Pope Benedict XVI to U.N.: Protect Human Rights

Pope Benedict XVI to U.N.: Protect Human Rights
Pope Benedict XVI
Stuart Ramson/AP

04/18/2008 AT 02:30 PM EDT

After his Alitalia Boeing 777 touched down at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport on Friday morning, and he was helicoptered into Manhattan and whisked up to United Nations headquarters in a car caravan, Pope Benedict XVI, on his first papal visit to the U.S., addressed the General Assembly – advising that the world body respect and protect human rights.

"The promotion of human rights remains the most effective strategy for eliminating inequalities between countries and social groups, and for increasing security," said the Holy Father, who spoke first in French and then in English as he reminded the 200-strong assembly of the founding philosophical mission of the body in which they serve.

"Indeed, for victims of hardship and despair ... become easy prey to the call to violence, and they can then become violators of peace," he said, careful not to single out nations that had violated human-rights issues, or even to name any particular conflicts, such as the Iraq war – though he did appear to allude to it.

His Holiness also cautioned that human rights should be guarded against becoming "a relativistic conception," which he said would result in rights being subjected to various local interpretations, which could cause "their universality [to be] denied in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks."

Concluding his 40-minute address, the pontiff, who celebrated his 81st birthday with President Bush and others in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, offered "peace and prosperity with God's help!" in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Russian.

Later Friday afternoon, Pope Benedict was scheduled to make history as the first pontiff ever to visit an American synagogue. Over the weekend, he is to deliver Saturday Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, then, on Sunday, visit Ground Zero before he conducts Mass at Yankee Stadium and returns home to the Vatican.

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