Pontiff Stands Up for Persecuted Christians

Says Christianity Is Religion of Peace

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 8, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI says that Christianity is a religion of freedom and peace at the service of humanity, and defended those who are persecuted for their Christian faith.

The Pope spoke of anti-Christian persecution during 2008 in a traditional annual address to the members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. The Holy See has diplomatic relations with 177 nations.

In his French-language address, the Pontiff took up the theme of his message for the Jan. 1 World Peace Day, considering the need to fight poverty to build peace.

But, he said, peace is damaged not only by material poverty, but also by «moral poverty,» which he contended is at the root of «acts of discrimination and the very grave attacks directed at thousands of Christians in this past year.»

«As a way of reaffirming the lofty contribution which religions can make to the struggle against poverty and the building of peace, I would like to repeat in this assembly, which symbolically represents all the nations of the world, that Christianity is a religion of freedom and peace, and it stands at the service of the true good of humanity,» the Holy Father declared.

He went on to mention in a particular way «our brothers and sisters who are victims of violence, especially in Iraq and in India,» and renewed the assurance of his «paternal affection» for them.

Benedict XVI urged authorities to be active in their commitment to end «intolerance and acts of harassment directed against Christians, to repairing the damage which has been done, particularly to the places of worship and properties; and to encouraging by every means possible due respect for all religions, outlawing all forms of hatred and contempt.»

Another sort

The Pope also gave attention to another type of anti-Christian persecution, one he pointed to in the Western world. He expressed his hope that «prejudice or hostility against Christians will not be cultivated simply because, on certain questions, their voice causes disquiet.»

And he offered words of encouragement for «the disciples of Christ, in the face of such adversity,» urging them not lose heart.

«Witness to the Gospel is always a ‘sign of contradiction’ vis-à-vis ‘the spirit of the world,'» he said. «If the trials and tribulations are painful, the constant presence of Christ is a powerful source of strength. Christ’s Gospel is a saving message meant for all; that is why it cannot be confined to the private sphere, but must be proclaimed from the rooftops, to the ends of the earth.»


At another point in the address, the Holy Father mentioned the Christian communities of Asia, «often numerically small,» but with the «wish to contribute in a convincing and effective way to the common good, stability and progress of their countries, as they bear witness to the primacy of God which sets up a healthy order of values and grants a freedom more powerful than acts of injustice.»

He noted that the beatification ceremony last year in Japan of 188 martyrs «brought this eloquently to mind.»

«The Church, as has often been said, does not demand privileges, but the full application of the principle of religious freedom,» the Pope affirmed. «In this perspective, it is important that, in central Asia, legislation concerning religious communities guarantee the full exercise of this fundamental right, in respect for international norms.»

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