BRUSSELS, Belgium, FEB. 22, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The foreign ministers of the Council of the European Union issued a statement condemning terrorist acts against Christians and other religious groups.
This statement, publicized Monday at the conclusion of a foreign affairs council meeting in Brussels, affirmed “the strong commitment of the European Union to the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief without any discrimination.”
The council expressed “its profound concern about the increasing number of acts of religious intolerance and discrimination, as epitomized by recent violence and acts of terrorism, in various countries, against Christians and their places of worship, Muslim pilgrims and other religious communities, which it firmly condemns.”
It also offered “condolences and solidarity to the countries and individual victims of such acts and pays tribute to the commitment of countries to prevent them.”
“Freedom of religion or belief is a universal human right which needs to be protected everywhere and for everyone,” the statement affirmed.
It asserted that “all persons belonging to religious communities and minorities should be able to practice their religion and worship freely, individually or in community with others, without fear of intolerance and attacks.”
The council called on the international community “to consolidate its collective response to those who want to use religion as an instrument of division, fuelling extremism and violence.”
It also urged the high representative, Catherine Ashton, to “report on the measures taken and on concrete proposals to further strengthen the European Union action in this regard.”
The statement was welcomed by Vatican Radio, which in its French edition noted that the European Union “has made a gesture in favor of religious liberty.”
Vatican Radio reported some telephone statements of Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, archbishop of Bordeaux, France, in which he congratulated the European ministers on this decision.
Cardinal Ricard expressed his satisfaction on behalf of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE) as well as the Orthodox, Protestant and Anglican representatives of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) who met last week in Belgrade.
In this meeting, the religious leaders requested that the foreign ministers keep in mind the situation of persecuted Christians.
The cardinal reported, “We were thinking of the Christians in Iraq, Egypt and Pakistan” in particular.
“Our position is not partisan,” he said. “Not only does it manifest solidarity to Christians but to all believers.”
The prelate added, “However, at the same time we said to ourselves that if we don’t defend those in the world today who are, perhaps, the most attacked, the Christians, then who will defend them?”
“I am very happy that the ministers expressed themselves,” he said, “given the reticence of the ministers of five countries.”
“It would have been catastrophic to remain in a kind of silence, of incapacity to speak,” Cardinal Ricard stated. “Now a public statement has been made and I hope that it will now be translated in concrete initiatives on the spot.”
He continued: “However, I think it is good that the foreign affairs ministers were able to overcome their reticence and to speak with one voice. I am truly happy about that.”
The cardinal said, “We hope that the relations of some countries of the European Union with countries where minorities are persecuted will make their voice heard and exert pressure, as the temptation exists that for commercial and economic reasons they remain in a prudent silence.”
He asserted, “At stake is liberty of conscience and respect of man’s dignity.”