Cardinal Turkson's Comments on Papal Peace Message

«Religious Freedom … Has Come Under Great Stress and Threat»

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 16, 2010 ( Here is the text of the comments made today by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, at a press conference for the presentation of Benedict XVI’s message for the 44th World Day of Peace, which will be celebrated Jan. 1.

The theme of this day is «Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace.»

* * *


The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, will celebrate the XLIV World Day of Peace next year (2011) with a message on religious freedo m. The message consists of a New Year Greeting, an introductory reference to the attack on Christians in Iraq, the main body of the message, which presents the sense of religious freedom and the various ways in which it fashions peace and experiences of peace, and a concluding reflection on peace as a gift of God and at the same the work of men and women of goodwill, and , especially, of believers.

Religious Freedom is the theme of the Pope’s Message for the World Day of Peace not only because that subject matter is central to Catholic social doctrine; it is also because the living of religious freedom — a basic vocation of man and a fundamental, inalienable and universal human right, and key to peace – has come under great stress and threat:

— from raging secularism, which is intolerant of God and of any form of expression of religion;

— from religious fundamentalism, the politicization of religion and the establishment of state religions;

— from the growing cultural and religious pluralism that is being made ever more present and pressing in our day by globalization (which heightens interdependence and fashions new forms of relations) and the increased mobility of people (who run into new cultures and religions). Thus, differences which should enrich human culture are increasingly being exploited, especially in the area of religion, to achieve the opposite effect of impoverishing human culture through intolerance, denial and negation of the right of religious freedo m.

The Holy Father, in his Message, sees the safeguarding of religious freedom in our multi-cultural, multi-religious and secularized world as one of the ways to safeguard its peace.


As you may recall, one of the important tasks that our world set for itself following the 2nd World War was the formulation, adoption and promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Dec. 1948). Against the background of intolerant totalitarian ideologies, injustices and evils of war (hatred), the Universal Declaration was a human rights agenda (a magna carta) for ensuring tolerance, mutual respect, justice, peace and the common good of humanity. The 18th Article of the Declaration enshrines religious freedom: “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, a right which “includes freedom to change religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest [one’s] religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”!

Pope Benedict XVI praised the Universal Declaration for “enabling different cultures, juridical expressions and institutional models to converge around a fundamental nucleus of values and hence of rights”, but, he also worried about the increasing instances of the denial of the universality of these rights in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks.[1]

Consider the Lautsi case here in Italy and the Crucifix case in the EU Court of Human Rights, the case of Asia Bibi in Pakistan, the case of Southern Sudan, Christians in the Middle East, Doctors who are denied license because they will not terminate pregnancies, denial of aid-packages to developing countries who object to aid-conditions on religious-moral grounds, and so on.

So, the Message of Peace of the Holy Father for the year 2011 is set within this context, and it addresses incidents of the denial of the universal right of Religious Freedom in the name of culture, religion, politics and State policies even by nations which are party to the Declaration. These denials obscure the truth about the human person, disregard people’s dignity, badly compromise the respect for the other rights, and ultimately threaten the peace of the world.


3.1. The Nature of religious freedom. Religious freedom is a “way to peace” because of what it is essentially. Rooted in the dignity of the human person (body and spirit), with a vocation to transcendence, religious freedom expresses that capacity and longing in every person to seek to realize oneself fully in relationship, opening up to God and to others. It expresses the search for meaning in life and for the discovery of values and principles which make life, alone and in community, meaningful. Religious freedom, ultimately, is the expression of man’s capacity to seek the truth of God and the truth about himself, as “a maker of an earthly city which anticipates the heavenly city” of justice, peace and happiness.

3.2. The right to religious freedo m. Religious freedom is not considered a human right just because the Universal Declaration affirms it. Religious freedom is not a right granted by a State. Its foundation is not to be found in the subjective disposition of the person.[2] With the other rights of man, the right of religious freedom is derived, as Pope John XXIII and subsequent Church doctrines have taught, from natural law and from the dignity of the person which are rooted in creation. Rather, the State and other public institutions, as Pope Benedict XVI recalls in par. 8 of his Message, need to recognize it as intrinsic to the human person and in its expressions, as indispensable for its integrity and peace.

3.3. Religious freedom is a duty of public authority (par.10). Although religious freedom does not need the State or even the Universal Declaration to establish it, it is not an unlimited right. To ensure that religious freedom makes for peace and is not abused, as in the case of Pastor Jim Jones who led a group of believers to their death in Guyana , “the just limits of the exercise of religious freedom must be determined in each social situation with political prudence, according to the requirements of common good.”[3] Cfr. Message no. 10.

3.4. Religious freedom and the search for truth. Religious freedom then, as the Holy Father recalls in his Message (par. 3), is freedom from coercion and freedom for the truth: the (religious) truth of seeking the God of man’s creation, “for what does the soul desire more strongly than the truth?”[4] It is the absolute truth of God, the longing of man’s soul; and it is this truth which calls forth the expression of freedom in man (his freewill) to respond to it. Thus religious freedom does not refer, first and foremost, to man’s decision or his choice between one and the other religion, although this can be an expression of it (as in the Universal Declaration). Religious freedom refers primarily to man’s freedom to express his being capax Dei: his freedom to respond to the truth of his nature as created by God and created for life with God without coercion or impediments.[5] It is in this that man finds his peace, and from there becomes an instrument of peace.

