By Robin Gomes
The Holy See has expressed great concern over the continuing deterioration of the right to religious freedom around the world and urged for offsetting the trend especially by raising public awareness regarding the grave violations of the fundamental right.
“Despite so many efforts to promote and reinforce the fundamental human right of religious freedom, we are actually witnessing a continued deterioration, we might even say an assault, of this inalienable right in many parts of the world,” said Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin on Wednesday.
In his closing remarks at the “Stand Together to Defend International Religious Freedom” symposium organized by the US Embassy to the Holy See in Rome, he noted “numerous violations of religious liberty on the global state and the appalling number of innocent persons that suffer persecution, because of their beliefs, including many Christians.” All these, he said, are “an aggressive attack that strikes at the very core of the enjoyment of fundamental human rights.”
The April 3 symposium included
Media and public awareness
Despite the fact that religious freedom is enshrined in international law, including in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Vatican’s top official said “we continue to witness grave violations of this basic fundamental right that often occur with impunity and at times receiving little, if any, attention in the media.”
“Raising public awareness on the reality of religious persecution, particularly via the rapid means now available with digital media,” he said, “remains a useful step to address violations of religious freedom.” He particularly stressed the role of the media and social communications in bringing to light those realities, such as violations against the freedom of religion, that threaten the common good of the human family.
From “words” to “action”
Speaking about international cooperation in defending and advancing religious freedom on all levels, Card. Parolin said it does not simply mean “standing together” but “working together”, moving from “words” to “actions”.
However, in doing so, he said one must not lose sight of the anthropological basis of the right to religious freedom. This right, he explained, is not something “ancillary” or “outside” the human person but a “God-given gift” that is rooted in the transcendent dimension of human nature. Civil authorities have the obligation to protect and defend religious freedom, but not in the sense of being its author, but rather its custodian.
Card. Parolin pointed to two “conceptual forces” that lead to violations of the right to freedom of religion. One trend is the attitude of religious intolerance that considers any religion or belief outside of one’s own as not merely inferior, but as something that merits being degraded or categorized as second class. This, he said, is witnessed in political, social or cultural situations, for example with Christians, who are being treated as second-class citizens.
The other threat is from the so-called “new human rights” that at times tend to clash with some universally recognized fundamental human rights, such as religious freedom, the right to life and marriage.
Card. Parolin said that religious freedom goes beyond the realms of the place of worship or the private sphere of individuals and families. The various religions serve society primarily by the message they proclaim, calling individuals and communities to worship God, the source of all life, liberty and happiness.
Pledging the Holy See’s continued commitment to promoting religious freedom, Card. Parolin particularly cited the document on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” that Pope Francis and the Grand Imam Ahmad al-Tayyib signed in Abu Dhabi 4 February.