Pope's Address to International Congress on Religious Liberty

«The persecution against Christians today is in fact stronger than in the first centuries of the Church»

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Here is the Pope’s address to the International Congress organized by the Department of Jurisprudence of LUMSA and of St. John’s School of Law on the subject: “Religious Liberty According to International Law and the Global Conflict of Values” (Rome, June 20-21, 2014). He gave the address a little after noon on Friday.


I welcome you on the occasion of your International Congress, dear brothers and sisters. I thank Professor Giuseppe Dalla Torre for his courteous words.

Recently, the debate about religious liberty has become very intense, interpellating both Governments and Religious Confessions. In this regard, the Catholic Church makes reference to the Declaration Dignitatis humanae, one of the most important documents of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.

In fact, every human being is a “seeker” of truth about his origin and his destiny. Questions and thoughts arise in his mind and in his “heart” which cannot be repressed or suffocated, in as much as they emerge from the depth and are innate to the person’s profound essence. They are religious questions and they are in need of religious liberty to manifest themselves fully. They seek to give light to the authentic meaning of existence, to the bond that connects it to the cosmos and to history, and intend to dispel the darkness that would surround human events if these questions were not posed and remained without answers. The Psalmist says: “When I look at the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him?” (Psalm 8:5).

Reason recognizes in religious liberty a fundamental right of man that reflects his lofty dignity, that of being able to seek the truth and adhere to it, and it recognizes in it an indispensable condition to be able to display all his potential. Religious liberty is not only that of thought or private worship. It is freedom to live according to ethical principles consequent upon the truth found, be it privately or publicly. This is a great challenge in the globalized world, where weak thought  — which is like a sickness –also lowers the general ethical level, and in the name of a false concept of tolerance ends up by persecuting those who defend the truth about man and the ethical consequences.

Therefore, the juridical, state and international regulations are called to recognize, guarantee and protect religious liberty, which is intrinsically inherent right to human nature, to its dignity of being free, and is also an indicator of a healthy democracy and one of the principal sources of the legitimacy of the State.

Religious liberty, assimilated in Constitutions and laws and translated in coherent behavior, fosters the development of relations of mutual respect among the different Confessions and a healthy collaboration with the State and the political society, without confusion of roles and without antagonisms. Thus, instead of a global conflict of values, rendered possible — from a nucleus of universally shared values– is a global collaboration in view of the common good.

In the light of the acquisitions of reason, confirmed and perfected by revelation, and of the civil progress of peoples, it is incomprehensible and worrying that, up to today, discriminations and restrictions of rights remain by the sole fact of belonging or professing publicly a determined faith. It is unacceptable that, in fact, real and proper persecutions subsist for reason of religious membership! Also wars! This wounds reason, attempts against peace and humiliates man’s dignity.

It is for me a reason for great sorrow to see that Christians in the world endure the greatest number of such discriminations. The persecution against Christians today is in fact stronger than in the first centuries of the Church, and there are more Christian martyrs than at that time. This is happening more than 1700 years after the Edict of Constantine, which granted freedom to Christians to profess their faith publicly.

I earnestly hope that your congress will illustrate with profundity and scientific rigor the reasons that oblige every juridical regulation to respect and defend religious liberty. I thank you for this contribution. I ask you to pray for me. I wish you the best from my heart and ask God to bless you. Thank you.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
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