Believers in Public Square: Belize Urged to Set Example

Benedict XVI Addresses New Ambassador

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 9, 2011 ( Benedict XVI is urging Belize to offer a good example to its neighbors in allowing believers to contribute to the public good of the nation.

The Pope said this in a letter to the new Belizean ambassador to the Holy See, Henry Llewellyn Lawrence, who presented his letters of credence to the Pontiff.

The Holy Father today addressed a group of new ambassadors, from Moldova, Equatorial Guinea, Syria, Ghana, and New Zealand, in addition to Belize. He met with them individually prior to the group address, giving each a letter regarding the particular situation of their nations.

In his declaration to the Central American ambassador, the Pope noted the Church’s work «to promote peace and prosperity among all the peoples of the region, even amid challenging circumstances, based upon unchanging Gospel values which have always served the people of the region well.»

He spoke of the Church’s efforts to draw attention to human dignity and to promote that dignity through various initiatives. This commitment, he explained, is drawn «not only from a love for the human person, but first and foremost from a profound love for God.»

Positive, full contribution

Benedict XVI’s noted the historical good relations between the Church and Belize’s civil authorities.

He lauded the country, which gained independence only in 1981, for its laws protecting the rights to religious freedom and freedom of worship.

«Freedom of religion and freedom of worship allow believers to flourish as individuals and to contribute positively and fully to the life of the country in every sphere of human activity,» he said. «May your country, Mr. Ambassador, be an example in this regard to its neighbors and to those who would seek to diminish the consequences of such rights and their corresponding values.»

One of the 12 Senators in Belize is chosen on the advice of the Belize Council of Churches and Evangelical Association of Churches.

Belize borders Mexico and Guatemala; the theme of religious liberty drew attention last month in Mexico when Christian leaders made a joint statement noting that religious freedom is «not a benevolent concession of the state but a fundamental human right.»

Family life as training ground

The Pope’s note to the Belize ambassador also mentioned education, a theme the Pontiff has repeatedly addressed with ambassadors. He cited his message for the World Day of Peace: «Religious education, and Catholic education in particular, makes its own contribution to your people’s welfare, since it ‘leads new generations to see others as their brothers and sisters, with whom they are called to journey and work together so that all will feel that they are living members of the one human family.'»

But, the Holy Father added, «education bears fruit when based on virtue already grounded in the family,» which he called the «primary training ground.»

Belize, like other Central American countries, has seen widespread missionary activity from Protestant groups and sects, many of whom come from the United States. Catholics make up just under half of the population, according to the 2000 census, whereas Protestant and other ecclesial communities are nearing a third. Some 14% of the population claimed no religion. By contrast, Mexico is still about 80% Catholic and Guatemalan dioceses include from 67% to 85% of the Guatemalan population.

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