Pope says family key to peace

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict ushered in the New Year on Tuesday by criticizing policies that undermine the traditional family, saying they eroded one of the most important foundations for peace in the world.

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The Pontiff, delivering a traditional New Year prayer for peace, appeared to take a swipe at efforts in several countries to grant legal recognition to gay and unwed couples -- although he did not single out any policies by name.

He said the traditional family led by a husband and wife instilled values that promote peace, and added it was an “irreplaceable” institution.

“Those who are hostile, even unknowingly, to the institution of the family ... make peace fragile for the entire national and international community,” the Pope told crowds gathered in a sunny St. Peter’s Square.

The German-born Benedict has made defending the traditional family a priority since being elected Pontiff in 2005 following the death of John Paul II, focusing much of his attention on Europe.

Gay marriage is legal in several European countries including predominantly Catholic Spain, where hundreds of thousands of Catholics rallied on Sunday in favor of the traditional family. The Pontiff had addressed the Spanish rally via a live video-link.

Speaking earlier on Tuesday at St. Peter’s Basilica, the leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics urged followers to reject challenges to the family “eclipsing the truth of man”.

“I wanted to shed light on the direct relationship that exists between the family and peace in the world,” the Pope said.

“The family is the primary agent of peace and the negation or even the restriction of rights of the family ... threatens the very foundations of peace.”

Quoting from a message he issued in December to mark the Church’s World Day of Peace on January 1, Benedict said the family was “the first and irreplaceable educator of peace”.

He also said that if the world wanted to live in peace, it would need to recognize those universal values that all people share as part of a single, “human family”.

Editing by Keith Weir