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Pope Proclaims Religious Freedom as First Right in State of the World Address
By Deacon Keith Fournier
January 11th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
Another sign of the marginalization of religion, and of Christianity in particular, is the banning of religious feasts and symbols from civic life under the guise of respect for the members of other religions or those who are not believers. By acting in this way, not only is the right of believers to the public expression of their faith restricted, but an attack is made on the cultural roots which nourish the profound identity and social cohesion of many nations. (Pope Benedict XVI)
VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - Every New Year the Pope addresses the Diplomatic Corps. The Vatican has diplomatic realtions with 181 Nations. There was a strong expectation that with the increasing religious persecution and violence in the Middle East, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, China and spreading throughout the world, that the Holy Father would continue his impassioned call for religious freedom to be recognized as a fundamental human right by every Nation. That is precisely what he did.
We have extensively covered the growing global hostility toward Catholics and other Christians. It is one of our highest editorial priorities. We must pray for and stand with those who suffer for the Lord; whether it is the evil of the violence we have witnessed in Baghdad, Mumbia, or Alexandria which resulted in the martyrdom of blood or the growing "Christianophobia" in the West, including the United States of America.
The Holy See released the full text of this profound, pastoral and prophetic address. We offer our readers the portions below. We invite our readers to continue to pray for the Pope, that he would have all of the grace he needs to courageously exercise his apostolic office. We ask you to pray for our persecuted brethren throughout the world. Finally, to pray for true and authentic peace which, as the Pope made clear, requires the recognition of a fundamental human right to religious freedom. Finally we ask our readers to study the manner in which the Pope articulates the truth concerning religious freedom as the model for our own defense of that freedom in the public square:
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to welcome you, the distinguished representatives of so many countries, to this meeting which each year assembles you around the Successor of Peter. It is a deeply significant meeting, since it is a sign and illustration of the place of the Church and of the Holy See in the international community. ... As a new year begins, our own hearts and the entire world continue to echo the joyful message proclaimed twenty centuries ago in the night of Bethlehem, a night which symbolizes humanity's deep need for light, love and peace. ...
This primary and basic truth is the reason why, in this year's Message for World Day of Peace, I identified religious freedom as the fundamental path to peace. Peace is built and preserved only when human beings can freely seek and serve God in their hearts, in their lives and in their relationships with others. Ladies and Gentlemen, your presence on this solemn occasion is an invitation to survey the countries which you represent and the entire world. In this panorama do we not find numerous situations in which, sadly, the right to religious freedom is violated or denied? It is indeed the first of human rights, not only because it was historically the first to be recognized but also because it touches the constitutive dimension of man, his relation with his Creator. ...
In the Middle East, Christians are original and authentic citizens who are loyal to their fatherland and assume their duties toward their country. It is natural that they should enjoy all the rights of citizenship, freedom of conscience, freedom of worship and freedom in education, teaching and the use of the mass media" (Message to the People of God of the Special Asembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, 10). I appreciate the concern for the rights of the most vulnerable and the political farsightedness which some countries in Europe have demonstrated in recent days by their call for a concerted response on the part of the European Union for the defence of Christians in the Middle East.
Finally, I would like to state once again that the right to religious freedom is not fully respected when only freedom of worship is guaranteed, and that with restrictions. Furthermore, I encourage the accompaniment of the full safeguarding of religious freedom and other humans rights by programmes which, beginning in primary school and within the context of religious instruction, will educate everyone to respect their brothers and sisters in humanity. Regarding the states of the Arabian Peninsula, where numerous Christian immigrant workers live, I hope that the Catholic Church will be able to establish suitable pastoral structures.
Among the norms prejudicing the right of persons to religious freedom, particular mention must be made of the law against blasphemy in Pakistan: I once more encourage the leaders of that country to take the necessary steps to abrogate that law, all the more so because it is clear that it serves as a pretext for acts of injustice and violence against religious minorities. The tragic murder of the governor of Punjab shows the urgent need to make progress in this direction: the worship of God furthers fraternity and love, not hatred and division.
Other troubling situations, at times accompanied by acts of violence, can be mentioned in south and south-east Asia, in countries which for that matter have a tradition of peaceful social relations. The particular influence of a given religion in a nation ought never to mean that citizens of another religion can be subject to discrimination in social life or, even worse, that violence against them can be tolerated. In this regard, it is important for interreligious dialogue to favour a common commitment to recognizing and promoting the religious freedom of each person and community. And, as I remarked earlier, violence against Christians does not spare Africa. Attacks on places of worship in Nigeria during the very celebrations marking the birth of Christ are another sad proof of this.
In a number of countries, on the other hand, a constitutionally recognized right to religious freedom exists, yet the life of religious communities is in fact made difficult and at times even dangerous (cf. Dignitatis Humanae, 15) because the legal or social order is inspired by philosophical and political systems which call for strict control, if not a monopoly, of the state over society. Such inconsistencies must end, so that believers will not find themselves torn between fidelity to God and loyalty to their country. I ask in particular that Catholic communities be everywhere guaranteed full autonomy of organization and the freedom to carry out their mission, in conformity with international norms and standards in this sphere.
My thoughts turn once again to the Catholic community of mainland China and its pastors, who are experiencing a time of difficulty and trial. I would also like to offer a word of encouragement to the authorities of Cuba, a country which in 2010 celebrated seventy-five years of uninterrupted diplomatic relations with the Holy See, that the dialogue happily begun with the Church may be reinforced and expanded. Turning our gaze from East to West, we find ourselves faced with other kinds of threats to the full exercise of religious freedom. I think in the first place of countries which accord great importance to pluralism and tolerance, but where religion is increasingly being marginalized. There is a tendency to consider religion, all religion, as something insignificant, alien or even destabilizing to modern society, and to attempt by different means to prevent it from having any influence on the life of society. Christians are even required at times to act in the exercise of their profession with no reference to their religious and moral convictions, and even in opposition to them, as for example where laws are enforced limiting the right to conscientious objection on the part of health care or legal professionals.
In this context, one can only be gratified by the adoption by the Council of Europe last October of a resolution protecting the right to conscientious objection on the part of medical personnel vis-à-vis certain acts which gravely violate the right to life, such as abortion. Another sign of the marginalization of religion, and of Christianity in particular, is the banning of religious feasts and symbols from civic life under the guise of respect for the members of other religions or those who are not believers. By acting in this way, not only is the right of believers to the public expression of their faith restricted, but an attack is made on the cultural roots which nourish the profound identity and social cohesion of many nations.
...I cannot remain silent about another attack on the religious freedom of families in certain European countries which mandate obligatory participation in courses of sexual or civic education which allegedly convey a neutral conception of the person and of life, yet in fact reflect an anthropology opposed to faith and to right reason. Ladies and Gentlemen, on this solemn occasion, allow me to state clearly several principles which inspire the Holy See, together with the whole Catholic Church, in its activity within the intergovernmental International Organizations for the promotion of full respect for the religious freedom of all. First, the conviction that one cannot create a sort of scale of degrees of religious intolerance.
Even less justifiable are attempts to counter the right of religious freedom with other alleged new rights which, while actively promoted by certain sectors of society and inserted in national legislation or in international directives, are nonetheless merely the expression of selfish desires lacking a foundation in authentic human nature. Finally, it seems unnecessary to point out that an abstract proclamation of religious freedom is insufficient: this fundamental rule of social life must find application and respect at every level and in all areas; otherwise, despite correct affirmations of principle, there is a risk that deep injustice will be done to citizens wishing to profess and freely practise their faith...
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