RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION, MORE WIDESPREAD TODAY THAN 1700 YEARS AGO

Vatican City, 20 June 2014 (VIS) – This morning the Holy Father received the participants in the International Congress organised by the Department of Law of the Maria SS. Assunta University of Rome (LUMSA) and the School of Law of the St. John's University on the theme: “religious freedom according the international law and the global conflict of values”, held in Rome on 20 and 21 June. Francis remarked that the theme of religious freedom has recently become the subject of intense debate between governments and the various religious confessions, and added that the Catholic Church, in this field, has a long history of supporting religious freedom, culminating in the Vatican Council II Declaration “Dignitatis humanae”.

“Every human is a 'seeker' of truth on his origins and destiny. In his mind and in his 'heart', questions and thoughts arise that cannot be repressed or stifled, since they emerge from the depths of the person and are a part of the intimate essence of the person. They are religious questions, and religious freedom is necessary for them to manifest themselves fully”. Francis emphasised that “reason recognises that religious freedom is a fundamental right of man, reflecting his highest dignity, that of seeking the truth and adhering to it, and recognising it as an indispensable condition for realising all his potential. Religious freedom is not simply freedom of thought or private worship. It is the freedom to live according to ethical principles, both privately and publicly, consequent to the truth one has found”. The Pope described this situation as the “great challenge of the globalised world, a sickness, in which weak thought even reduces the general ethical level, in the name of a false concept of tolerance that ends up persecuting those who defend the truth on humanity and its ethical consequences”.

“Legal systems, at both national and international level, are therefore required to recognise, guarantee and protect religious freedom, which is a right intrinsically inherent in human nature, in man's dignity as a free being, and is also an indicator of a healthy democracy and one of the main sources of the legitimacy of the State”. He added, “religious freedom … favours the development of relationships of mutual respect between the different Confessions and their healthy collaboration with the State and political society, without confusion of roles and without antagonism”.

He underlined that it is incomprehensible and troubling that people continue to suffer discrimination, restriction of their rights and even persecution for professing their faith. “Nowadays, persecution of Christians is stronger than it was in the first centuries of the Church, and there are more Christian martyrs than in that time. This is happening 1700 years after the edict of Constantine, which granted Christians the freedom to publicly profess their faith”. Pope Francis concluded by expressing his hope that the Congress would demonstrate in depth and with scientific rigour the reasons that oblige legal systems to respect and defend religious freedom.