The ancient Latin saying that advocates the preparation of weapons with peace in mind – si vis pacem para bellum – in a certain way resonates in Benedict XVI’s Message for the World Day of Peace that will be celebrated 1 January. But they are weapons different from those “destined to kill and exterminate mankind”, as Paul VI emphasized: what are needed “above all are moral weapons, those which give strength and prestige to international law”. And, among them, urgently needed today is religious freedom, on which the Pope reflects starting with the appalling acts of violence and intolerance that are succeeding one another above all, but not only, in Iraq.
In the Papal Message the analysis examines the international situation overall and states bitterly that in some regions of the world “it is impossible to profess one’s religion freely except at the risk of life and personal liberty”. In others instead, intolerance and violence are affirmed through “more subtle and sophisticated forms of prejudice and hostility towards believers and religious symbols”.
Without indulging in rhetoric and without too many examples – which unfortunately it would not be difficult to list – Benedict XVI starts out with an incontestable affirmation: “At present, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith”. As in Iraq, precisely, where in Baghdad the “reprehensible attack” on the Syrian-Catholic cathedral killed two priests and slaughtered about 50 of the faithful, but also in other Asian and African countries, to the detriment of the religious minorities. In Europe meanwhile many forces work to deny history and the religious symbols of the majority of citizens – trampling on pluralism and secularity, with the result that they foment hatred and prejudice.
Denying religious freedom and concealing the public dimension of religion gives rise to an unjust society and goes against peace. The affirmation is accompanied by a radical criticism of moral relativism which “is actually the origin of divisions and the denial of the dignity of human beings. And in rejecting fundamentalism and secularity – which the Message describes as “extreme forms of a rejection” of legitimate pluralism and the principle of secularity – the Pope repeats that religions have an important role in the political and cultural sphere because they can serve as “an important factor of unity and peace”.
The power of Benedict XVI’s affirmations is based on the conviction that the world “needs God” and on reason which can be shared by all (it is not by chance that he mentions Cicero in a text pervaded by the awareness of the Jewish and Christian specificity). And in receiving five new ambassadors to the Holy See, the Pope said clearly that the Church does not act as a lobby and that her policy is only one: that of brotherhood.
St. Peter’s Square
Nov. 13, 2019
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