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Defence of religious freedom on a global level

· In a message to the Knights of Columbus the Pontiff recalls the plight of persecuted Christians ·

“In response to the attacks unleashed on minority communities, most often Christian, in various parts of our world”, it is imperative to “engage the consciences of believers on the global level” in the “ protection of religious freedom”. This is the hope expressed by Pope Francis in a message to the 133rd Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus, which was held from 4 to 6 August in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The text, signed by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, expresses the Pontiff’s deep gratitude for the efforts by the Order, founded in the U.S. by Michael McGivney, to “raise public attention to this grave humanitarian tragedy”, and it states his appreciation “for the practical solidarity shown to suffering individuals and families through the recently established Christian Refugee Relief Fund”. Indeed, during the convention the Knights of Columbus announced an expanded national campaign to foster awareness and raise funds for humanitarian aid to Christians being persecuted in the Middle East. A press conference was held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, in which Grand Knight Carl A. Anderson participated along with the Greek-Melkite Bishop of Aleppo, Syria, and the Archbishop of Erbil for Chaldeans in Iraq. For this reason, the Secretary of State continues, Pope Francis appeals once again to the Order for “constant prayer, in families, parishes and the local Councils, for these, our beleaguered brothers and sisters”. It is indeed “urgent that, from Catholics throughout the world” unceasing prayer be offered “for the conversion of hearts, an end to fanatical violence and intolerance, and a general recognition of those fundamental human rights which are not granted by the state, but from the hand of the Creator, whom all believers invoke as a God of peace”. Lastly, Cardinal Parolin concludes, the Pontiff expresses appreciation “for the outstanding charitable, educational and spiritual activities with which the Knights of Columbus contribute to the Church’s mission, and to his own ministry as the Successor of Peter”.

The papal message first refers to the city where the convention was being held and which will also host the Eighth World Meeting of Families. “ As he prepares to visit Philadelphia next month”, the Cardinal writes, “ the Holy Father expresses deep appreciation for the steadfast public witness which your Order has borne to our Christian understanding of marriage and the family. Elevated by the Savior to the dignity of a sacrament, marriage is, in the Creator’s plan, a natural institution, a life-long covenant of love and fidelity between a man and a woman, directed to their perfection and sanctification, and to the future of our human family”.

For this reason, Cardinal Parolin continues, while today “the institution of marriage is under attack from powerful cultural forces, the faithful are called to bear witness to this basic truth of biblical faith and natural law, which is essential to the wise and just ordering of society. In meeting the moral, social and political challenges of the present hour, great wisdom and perseverance will be required”. Therefore, “His Holiness trusts that the theme of this year’s Supreme Convention – Endowed by their Creator with Life and Liberty – will draw attention to the duty of American Catholics, precisely as responsible citizens, to contribute to the reasoned defence of those freedoms on which their nation was founded”. And, he articulated, the cornerstone of these liberties “is religious freedom, understood not simply as the liberty to worship as one chooses, but also, for individuals and institutions, to speak and act in accordance with the dictates of their conscience”. Thus, “to the extent that this right is menaced, whether by invasive public policies, or by the growing influence of a culture which sets alleged personal rights above the common good, there is need for a mobilization of consciences on the part of all”.

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