Pope Francis says it is incomprehensible and troubling that people continue to suffer discrimination, restriction of their rights and, even, persecution for professing their faith.
This morning, the Holy Father ushered in the first day of a two-day international congress in Rome, titled “Religious Freedom According to International Law and Global Conflict of Values,” organized by the Maria SS. Assunta University of Rome’s (LUMSA) Department of Law and St. John’s University Law School in New York.
The Pontiff lamented to conference participants that religious persecution is more widespread than it was 1,700 years ago, saying, “Nowadays, persecution of Christians is stronger than it was in the first centuries of the Church, and there are more Christian martyrs than in that time. This is happening 1,700 years after the Edict of Constantine, which granted Christians the freedom to publicly profess their faith.”
After noting that the theme of religious freedom has recently become the subject of intense debate between governments and various religious confessions, he added that the Catholic Church has been an active contributor in these discussions. The Church, he said, has a long history of supporting religious freedom, which culminated in the Vatican II declaration “Dignitatis humanae.”
Turning to religious freedom and human dignity, Francis said: “Every human is a ‘seeker’ of truth on his origins and destiny. In his mind and in his ‘heart’, questions and thoughts arise that cannot be repressed or stifled, since they emerge from the depths of the person and are a part of the intimate essence of the person. They are religious questions, and religious freedom is necessary for them to manifest themselves fully.”
Francis emphasised that “reason recognizes that religious freedom is a fundamental right of man, reflecting his highest dignity, that of seeking the truth and adhering to it, and recognizing it as an indispensable condition for realizing all his potential.”
Private and public
Religious freedom, he said, is not simply freedom of thought or private worship. It is the freedom to live according to ethical principles, both privately and publicly, consequent to the truth one has found.
Intolerance is the “great challenge of the globalized world, a sickness, in which weak thought even reduces the general ethical level, in the name of a false concept of tolerance that ends up persecuting those who defend the truth on humanity and its ethical consequences,” the Pope said.
Legal systems, at both a national and international level, are required to recognize, guarantee and protect religious freedom, which is a right inherent in human nature, in man’s dignity as a free being. They also serve as indicators of healthy democracies and legitimize states, he said.
Religious freedom is to develop relationships of mutual respect, and foster “healthy collaboration” between people and government, without “antagonism” or “confusing roles.” He closed urging members to continue exploring how legal systems best can respect and defend religious freedom. (D.C.L.)