03/30/2012, 00.00
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Observatory on religious freedom in Rome against fundamentalism and relativism

by Bernardo Cervellera
The new institution is expected to collect, check and release information on violations of religious freedom in the world. It will be helped in its task by Italian and Vatican diplomats. Dangers to religious freedom are not only found in countries like Nigeria or Pakistan but also in Western nations where a dominant laicism has expelled God from society.

Rome (AsiaNews) - In a world of violent fundamentalisms and intolerant relativism, where atheistic and ultra-religious states marginalise and persecute minorities, it is important to have an institution that can assess religious freedom around the world. For this purpose, Italy and the Vatican have jointly set up an Observatory on Religious Freedom based in Rome.

The proposal was made public at a meeting held at the Italian Embassy to the Holy See in a room of the beautiful Borromeo Palace. Aid to the Church in Need Foundation President Card Mauro Piacenza, Secretary for Relations with States Mgr Dominique Mamberti, Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata and Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno spoke at the event. Italy's Ambassador to the Holy See Francesco Maria Greco acted as moderator.

Mayor Alemanno said that the idea of an observatory was first thought as an "ideal gift" to Benedict XVI back in 2009. For the mayor, Rome, in terms of religious freedom, is most qualified place because it is the "headquarter" of one the largest religious communities in the world, the Catholic Church. It is also one of the freest cities in the world, with Europe's largest mosque and the world's oldest diasporic Jewish community.

In his address, Foreign Minister Terzi spoke about what Italy's diplomatic efforts on behalf of religious freedom in a number of countries, together with the European Union and in cooperation with the Vatican.

Card Piacenza explained the notion of religious freedom, indicating what risk factors may jeopardise it. Citing John Paul II and Benedict XVI, he described religious freedom as the "mother" of all freedoms, the litmus test to measure the state of human rights in a country.

To respect religious freedom, we need "reason and truth," the cardinal noted. Without them, arbitrariness, which rules religious fundamentalisms, prevails as so does relativism, which leads us towards nothingness, with the danger of destroying the bases of democracy. "The prevailing relativism is the least favourable ground for religious freedom," he said.

What concerns the prelate is the dominant culture of the West, which "has expelled God", and tries to undermine further its social importance.

"Rediscovering the 'public role of God', i.e. the presence and role of God in history and society, is consequently the essential premise to exercise religious freedom. Society will more fully guarantee the religious freedom of its citizens when it will stop excluding God from the public sphere."

Mgr Mamberti, who is just back from the papal trip to Mexico and Cuba, cited Benedict XVI, who emphasised to Cubans (and the government of Raul Castro) the importance of religious freedom as a source of creativity and social harmony.

The secretary for Relations with States expressed his concern not only for what is happening in countries like Nigeria and Pakistan, but also in the West.

In his view, intolerance can be seen at three levels, namely that of cultural hostility, legal discrimination (for instance, the presence of crucifixes in Italy) and violent crimes of persecution.

These levels stand on a slippery slope and people can easily go from one to the other.

For the full text (in Italian) of Card Mauro Piacenza's presentation, click here.

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