VATICAN CITY — Moral relativism "endangers the coexistence of peoples," Pope Francis told diplomats March 22, and said a common ethics based on human nature is an indispensable condition for world peace.
The pope made his remarks to the Vatican diplomatic corps in the Apostolic Palace's Sala Regia, the vast "royal hall" where popes traditionally received Catholic monarchs.
Recalling the love of the poor practiced by his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, the pope lamented both material poverty and the "spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the 'dictatorship of relativism,' which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples."
"Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace," Pope Francis said. "But there is no peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth."
The pope paid tribute the church's charitable and social services around the world, and acknowledged his particular responsibility for peacemaking, noting that his title of pontiff means a "builder of bridges with God and between people."
In a characteristically personal note, the Argentine pope added that his origin in a family of Italian immigrants gave him an impetus to "work for the building of bridges."
Pope Francis stressed the importance to peacemaking of interreligious dialogue, particularly with Islam.
"It is not possible to build bridges between people while forgetting God," he said. "But the converse is also true: It is not possible to establish true links with God while ignoring other people."
The pope also underscored the need to "intensify outreach to nonbelievers, so that the differences which divide and hurt us may never prevail."
Following his speech, Pope Francis spent nearly an hour individually greeting the ambassadors and their spouses. Most of the men wore white tie, tails, ceremonial sashes and medals, though some from Arab or African countries opted for their traditional dress. Most of the women had covered their heads with a black lace mantilla.
The Vatican currently maintains diplomatic ties with 180 states, as well as the European Union, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Pope Francis voiced hope for closer ties with "those few countries that do not yet have diplomatic relations with the Holy See," noting that some of them had sent representatives or greetings to his inauguration Mass March 19.
The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, which do not exchange ambassador with the Holy See, had sent representatives to the Mass.