NOT JUST TOLERANCE BUT AUTHENTIC RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
VATICAN CITY, OCT 28, 2006 (VIS) - Archbishop Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York, participated yesterday in the 61st session of the U.N. General Assembly, which is currently considering the question of the promotion and protection of human rights.
In his English-language talk, Archbishop Migliore concentrated on three themes which, he said, "merit particular attention, namely, the coexistence of different religions and religious communities, the propagation of religion, including the sensitive issue of proselytism and the relationship between freedom of expression and religion." He also expressed his concern that, "as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the 1981 Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, ... freedom of religion or belief does not exist for individuals and communities, especially among religious minorities, in many parts of the world."
He continued: "The high level of religious intolerance in some countries is leading to an alarming degree of polarization and discrimination. ... While religious tolerance is sometimes characterized as accepting or permitting those religious beliefs and practices which disagree with one's own, the time has come to move beyond this type of religious tolerance, and to apply instead the principles of authentic religious freedom.
"Religious freedom," he added, "is the right to believe, worship, propose and witness to one's faith. It grants the opportunity and creates the occasions for people to profess freely the tenets of their faith. Furthermore, it includes the right to change one's religion and to associate freely with others in order to express one's religious convictions. ... We know well that, historically, tolerance has been a contentious issue among believers of different faiths. However, we have come to a turning point in history which demands more of us, including a commitment to inter-religious dialogue."
In this context, the archbishop emphasized "the indispensable importance of reciprocity, which, by its very nature, is apt to ensure the free exercise of religion in all societies. The Holy See continues to be concerned by a number of situations where the existence of enacted or proposed legislative and administrative measures for placing limits on the practice, observance or propagation of religion are a reality. Likewise, the Holy See is concerned with those situations where religion or freedom of religion is used as a pretext or a justification for violating other human rights."
"There appears to exist a recurring case of intolerance when group interests or power struggles seek to prevent religious communities from enlightening consciences and thus enabling them to act freely and responsibly, according to the true demands of justice. Likewise, it would be intolerant to denigrate religious communities and exclude them from public debate ... just because they do not agree with options nor conform to practices that are contrary to human dignity."
In our world, the prelate concluded, "religion is more than an internal matter of thought and conscience. It has the potential to bind us together as equal and valuable members of the human family. ... Nor should we underestimate its power, especially in the midst of conflict and division, ... to enable enemies to speak to one another, to foster those who were estranged to join hands in friendship, and have nations seek the way to peace together."