2010-07-13 12:23:35

Pope Picks Religious Freedom as Theme for 2011 Peace Message

(13 Jul 10 – RV) «Religious freedom, the path to peace». This is the theme chosen by Pope Benedict XVI for the celebration of the 2011 World Day of Peace. The World Day of Peace – celebrated since 1968 on the first day of every year – will be therefore dedicated to the theme of religious freedom. As is well known, in many parts of the world there exist various forms of restrictions or denials of religious freedom, from discrimination and marginalization based on religion, to acts of violence against religious minorities.
Religious freedom is rooted in the equal and inherent dignity of man, it is oriented toward
the search for «unchangeable truth», and thus can rightly be presented as the «freedom of
freedoms». As such, religious freedom is authentically realized when it is experienced as the
coherent search for the Truth and the truth of man.
This notion of religious freedom offers us a fundamental criterion for discerning the
phenomenon of religion and its manifestations. It necessarily rejects the «religiosity» of
fundamentalism, and the manipulation and the instrumentalization of the truth and of the truth
of man. Since such distortions are opposed to the dignity of man and to the search for truth, they
cannot be considered as religious freedom. Rather, an authentic notion of religious freedom
offers a profound vision of this fundamental human right, one which broadens the horizons of
«humanity» and «freedom» of man, allowing for the establishment of a deep relationship with
oneself, with the other and with the world. Religious freedom is a freedom in this respect for
human dignity and life.
As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council emphasized: «Man has been made by God to
participate in this law, with the result that, under the gentle disposition of divine providence, he
can come to perceive ever more fully the truth that is unchanging. Wherefore every man has the
duty , and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious in order that he may with
prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience, under use of all suitable
means» (Declaration Dignitatis Humanae, 3). The vocation to believe in God, recognized as a
fundamental human right, is a pre-requisite integral human development (Caritas in Veritate,
29), and a condition for the realization of the common good and the promotion of peace in the
As Pope Benedict XVI affirmed during his visit to the General Assembly of the United
Nations: «Human rights, of course, must include the right to religious freedom, understood as
the expression of a dimension that is at once individual and communitarian – a vision that brings
out the unity of the person while clearly distinguishing between the dimension of the citizen and
that of the believer» (Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations, 18 April 2008).
The theme chosen for the 2011 World Day of Peace represents an accomplishment of a «path
to peace» which Benedict XVI has invited the human family to consider in depth on several
occasions. Since 2006, his Message for the World Day of Peace has focused on important
dimensions of the truth (In Truth, Peace, 2006), the dignity of the human person (The Human
Person, the Heart of Peace, 2007), the unity of the human family (The Human Family, a
Community of Peace, 2008), the fight against poverty (Fighting Poverty to Build Peace, 2009),
and finally care for creation (If you Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation, 2010). This
journey has its roots in the vocation of man to truth (capax Dei) and, having as a «polestar»
human dignity, leads to the freedom to seek the truth.
Today there are many areas of the world in which forms of restrictions and limitations to
religious freedom persist, both where communities of believers are a minority, and where
communities of believers are not a minority, and where more sophisticated forms of discrimination
and marginalization exist, on the cultural level and in the spheres of public civil and political
participation. «It is inconceivable» – remarked Benedict XVI – «that believers should have to
suppress a part of themselves – their faith – in order to be active citizens. It should never be
necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one’s rights. The rights associated with religion are all
the more in need of protection if they are considered to clash with a prevailing secular ideology
or with majority religious positions of an exclusive nature» (Address to the United Nations, cit.).
Man cannot be «fragmented», and separated from what he believes, because that in which
he believes has an impact on his life and on his person. «Refusal to recognize the contribution
to society that is rooted in the religious dimension and in the quest for the Absolute – by its
nature, expressing communion between persons – would effectively privilege an individualistic
approach, and would fragment the unity of the person» (Address to the United Nations, cit.). It
is for this reason that: «Religious Freedom is the Path to Peace».

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