VATICAN - Benedict XVI to the Diplomatic Corps, "in many Countries Christians are deprived of fundamental rights and sidelined from public life"

Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) - Religious freedom is "the first of human rights, for it expresses the most fundamental reality of the person. All too often, for various reasons, this right remains limited or is flouted". On January 9, Holy Father Benedict XVI pronounced his traditional annual address to the members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See to offer his cordial good wishes for the New Year. On paying tribute to the memory of the Pakistani Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, "whose untiring battle for the rights of minorities ended in his tragic death", the Pope stressed that "in many Countries Christians are deprived of fundamental rights and sidelined from public life; in other countries they endure violent attacks against churches and their homes.At times they are forced to leave the countries they have helped to build because of persistent tensions and policies which frequently relegate them to being second-class spectators of national life. In other parts of the world, we see policies aimed at marginalizing the role of religion in the life of society, as if it were a cause of intolerance rather than a valued contribution to education in respect for human dignity, justice and peace". The Pope’s thoughts turned in "a special way to the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean which in 2011 celebrated the bicentenary of their independence" and was happy with South Sudan, which became a sovereign state in a peaceful manner, expressing his hopes that "all may unite their efforts to enable the people of Sudan and South Sudan to experience a period of peace, freedom and development". In his long speech, Benedict XVI highlighted that "the present moment is sadly marked by a profound disquiet". In particular, "grave and disturbing developments of the global economic and financial crisis" have "profoundly affected the life of developing countries". However, "the crisis can and must be an incentive to reflect on human existence and on the importance of its ethical dimension, even before we consider the mechanisms governing economic life". The Holy Father focused on the effects of the present moment that in particular affect young people. In particular he mentioned North Africa and the Middle East, where young people "have launched what has developed into a vast movement calling for reforms and a more active active share in political and social life" that now the best way to move forward is through the "recognition of the inalienable dignity of each human person and of his or her fundamental rights. Respect for the person must be at the center of institutions and laws; it must lead to the end of all violence". Benedict XVI expressed "deep concern" for Syria, hoping for "a rapid end to the bloodshed and the beginning of a fruitful dialogue between political forces, encouraged by the presence of independent observers", and for the Holy Land, "where tensions between Palestinians and Israelis affect the stability of the entire Middle East". Recalling his World Day of Peace Message 2012, entitled "Educating young people in justice and peace", the Pontiff said that "education is a crucial theme for every generation" and it needs places, "among these, pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage between a man and a woman". Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself because " legislative measures that not onlypermit but at times even promote abortion for reasons of convenience or for questionable medical motives". The Holy Father then recalled that "in the pasat year religiously motivated terrorism has also reaped numerous victims, especially in Asia and in Africa", so this is why it is necessary for religious leaders need to repeat firmly and forcefully that "this is not the true nature of religion. Instead, it is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction. " As far as the African continent is concerned what is worrying is "the outbreak of violence in Nigeria", the aftermath of the civil war in Côte d'Ivoire, the continuing instability in the Great Lakes region the the humanitarian emergency in the countries of the Horn of Africa and the crisis which has gone on for years in Somalia. (SL) (Agenzia Fides 10/01/2012)