28 October, 2006
VATICAN – UN
Holy See concerned about lack of religious freedom worldwide
Addressing the UN General Assembly, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See underlined the importance of interreligious dialogue at every level and denounced the widespread abuse of religious freedom as a pretext to trample on human rights.
New York (AsiaNews) – The Holy See is “concerned about those situations where freedom of religion is used as a pretext for violating other human rights” and about places in many parts of the world where “freedom of religion or belief does not exist for individuals and communities, especially among religious minorities”. Thus, “the time has come for us to confront religious freedom, ever more vital for today’s global society”.
This was the thrust of an address made yesterday by Mgr Celestino Migliore, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, before the third Commission of the 61st session of the UN General Assembly.
At the beginning of his address, the prelate highlighted three themes “that merit particular attention: the coexistence of different religions and religious communities, the propagation of religion, including the sensitive issue of proselytism and the relationship between freedom of expression and religion.” To resolve these issues, “interreligious dialogue at all levels is of crucial importance not only for resolving disputes, but also for fostering peaceful coexistence that enables all religions to live side by side and in mutual respect.”
However, the Vatican delegation “is seriously concerned that freedom of religion or belief does not exist for individuals and communities, especially among religious minorities, in many parts of the world.” The delegation is also “concerned that the high level of religious intolerance in some countries is leading to an alarming degree of polarization and discrimination.”
Mgr Migliore continued: “While religious tolerance is sometimes characterized as accepting or permitting those religious beliefs and practices which disagree with one’s own, the time has come to move beyond this type of religious tolerance, and to apply instead the principles of authentic religious freedom.”
The Vatican observer said: “Religious freedom is the right to believe, worship, propose and witness to one’s faith. It grants the opportunity and creates the occasions for people to profess freely the tenets of their faith. Furthermore, it includes the right to change one’s religion and to associate freely with others in order to express one’s religious convictions. Religious tolerance is simply a starting point, a basis for universal religious freedom and there cannot be full religious tolerance without an effective recognition of religious freedom.”
Historically, he added, “tolerance has been a contentious issue among believers of different faiths. However, we have come to a turning point in history which demands more of us, including a commitment to interreligious dialogue. At the same time, my delegation is increasingly convinced of the indispensable importance of reciprocity, which, by its very nature, is apt to ensure the free exercise of religion in all societies.”
The Holy See “continues to be concerned by a number of situations where the existence of enacted or proposed legislative and administrative measures for placing limits on the practice, observance or propagation of religion is a reality. Likewise, the Holy See is concerned with those situations where religion or freedom of religion is used as a pretext or a justification for violating other human rights.”
Moreover, there are cases “of intolerance when group interests or power struggles seek to prevent religious communities from enlightening consciences and thus enabling them to act freely and responsibly, according to the true demands of justice. Likewise, it would be intolerant to denigrate religious communities and exclude them from public debate and cooperation just because they do not agree with options nor conform to practices that are contrary to human dignity.”
In conclusion, the prelate recalled that “in our diverse and ever-changing world, religion is more than an internal matter of thought and conscience. It has the potential to bind us together as equal and valuable members of the human family. We cannot overlook the role that religion plays in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick and visiting the imprisoned. Nor should we underestimate its power, especially in the midst of conflict and division, to turn our minds to thoughts of peace, to enable enemies to speak to one another.”
He added: “Religion is a vital force for good, for harmony and for peace among all peoples, especially in troubled times.”