumption.
His latest appeal to save the planet for future generations came in a address to some 150,000 youths in Sydney after he rode through the city's harbour standing on the outdoor deck of a white ferry as dozens of boats blew their horns.
"Reluctantly we come to acknowledge that there are also scars which mark the surface of our earth, erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world's mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption," he told the cheering crowd.
The 81-year-old pope appeared in good form as he started the official part of his trip after three days of rest. He chatted with young people on the ferry and stepped off sprightly to receive a bear hug welcome by an Aboriginal on the dock.
He told the young people, some of whom had come from island nations threatened by rising sea levels or drought-hit nations such as Australia, that protecting the environment was "of vital importance to humanity".
The pope recalled how his long flight from Rome last weekend, he marvelled at the sparkle of the Mediterranean, the grandeur of the north Africa desert, the lushness of Asia's forests and the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.
"It is as though one catches glimpses of the Genesis creation story -- light and darkness, the sun and the moon, the waters, the earth and living creatures," he said.
In a welcoming speech to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Thursday morning, the pope said: "It is appropriate to reflect upon the kind of world we are handing on to future generations".
Australia, one of the world's highest per capita greenhouse emitters due to coal-fired power stations, is in the grip of the worst drought in 100 years and is struggling to save its major river system that feeds the nation's food belt.
APOLOGY TO ABORIGINES PRAISED
The pope also praised Australia for apologising for past injustices to Aborigines, saying it was a courageous move to repair race relations and offered hope to the rest of the world.
Rudd officially apologised to Aborigines in February.
Australia's 460,000 Aborigines make up about 2 percent of the country's 21 million population and have consistently higher rates of unemployment, substance abuse and domestic violence, as well as a life expectancy 17 years less than other Australians.
The pope thanked Aborigines for a traditional welcoming ceremony and acknowledged Aborigines are the first people of Australia.
"I am deeply moved to stand on your land, knowing the suffering and injustices it has borne, but aware too of the healing and hope that are now at work...," he said.
The Catholic Church hopes World Youth Day, the brainchild of the late Pope John Paul II, will revitalise the world's young Catholics at a time when the cult of the individual and consumerism has become big distractions in their lives.
The pope said the "social world" also had scars, highlighting alcohol and drug abuse, violence and sexual degradation. He questioned how the media's portrayal of violence and sexual exploitation can be considered "entertainment".
He warned young pilgrims "do not be fooled by those who see you as just another consumer".
Sydney, July 17, 208 - Pope Benedict XVI praised the Australian government Thursday for its "courageous' apology to the country's indigenous Aborigines for past injustices, saying it offered hope to all the world's disadvantaged peoples.
The remarks came as the pope began a busy day of public appearances expected to draw half a million people to Sydney's streets and its famous harbor.
At an official welcoming ceremony, Benedict said Australia's original inhabitants were an essential part of the country's cultural landscape, and cited their plight since the first British convict settlers arrived 220 years ago.
"Thanks to the Australian government's courageous decision to acknowledge the injustices committed against the indigenous peoples in the past, concrete steps are now being taken to achieve reconciliation based on mutual respect," Benedict said.
It was right to try to raise Aborigines out of poverty and raise their health and education standards to the equal of other Australians, he said.
In February, new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally apologized to Aborigines as one of his first official acts after being elected to power. He has made closing a gap between indigenous people and other Australians a priority of his government.
Aborigines are an often-marginalized minority of about 450,000 in a population of 21 million. They are the country's poorest group, with the highest rates of unemployment, illiteracy, incarceration and alcohol abuse, and a life expectancy 17 years shorter than other Australians.
In 2001, John Paul II issued a formal apology to the indigenous peoples of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific islands for injustices perpetrated by Catholic missionaries.
In his remarks, Benedict also praised Australia for contributing to peacekeeping operations, and touched on the problem of global warming — an issue he has signaled he wants Catholics to think more about.
"With many thousands of young people visiting Australia at this time, it is appropriate to reflect upon he kind of world we are handing to the future generations," Benedict , who has been dubbed the "green pope" by some observers.
The 81-year-old pontiff emerged Thursday from three days of seclusion — a short holiday to help him recover from the more than 20-hour trip from Rome — to join World Youth Day, a six-day event designed to inspire a new generation of Catholics.
More than 200,000 pilgrims have registered for the event, many from overseas. They thronged the city Thursday, bolstered by thousands of Sydneysiders who lined the harbor and city streets to see the pope pass by.
He ended the respite with a visit Wednesday from some of Australia's exotic animals. Wildlife officers from the city zoo brought a red-necked wallaby, a spiny echidna, a blue-tongued lizard and other beasts to the retreat after the pope expressed interest in seeing some Australian animals. Vactican-released video showed a smiling Benedict stroking a koala and scratching it behind the ear as it was held by a ranger.
After his official welcome from dignitaries including Rudd at Government House in Sydney, Benedict was driven across the city's landmark harbor bridge to a kneel in prayer at a chapel devoted to Mary MacKillop, who many Catholics here hope will be named as Australia's first saint during the pope's visit. She is celebrated for her work caring for children last century.
Later, Benedict was given a ceremonial welcome by Aboriginal elders and a group of dancers of the Gadigal people. The dancers, their bodies painted in white ochre and wearing animals pelts against a brisk winter chill, shook eucalyptus fronds as a symbol of cleansing and good fortune as a didgerdoo played.
The pope then boarded a boat for a slow procession through the harbor. Surrounded by police runabouts and followed by a flotilla of private craft, the pope's large cruiser pasted the Sydney's Opera house to dock at a former cargo wharf where Benedict will deliver an address to a huge crowd of pilgrims. He was due later to drive through downtown in the popemobile — a trip that has virtually shut down parts of the city.
The contents of the pope's address have not been revealed by the Vatican, though it is expected to be significant. During the flight from Rome to Sydney, Benedict told reporters he was concerned about global warming and that he would seek to heal some wounds caused by sexual abuse by clergy — a scandal that has dogged the church in recent years.
Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, on Wednesday would not be pinned down on when the pope would speak about the sexual abuse scandal but suggested it may be Saturday.