Attacks Against Christians Trouble Pontiff

Notes Concern When Greeting India’s Ambassador

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ROME, MAY 29, 2009 ( Benedict XVI expressed his desire that everyone should enjoy religious freedom in a message written for the new ambassador from India, where Christians were the object of a wave of violence last year in the eastern state of Orissa.

The Pope said this today in a written statement he gave to Chitra Narayanan. The Pontiff received the envoy in an audience together with seven other ambassadors representing Mongolia, Benin, New Zealand, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Namibia and Norway. He addressed the eight as a group, and then gave each one a written statement that addressed concerns particular to each county.

In his message to Narayanan, the Holy Father said that «as Chief Shepherd of the Catholic Church, I join religious and governmental leaders throughout the world who share a common desire that all members of the human family enjoy the freedom to practice religion and engage in civil life without fear of adverse repercussions on account of their beliefs.»

«I therefore cannot help but express my deep concern for Christians who have suffered from outbreaks of violence in some areas within your borders,» he said.

Ongoing Hindu-Christian tensions flared into a wave of violence last August after Hindu extremists in Orissa blamed the slaying of a Hindu leader on Christians. Dozens of Christians, including a priest, were killed, and more than 54,000 fled their homes. Thousands of them are still living in displacement camps.

The violence spread to more than 392 towns, where some 5,000 houses, 149 churches, and 40 schools were destroyed or burned to the ground.

Benedict XVI recognized the government’s efforts «to provide the afflicted with shelter and assistance, relief and rehabilitation, as well as for the measures taken to implement criminal investigations and fair judicial processes to resolve these issues.»

«I appeal to all to show respect for human dignity by rejecting hatred and renouncing violence in all its forms,» he added.

The Pontiff continued: «For her part, the Catholic Church in your country will continue to play a role promoting peace, harmony and reconciliation between followers of all religions, especially through education and formation in the virtues of justice, forbearance and charity.

«Indeed, this is the inherent goal of all genuine forms of education since — in conformity with the dignity of the human person and the call of all men and women to live in community — they aim at cultivating moral virtues and preparing young people to embrace their social responsibilities with a refined sensibility for what is good, just and noble.»

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