VATICAN CITY, JAN. 22, 2001 (Zenit.org).- When he received Iran´s new ambassador to the Vatican today, John Paul II proposed that progress be made in the dialogue among cultures, and that Christians in Iran be given freedom to practice their faith.
Iran and the Vatican enjoy stable diplomatic relations. Iran, a country of 60 million inhabitants, has a small minority of 210,000 non-Muslims. According to the constitution, of the total of 290 seats in Parliament, five belong to the religious minorities, including three for Christians.
However, “Report 2000 on Religious Liberty,” published by Aid to the Church in Need, states that apostasy from Islam is punishable by death in the country, both for the one inducing it, as well as the one rejecting Islam.
The same report reveals that Christians are leaving the country “because they can no longer open restaurants, small kiosks, be hairdressers or dentists. The life of a non-Muslim is worth much less in case of an accident, the monetary sanction for running someone over is more than 100 times less.”
In order to back up his proposals, the Holy Father quoted statements of Iranian President Seyed Mohammad Khatami, who in the last years has implemented a policy of dialogue with the West. The Pope recalled that it was, in fact, at Khatami´s suggestion that the U.N. General Assembly declared 2001 the “International Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations.”
This is a favorite topic of the Pope, to the point that he highlighted it in his message for the World Day of Peace, held Jan. 1.
Thus, the Pope repeated to the new Iranian ambassador, Mostafa Borujerdi, the appeal he made in that document to avoid those “pathological manifestations that occur when the sense of belonging turns into self-exaltation, the rejection of diversity, and forms of nationalism, racism and xenophobia” (No. 6).
In this connection, the Pontiff referred in particular to the colloquium sponsored jointly by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Secretariat for Interreligious Dialogue of the Organization for Islamic Culture and Communication, which took place in Rome last year on the theme of religious pluralism in Christianity and Islam. Another initiative of this kind will take place in Tehran at the end of this year.
In this regard, the Holy See counts on the support of the Iranian authorities in ensuring that the Catholic faithful of Iran — present in that region of the world since the first centuries of Christianity — will enjoy the freedom to profess their faith and to continue to be a part of the rich cultural life of the nation.
“Although the Christian community is but a tiny minority in the overall population, it sees itself as truly Iranian,” the Pope concluded, “and after centuries of living alongside its Muslim brothers and sisters, it is in a unique position to contribute to ever greater mutual understanding and respect between Christian believers and the followers of Islam everywhere.”