Without religious freedom there cannot be peace…
(CUSA) – From godless ideologies to massacres in the name of God. The Peace of Constantine was not the end of Christian persecution.
Today we see killing the innocent in the name of religious belief. In fact it is turning away form God to exalt the self. —Ed.
(MiamiArchdiocese) – Fifteen years into the 21st century, some 150,000 Christians are killed for the faith every year. In the 20th century, some 45 million Christians died because of their faith.
What perhaps distinguishes what happened in the 20th century from what is happening now is that in the 20th century religion was persecuted by essentially God-less ideologies, but in the 21st century some of the greatest crimes are being perpetrated by those who claim to be acting in the name of God.
While atrocities are committed against peoples and institutions of all the world’s religions, the International Society for Human Rights estimates that 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians.
The plight of Christians in the Middle East should concern us all, for Christianity may soon disappear in the region where the Gospel was first preached. At the same time, however, we cannot be indifferent to those Christians suffering persecution in other parts of the world, especially in the Asian sub-continent and in Africa.
The Age of Martyrs, as Pope Francis has pointed out, did not end with the Peace of Constantine. In fact, there are more martyrs today than there were in the first centuries of the Christian faith.
In 2007, at a meeting with leaders of the Muslim, Jewish and other world faiths in Naples, sponsored by the Sant’Egidio community, Pope Benedict XVI said:
In the face of a world torn apart by conflicts, where violence in God’s name is at times justified, it is important to reaffirm that religions can never become vehicles of hatred; it is never possible, invoking God’s name, to succeed in justifying evil and violence. On the contrary, religions can and must offer precious resources to build a peaceful humanity because they speak of peace to the human heart.
Peace can only be built on the solid foundations of respect for human rights. Religious freedom — the right of every person to establish a relationship with God in the intimacy of his or her conscience — is the human right that guarantees all other rights. Thus, peace anywhere and everywhere requires religious freedom.
Countries with greater religious freedom are generally more peaceful — and this is true even in those rare countries in the Middle East where there is greater religious freedom.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, representing the Holy See before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, said:
. . . religions are communities based on convictions and their freedom guarantees a contribution of moral values without which the freedom of everyone is not possible.
The blame for violence, even violence “in the name of God,” is not religious faith in general or any religious faith in particular. It is found in that corruption of the human heart called sin. To kill in the name of God is blasphemous sin.
We cannot forget that the religious dimension of the person is part of human experience in all cultures and social contexts.
Therefore, instead of hostility towards religion, a correct relationship between religious norms and the public sphere can and must be articulated. It is in such a correct relationship, that fosters a mutual openness between believers of different religions and non-believers of good will, that the common good and peace can be promoted.
In an increasingly secularized world, people of faith must seek to build bridges of understanding and not walls of division and mistrust. To secure peace and the protection of religious minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere, we must commit ourselves to reject hatred — for all religions hold hatred as contrary to God’s will.
If there is to be peace, we must discover the common values that unite us. These values can promote social cohesion among those of different faiths and belief systems, and thus allow for peaceful coexistence built on the respect for the religious freedom of all.