12/16/2010, 00.00
PEACE 2011
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Fundamentalism and relativism, enemies of religious freedom and peace

by Bernardo Cervellera
In his message for World Day of Peace 2011, Benedict XVI shows solidarity with the many persecuted Christians (Iraq, the Holy Land, ...), but also highlights that persecution does not only come from Islamic terrorism, but also secular Western society that stifles the religious dimension, eliminating an important element for human life and coexistence between peoples.

Rome (AsiaNews)-Freedom of religion, path to peace ", the Message for World Day of Peace in 2011, made public today by Benedict XVI, rips  the issue of religious freedom from the simple issue of defending against the persecution of believers and puts it right at the heart of the present and future of the global society.

He defends the presence of Christians in Iraq - recalling the terrible massacre of 31 October in Baghdad, on the Syrian Catholic cathedral - and the difficulties of many believers, unable to express their faith, to defend their religion (the case Bibi of Asia), or to change it according to their search for truth. He also remembers the oppression experienced by Christians in the Holy Land - crushed between a double fundamentalism, Jewish and Muslim, from the war of Israeli settlements and Palestinian guerrilla and terrorist radicalism, the intolerance to which the faithful in many parts of the world are subjected, Africa (Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, Nigeria, ...) and Asia (North Korea, Vietnam, China, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, ...).

Most importantly, this message shows that religious freedom is a true "weapon of peace", whose mission statement is historical and prophetic for the contemporary world (see No. 15).

It is not difficult to recognize that in most countries where violence is practiced against religious freedom, there is a wide range of violations of all human rights, and a tension that heralds the possibility of war. It is so in Iran and North Korea, Pakistan and China in Myanmar, Sudan and Egypt.

In this way, religious freedom is manifested - even if not yet understood - to be the basis of all human rights, “the litmus test for the respect of all the other human rights” (5).

Above all, Benedict XVI says that religious freedom allows believers to offer without fear their contribution to society, ensuring ideals that go beyond grim commercialism (2).

For the pope, religious freedom is also the basis for social cohesion because it allows individuals to look at each other with respect and collaborate for a society that is committed to the common good and not only self interest or those of single ethnic groups (No.3).

In the document the Pope names of the enemies of religious freedom which thereby are also the enemies of peace. They are fundamentalism and relativism.

The first exploits the freedom of religion (of a particular religion) " to disguise hidden interests, such as the subversion of the established order, the hoarding of resources or the grip on power of a single group, can cause enormous harm to societies" . And here, the pope once again condemns all violence done in the name of God, remembering that the truth imposes itself by its own force (see paragraph 7). In the words of the Pope allusions to Islamic and Hindu radicalism, terrorism can be seen.

But what is curious and a sign of great depth is his placing relativism close to fundamentalism (which everyone condemns). That relativism which empties religious conviction of value and condemns it to being foreign in society. And here Benedict XVI is targeting the Western world where, with the excuse of not offending other religions, sees sacred signs erased from public life and religious experience compelled to the private sphere: "the laws and institutions of a society - cries the pope - cannot be shaped in such a way as to ignore the religious dimension of its citizens or to prescind completely from it.  "(No. 8). One is reminded of some debates and attempts to condemn the Catholic Church as "racist" because it does not allow women priests, it  does not recognize unions between gays as equal to marriage between man and woman, or the attempt on behalf of "women's rights", to force conscientious objectors to perform abortions.

A vast majority of the Western world looks at these tensions as sacristy nonsense, attempts by Catholics to defend an outdated morality. Benedict XVI says that these statements of position in the secularist and relativist world against religious freedom are the signs of an impending war. The empty materialism of the West, which marginalizes religion, is one step away from destroying all civil development created in two millennia of Christianity and European culture.

For this very reason, the pontiff asks that the legislation of various countries take into account international law in terms of human and religious rights, and proposes as a symbol for a future of peace the meeting in Assisi in 1986.

The year 2011 - he says - is marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace convened in Assisi in 1986 by Pope John Paul II. On that occasion the leaders of the great world religions testified to the fact that religion is a factor of union and peace, and not of division and conflict. The memory of that experience gives reason to hope for a future in which all believers will see themselves, and will actually be, agents of justice and peace" (n.11).

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