12/16/2016, 13.47
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Religious freedom brutally violated in Iraq and Syria, but "politely" elsewhere

The Holy See intervenes at the Conference on Combating Intolerance and Discriminations of Christians. For Vatican representative, “freedom of religion or belief is the litmus test for respect of all other human rights and fundamental freedoms, since it is their synthesis and keystone”.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Mgr Antoine Camilleri, Under-Secretary for the Holy See's Relations with States, spoke at the Conference on Combating Intolerance and Discriminations of Christians taking place at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna.

In his address, the Vatican diplomat said that “freedom of religion or belief is the litmus test for respect of all other human rights and fundamental freedoms, since it is their synthesis and keystone.” However, such freedom is violated today, especially in the case of Christians.

Noting that for Pope John Paul II “religious freedom constituted the ‘very heart of human rights’,” Mgr Camilleri said that “Religious freedom, thus, is essential to defending the human rights of all people, whether they are believers or non-believers, since within the realm of conscience, that constitutes the dignity of the human person, there are interrelated and indivisible human rights, such as freedom of religion or belief, freedom of conscience and freedom of expression. In fact, combatting Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians can be an effective tool in defending the human rights of other religious believers, and, indeed, the human rights of those who profess no religion.”

Therefore, “With regard to our Conference theme,” the Vatican representative stressed “three issues: 1) religious intolerance and freedom of religion or belief; 2) various forms, including more recent forms, of intolerance and discrimination against Christians; and 3) the potential for good that lies in engaging with religion or belief.”

“Discrimination and intolerance against Christians,” he noted, “because of their faith, represent a violation and a direct challenge to the freedom of religion or belief, one of the human rights explicitly mentioned in the Helsinki Final Act, and safeguarded in subsequent OSCE commitments, as a priority of this Organization and its 57 participating States.”

Anti-Christian intolerance and discrimination take many forms. “Although the obvious focus of this Conference is on the OSCE region, and without doubt, there are many examples and incidences of concern within our region, I would be remiss if I did not at least recall the barbaric persecution of Christians that takes place in other parts of the world, sadly also at the very doorstep of the OSCE. The atrocities committed against Christians in Syria and Iraq are so horrific that words cannot adequately respond, and their plight must not be forgotten. Indeed, in these last few days, the deathly shadow of violent extremism and terrorism has fallen once again upon the Coptic community in Egypt.

“Considering the reality of the OSCE area, we must recognize that discrimination and intolerance, including hate crimes, impact many Christians and Christian communities, despite a frequently encountered notion that in this part of the world such discrimination or intolerance does not occur. Seemingly, belonging to the majority religion precludes Christians from being considered as victims of intolerance. Such a view, however, is not based on reality.

“The continuous attacks against Christian churches and religious buildings, time, and time again, affirmed by ODIHR data, easily disprove the notion that Christians do not suffer intolerance. The premeditated destruction of churches, chapels and halls, the deliberate vandalism of religious spaces and symbols, including crosses, statues and other Christian artefacts, as well as theft and sacrilegious misuse of that which Christians consider to be holy, are all examples of not only disrespectful, but intolerant, and in most cases criminal acts committed with a bias motive.”

However, “intolerance and discrimination of Christians is not simply about violent attacks or wanton destruction of religious artefacts and comes in many new forms.” Pope Benedict XVI slammed the “the increasing marginalization of religion” by those who “advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere, [. . .] confining it merely to the freedom of worship”. These new forms of “anti-Christian sentiment” are subtler and sometimes paradoxical because they set freedom of worship “against some general notion of tolerance and non-discrimination.” In sad irony, Pope Francis has referred to this as the “polite persecution of Christians” in many countries.

“There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square.” In short, “In the guise of ‘political correctness’, Christian faith and morals are considered to be hostile and offensive, and therefore, something to be removed from public discourse.

“Despite the many challenges we face in combating intolerance against Christians, we should not forget that religion or belief – and therefore Christianity – has an unlimited capacity for good, not only for individuals or communities (one need only consider the Herculean charitable works that are carried out by Christians), but also for society as a whole.

“While acknowledging the positive role that religion can play in the public sphere and in society, Pope Francis, in his Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, reaffirmed that ‘the Church does not pretend … to substitute for politics’ (188). Nor does the Church claim to offer technical solutions to the world’s problems since the responsibility of doing that belongs elsewhere. Religion, however, has a special task to offer its guiding principles to the community of believers and society in general. By its nature, it is open to a larger reality and thus it can lead people and institutions towards a more universal vision, to a horizon of universal fraternity that ennobles and enriches the character of humanitarian assistance. A person truly formed by a religious vision cannot be indifferent to the sufferings of men and women.

“The Holy See is convinced that for both individuals and communities the dimension of belief can foster respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights, support democracy and rule of law and contribute to the quest for truth and justice. Furthermore, dialogue and partnerships between religions, and with religions, are an important means to promote confidence, trust, reconciliation, mutual respect and understanding as well as to foster peace.”

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