Pope rails against lack of religious freedom in annual Peace Day message

By  Carol Glatz Catholic News Service
  • December 22, 2010
pope 122010VATICAN CITY - Infringements on the freedom of religion threaten peace and security worldwide as well as stifle authentic human growth and development, Pope Benedict XVI said.

“Religious freedom is an authentic weapon of peace,” which fosters the human qualities and potentials that “can change the world and make it better,” the Pope said in his message for World Peace Day, Jan. 1.

Pope Benedict’s message, which was delivered to world leaders by Vatican ambassadors, was released at the Vatican Dec. 16. The message, titled “Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace,” made special mention of the “theatre of violence and strife” in Iraq and the deadly attack on a Syrian Catholic church in Baghdad Oct. 31.

The Pope said it is in the context of widespread violence, persecution, intolerance and discrimination against people of faith that he decided to dedicate the peace day message to the fundamental importance of religious freedom as the basis for the well-being and growth of individuals and whole societies.

“At present, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith,” citing specifically the Christian communities in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and “especially in the Holy Land.”

During a presentation of the message to the press, Msgr. Anthony Frontiero, an official at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said that of all the people “who are discriminated against, hurt, killed or persecuted for religious reasons, 75 per cent worldwide are Christian.” The statistic came from a spokesperson from The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life during a conference hosted by the European Parliament in November.

In his message, the Pope said the fact that Christians must live in fear because of their faith “is unacceptable, since it represents an insult to God and to human dignity.”

“Furthermore, it is a threat to security and peace, and an obstacle to the achievement of authentic and integral human development,” he said.

The Pope also warned against “more sophisticated forms of hostility to religion” which, in Western countries, is often expressed by a denial of its Christian roots and the rejection of religious symbols, “which reflect the identity and the culture of the majority of citizens.”

Such hostility is “inconsistent with a serene and balanced vision of pluralism and the secularity of institutions,” he said. Governmental and social institutions are called to engage in respectful dialogue with religious groups, which can make important contributions toward the common good, he added.

Civil society must acknowledge and make room for the right of believers to have their voice heard in the public realm, he said.

“To eclipse the public role of religion is to create a society which is unjust, inasmuch as it fails to take account of the true nature of the human person; it is to stifle the growth of the authentic and lasting peace of the whole human family,” Pope Benedict said.

The Pope urged societies to strike a careful balance between the unjust extremes of religious fundamentalism on one hand and a secularist, total exclusion of God on the other.

Pope Benedict urged world leaders to “act promptly to end every injustice” against Christians in Asia, Africa and the Middle East; he also assured all Christians facing violence and discrimination of his prayers and asked they renew their commitment to forgiveness and reconciliation.

The Pope ended his message with a plea to Western countries to end their “hostility and prejudice against Christians” and he urged Europe to become reconciled with its Christian roots, which, he said, are indispensable for promoting justice, harmony and peace.

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