Holy See Appeals to U.N. for Effective Religious Freedom

Calls It a Touchstone for Observance of Other Rights

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NEW YORK, NOV. 11, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican appealed to the international community for more effective respect of religious freedom and firmly condemned recourse to violence in the name of religion.

Archbishop Renato Martino, head of the observer delegation of the Holy See to the United Nations, made the appeal Friday to the General Assembly, which was discussing human rights questions.

After publicly congratulating Brazilian Sergio Vieira de Mello, new High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is replacing Mary Robinson of Ireland, Archbishop Martino said that John Paul II maintains that, among “the fundamental freedoms which the Church must defend, first place naturally goes to religious freedom.”

“The right to freedom of religion is so closely linked to other fundamental rights that it can rightly be argued that respect for religious freedom is, as it were, a touchstone for the observance of other fundamental rights,” Archbishop Martino said.

“The Holy See is especially concerned that in many parts of the world, discriminatory or intolerant policies continue, with regard to minorities in states having an official religion,” he continued.

“Additional matters of concern are the combining of ethnic and religious persecution in many parts of the world and the blatant disregard and disrespect for churches, religious shrines or sites,” he added.

“Religion expresses the deepest dreams, hopes and desires of the human person,” said the archbishop, who is also the new president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

“Religious faith helps to shape people’s vision of the world and affects their relationships with others,” he said. “Indeed, different peoples and cultures throughout history and throughout the world testify to the many and varied ways in which humankind addresses the meaning of creation, history and personal existence.

“The right to life, the right to freedom of religion or belief, and respect for religious and cultural heritage are the basic premises for human existence.”

He added: “The fact that there are still many places today where the right to gather for worship is either not recognized or is limited to the members of one religion alone, or where religious belief is pushed aside in the name of development or modern thought, is a sad commentary on any claim to a more just, peaceful world where fundamental rights and freedoms are more widely promoted and respected.”

Lastly, the archbishop expressed the Catholic Church’s conviction “that recourse to violence, in the name of religious belief, is a perversion of the very teachings of the major religions.”

“The use of violence can never claim a religious justification, nor can it foster the growth of true religious feeling,” he emphasized.

“Differences between religious traditions must be accepted, respected and tolerated,” the archbishop emphasized. “The practice of any faith must be conducted with respect for other religious traditions. Religious tolerance must be based on the conviction that God wishes to be adored by people who are free. This is a conviction which requires us to respect and honor personal conscience, wherein each person meets God.”

“The people of the world continue to be scandalized by the sharp divisions that manifest themselves in the destruction of human life in the name of religion,” he lamented.

“The Holy See renews its call to all women and men of faith everywhere, to commit themselves courageously to the path that leads to peace, tolerance and understanding,” the archbishop added.

“This call is not impossible to hear nor is it an invitation impossible to accept,” he said. “It is, however an essential element to building a world in which all people can live in peace and harmony with one another.”

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