3.5. Religious freedom and identity. Religious freedom does not imply that all religions are equal. Nor is it a reason for religious relativism or indifferentism.[6] Religious freedom is compatible with defense of one’s religious identity against relativism, syncretism and fundamentalism: all abused forms of religious freedo m.

3.6. Communal dimension of religious freedom. Religious freedom is also an expression of a person that is at once individual and communitarian (cfr. Message no. 6). Religious freedom is not limited to the free exercise of worship. There is a public dimension to it, which grants believers the chance
of making their contribution in building the social order. Let us recall here the four faith-filled founders/architects of the European Union (Adenauer, De Gasperi, Schuman and Monnet), the centers of learning and culture of the Church, the very many developmental, health-care and educational projects of the Church in mission countries, and so on.

As Pope Benedict XVI would say, the Church’s social doctrine came into being in order to claim citizenship status for the Catholic religion. Denying the right to profess one’s religion in public and the right to bring the truth of faith to bear upon public life has negative consequences for true development.[7] Similarly, “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.”[8]

The exercise of the right of religious freedom as a way to peace thus implies the recognition of the harmony that must exist between the two areas and forms of life: private and public, individual and community, person and society. A Catholic (believer) therefore is not only a subject of religious freedom, but also a member of a “body”. Submitting, therefore, to that body is not a loss of freedo m. It becomes an expression of fidelity to the “body”; and fidelity is the development of freedo m.

Furthermore, there is a unity of reciprocal relationship between the individual and one’s community, a person and one’s society. A person is born and lives in relationships, and the purpose of community is to promote the life of a person. Accordingly, the development and the exercise of one’s religious freedom, is also the task of one’s community. Families and schools (places of formation) are often the primary agents of formation in religious freedo m. In multi-cultural and multi-religious communities, schools and institutions are also the privileged places of training in tolerance and dialogue in the exercise of religious freedom for peaceful coexistence.[9]

3.7. Religious freedom and dialogue. For Benedict XVI, religious dialogue, conducted according to charity and truth, is a resource for the common good (cfr. Message no. 11). Dialogue should be recognized as the means by which various bodies can articulate their points of view and build consensus around the truth concerning particular values or goals. It pertains to the nature of religions, freely practiced, that they can autonomously conduct a dialogue of thought and life with view to placing their experiences at the service of the common good.[10] Precisely this dialogue is the objective of the official dialogue groups in the Church, and even of a small initiative like the Cardinal Lüstiger Foundation for dialogue with Judais m. [11] The same objective can inspire an active dialogue between the free practice of one’s religion and unbelievers, between faith and reason. “Fruitful dialogue between faith and reason cannot but render the work of charity more effective within society, and it constitutes the most appropriate framework for promoting fraternal collaboration between believers and non-believers in their shared commitment to working for justice and the peace of the human family.”[12]

3.8. Religious freedom and the State (protection). Although religious freedom is not established by the State, it (the State) nevertheless, needs to recognize it as intrinsic to the human person and in its public and communitarian expressions. This recognition of religious freedom and a respect for the innate dignity of every person also imply the principle of the responsibility to protect on the part of the community, society and the State. “Every State has the primary duty to protect its population from grave and sustained violations of human rights, …. If States are not able to guarantee such protection, the international community must intervene with the juridical means provided in the UN Charter and in other international instruments.”[13]

3.9. Religious freedom is motivated by Solidarity and not Reciprocity. The Church’s appeals for religious freedom are not based on a claim of reciprocity, whereby one group respects the rights of others only if the latter respect the rights of the group. Rather, the appeals for religious freedom are based on the dignity of persons. We respect the rights of others because it is the right thing to do, not in exchange for its equivalent or for a favour granted. At the same time, when others suffer persecution because of their faith and religious practice, we offer them compassion and solidarity.

3.10. Conclusion: Religious freedom and the Missionary Charge. The missionary charge of Jesus to his apostles to go preach his Gospel to the whole world brings us back to consider the nexus between freedom and truth in the exercise of religious freedo m. The observation was made above, referring to St. Augustine , that there is nothing which the soul desires more strongly than the truth. It was then observed that true freedom desires the truth, God. All proclamation of the Gospel, as the good news of Jesus Christ, is an effort to awaken the freedom (religious freedom) of man to desire and to embrace the truth of the Gospel. This truth of the Gospel, however, is unique, because it is truth that saves (Mk.16:15-16). It is different from all other truths, arrived at as a fruit of the cognitive activity of man. It is as such an offer of unique saving truth that the Gospel is preached to all creation.

Evangelization and the carrying out of the missionary charge, then, do not contradict and oppose the sense of religious freedo m. Rather evangelization stirs up the religious freedom of every person and drives it towards the truth that saves, in the hope that persons in their religious freedom would desire it and embrace it. In the embrace of the truth that saves, all religious freedom enjoys the peace that, on earth, is bestowed “on all on whom his favour rests”!

[1] UN Address, 2008.

[2] Dignitatis Humanae, #2.

[3] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, #422.

[4] “Quid enim fortius desiderat anima quam veritatem?” St. Augustine : Tractatus in Io 26,5.

[5] Cfr. Dignitatis Humanae.

[6] Caritas in veritate, #55.

[7] Caritas in veritate, #56.

[8] Pope Benedict XVI, UN Address, 2008.

[9] Cfr. P. Turkson, “The Role of Education in a Multi-Ethnic and a Multi-Religious Society,” Oasis 6:11, June 2010, pp. 5-9.

[10] Pope Benedict XVI, UN Address, 2008.

[11] New York , March 2009.

[12] Caritas in veritate. #57.

[13] UN Address, 2008.

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