06/27/2006, 00.00
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ACS report: religious freedom guarantees economic development, democracy

This was the message spread during the presentation of the 2006 report of the "Aid to the Church in Need" – "Aiuto alla Chiesa che soffre". Speakers at the press conference included Magdi Allam, of the Corriere della Sera newspaper and Fr Bernardo Cervellera of AsiaNews: they appealed to media to "tell the truth" and highlighted China and Iraq as cases in point.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Guaranteeing religious freedom is a condition for the growth of democracy and economic development. This was the main message that emerged today during the presentation of the eighth report on religious freedom drawn up by the Italian section of the Work of Pontifical Right "Aid to the Church in Need" – "Aiuto alla Chiesa che soffre" (ACS). This year, for the first time, the report was translated into Portuguese and English.

The following speakers addressed the press conference which took place at the Foreign Press Office in Rome: Hans Peter Rothlin, chairman, ACN International, Orazio Petrosillo, chairman, ACS Italy, Magdi Allam, deputy director of the Italian daily "Corriere della Sera" and Fr Bernardo Cervellera, director of AsiaNews, which contributed to the drawing up of the report as a news agency.

All the participants said the report had now become a "fundamental point of reference" for a detailed picture of violations of religious freedom at global level.

Magdi Allam, a Muslim journalist of Egyptian origin said it revealed the state of the wider, most invoked political freedom and freedom of expression. He said: "The reason for this is that religious freedom incarnates transcendental values that are at the basis of faiths and of our humanity: the sacredness of life and human dignity. But also of democracy. If it is violated, whether by theocratic regimes, or by Communists or by formally democratic governments, then even wider political freedom is diminished." This is why Allam considers the ACS report as an indicative "reflection of the absence of wider freedoms". And in fact, the report reveals a critical situation in 2005, especially in the Asian continent, where religious persecution targets especially Christians, but does not spare Muslims – witness Iraq or Pakistan.

Attilio Tamburrini, Director of ACS Italy said: "The aggravation of the problem of 'religious freedom' is proven by the frequency of interventions on this theme by the Holy Father as well as the Holy See in recent months."

In his intervention, which was focused on China, Fr Cervellera said: "Religious freedom is the litmus paper of the development of a country… In China, there is a great transformation under way, not only social but also religious," he continued. "Whoever is thinking of securing economic ties with China and other countries, like Saudi Arabia, by putting the need for respect for religious freedom in brackets, is heading for a big disaster." The missionary said: "Respect for religious freedom is held to be a threat for the country's stability, however it is a necessary condition to guarantee development of democracy and the economy in China, where disdain for human life generates dangerous social tensions, destined to blow up."

Among instruments that may be used to exert pressure on governments in a bid to nudge them towards effective religious freedom, Fr Cervellera, in tune with Magdi Allam, indicated mass media. The two journalists launched an appeal to the media: "Tell the truth, denounce with courage and honesty episodes of persecution and violence", keeping attention focused on the problem, without taking refuge behind what is politically correct.

One case in point is news circulating about the unofficial bishop of Zhengding, Mgr Giulio Jia Zhiguo. Some information agencies said last week he had been freed from prison. In reality, the bishop, who is very ill, was merely accompanied by public security officials to hospital, where he was guarded by six policemen day and night. Magdi Allam recalled some examples pertaining to the situation in Iraq, where innocent local civilians were killed but those who carried out such acts did not qualify as "terrorists", the preferred term for them was "insurgents".

The report for religious freedom in the world is not the only initiative undertaken by the ACS. Out of several activities undertaken across the world,

Orazio Petrosillo recalled some of the most significant, like the publication and distribution of 40 million copies of the Bible to children, which had been translated in 135 different languages – in some languages, this was the only available version of the text.

Hans Peter Rothlin said: "In 2005, we received 8,629 requests for help, however unfortunately we could only meet 5,825 requests. The influx of requests continues unabated: the Lord comes to us through these people."

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