Pope Benedict addresses Vatican Diplomatic Corps – January 2011
Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) – “The religious dimension is an undeniable and irrepressible feature of man’s being and acting…. Consequently, when the individual himself or those around him neglect or deny this fundamental dimension, imbalances and conflicts arise at all levels, both personal and interpersonal.” The Holy Father Benedict XVI affirmed this in his Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, whom he received in Audience to exchange New Year’s greetings on 10 January.
Taking a point from his Message for the World Day of Peace 2011, dedicated to religious freedom as “the fundamental path to peace”, the Pope touched on in his Address, the numerous situations now in the world, where the right to religious freedom is infringed or denied. The Pope explained: “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.”
Looking to the Orient, where many attacks “brought death, grief and dismay among the Christians of Iraq, even to the point of inducing them to leave the land where their families have lived for centuries”, Benedict XVI renewed his appeal to Authorities and to Muslim religious leaders “that their Christian fellow-citizens be able to live in security, continuing to contribute to the society in which they are fully members”. The terrorist attacks which also affected the faithful gathered in church in Alexandria, in Egypt, are a further sign “of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt, in spite of difficulties and dangers, effective measures for the protection of religious minorities”. The Pope then confirmed “that the right to religious freedom is not fully respected when only freedom of worship is guaranteed, and that with restrictions”, encouraging school programmes and religious teaching that “educate everyone to respect their brothers and sisters in humanity”. In relation to the States of the Arabian Peninsula, “where numerous Christian immigrant workers live”, the Pope stated his hope “that the Catholic Church will be able to establish suitable pastoral structures.”
The Pope gave particular mention to the law against blasphemy in Pakistan, encouraging the authorities “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”. Other concerning situations “can be mentioned in south and south-east Asia” recalled the Pope, placing in evidence that “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”.
Interreligious dialogue is called to favour “a common commitment to recognizing and promoting the religious freedom of each person and community”. Then the Holy Father cited Africa, where “the attacks on places of worship in Nigeria during the very celebrations marking the birth of Christ are another sad proof” of this violence against Christians.
It should also be noted that in other countries “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”. In this respect the Holy Father asked that “such inconsistencies must end, so that believers will not find themselves torn between fidelity to God and loyalty to their country.” In particular Benedict XVI asked 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.” The thoughts of the Pope thus turned to the Catholic community of mainland China and its Pastors, “who are experiencing a time of difficulty and trial”, and to the authorities in Cuba, “that the dialogue happily begun with the Church may be reinforced and expanded.”
Moving his gaze from the East to the West, the Holy Father enumerated on other types of threats against the full exercise of religious freedom: the “increasing marginalization” of religion considered “as something insignificant, alien or even destabilizing to modern society”, coming to expect “that 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”. To eliminate from public life “religious feasts and symbols from civic life under the guise of respect for the members of other religions or those who are not believers.” “Acknowledging religious freedom also means ensuring that religious communities can operate freely in society through initiatives in the social, charitable or educational sectors.… It is troubling that this service which religious communities render to society as a whole, particularly through the education of young people, is compromised or hampered by legislative proposals which risk creating a sort of state monopoly in the schools”. Another threat to the religious freedom of families in various European countries, concerns “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”.
In the concluding part of his Address, the Holy Father recalled several principles which the Holy See, together with the whole Catholic Church, is inspired: “First, the conviction that one cannot create a sort of scale of degrees of religious intolerance”; “there is a need to reject the dangerous notion of a conflict between the right to religious freedom and other human rights, thus disregarding or denying the central role of respect for religious freedom in the defence and protection of fundamental human dignity”; finally “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.”
After having also recalled that “The activity of the Papal Representatives accredited to states and international organizations is likewise at the service of religious freedom”, and having noted with satisfaction that the Vietnamese authorities accepted the nomination of a Representative of the Pope, “who will express the solicitude of the Successor of Peter by visiting the beloved Catholic community of that country”. Benedict XVI concluded: “I would like once more to state forcefully that religion does not represent a problem for society, that it is not a source of discord or conflict. I would repeat that the Church seeks no privileges, nor does she seek to intervene in areas unrelated to her mission, but simply to exercise the latter with freedom…. May no human society willingly deprive itself of the essential contribution of religious persons and communities!”
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