By Vatican News staff writer
In a statement delivered on Thursday during the 27th meeting of the Ministerial Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See's Secretary for Relations with States, called for the protection of the right of religious freedom or belief and places of worship.
He also extended the Pope’s greetings to the participants at the meeting held virtually online, and thanked the OSCE for its endeavors during the course of this year marked by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Protection of religious places
Archbishop Gallagher expressed the Holy See’s grave concern about the rising number of terrorist attacks, hate crimes and other manifestations of intolerance targeting persons, places of worship, cemeteries and religious sites in the OSCE area and beyond.
He noted that “the fact that many of these acts of violence have been perpetrated against believers when they gather to pray in places of worship make them particularly heinous: havens of peace and serenity quickly become execution chambers, as defenseless children, women and men lose their lives simply for gathering to practice their religion.”
"It is even more regrettable that some of these acts are committed ‘in the name of religion,’” Archbishop Gallagher added. He stressed that “violence does not stem from religion but from its false interpretation or its transformation into ideology” as violence, persecution and killing in the name of God is not religion but radicalism which “needs to be fought by all using all legitimate means.”
Highlighting that the protection of places of worship is a direct consequence of the protection of the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, the Archbishop called on the OSCE to effectively “address intolerance and discrimination against Christians, Jews, Muslims and members of other religions without prejudice or hierarchical selectivity.”
“The response to the security challenges faced by religious communities should be based on the understanding that the OSCE participating States have a common duty to guarantee the protection of communities from attacks,” Archbishop Gallagher said, adding that there is a link between freedom of religion or belief and security in the OSCE’s comprehensive approach to security.
The Archbishop acknowledged that, since the final Act of Helsinki in 1975 and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe in 1990, whose 45th and 30th anniversaries the Ministerial Council respectively mark this year, much has been achieved. He noted that “Cold War enemies have been reconciled, millions have seen their living standards improve significantly, and great progress has been made in the advancement of human rights.”
However, many challenges still burden our common security, the Archbishop pointed out. “We still face various persistent threats and other unresolved conflicts that are able to undermine the stability and security of the whole OSCE region.”
Archbishop Gallagher, therefore, called on the Ministerial Council to “continue working for peace and justice, by implementing the commitments that they have undertaken.”
Implementation of existing commitments
Highlighting that the implementation of commitments “does not only honor the self-commitment of every participating State but it also demonstrates appreciation of our Organization and its members,” the Archbishop stressed the importance of their implementation “in good faith.”
This, he continued, “is essential to avoid that these are substantially amended, overruled or transformed” through improper interpretation.
The Archbishop further pointed out that many OSCE commitments still need to be implemented fully, bearing in mind that previous commitments are not invalidated when new ones are being adopted “since they build on each other and need to be considered in their entirety.”
The ongoing pandemic, Archbishop Gallagher noted, “is a serious test not only for every individual, but also for society as a whole and indeed for the international community.” It was highlighted that “we must work together, mindful that the burden carried by some necessarily affects humanity and the whole family of nations.”
Therefore, we cannot omit the new forms of poverty created by the pandemic which “have exacerbated already existing poverties and added new ones” including the serious and long-lasting effects of the economic crisis, the lack of access to correct information and the suffering caused by social isolation, increased violence and distress, particularly for those in vulnerable situations. In this respect, the Archbishop highlighted the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women who face greater demands in teleworking, care and domestic work.
Archbishop Gallagher also pointed out that some preventive measures implement by States to curb the spread of the coronavirus have had different effects of fundamental freedoms, including the freedom to manifest one’s religion. He highlighted in particular, the limiting effect of restrictions on the religious, charitable and educational activities of faith communities, especially since they actively support healthcare with their spiritual and social assistance.
Insisting that we should not lose sight of the fact that the crisis represents an opportunity for “conversion, for transformation, for rethinking our way of life and our economic and social systems,” the Archbishop recommended that the policies put in place to help those in need during the crisis should be guided by two principles: “the inclusion of all and the protection of the sacredness of human life.”