PONTIFICAL COUNCIL for INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE
Message of the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
His Eminence Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran
To the Participants in the Conference
“Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives”
Pontifical Urbaniana University, December 13-14, 2013
I offer my heartfelt support to your study of “Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives”. Christianity’s contributions to society and the common good are many, such as the distinction between religion and politics; the efforts towards and doctrine of social justice and peace; the initiatives for the education of youth, the protection of the environment; the edification of a universal fraternity; the balance between action and contemplation; all are values Christians have cultivated and spread in society throughout history.
The present world urgently needs to develop an awareness of freedom, and in particular religious freedom as its foundation, in order to understand the longings of the human heart and the desire of each person for his or her place in society. This is the specific contribution of Christianity, today as in the past, as the yeast in the world that Jesus spoke of (cfr Matthew 13:33).
In introducing the subject of religious freedom, let me bring to mind Pope Benedict XVI’s Message for World Day of Peace 2011:
“It could be said that among the fundamental rights and freedoms rooted in the dignity of the person, religious freedom enjoys a special status. When religious freedom is acknowledged, the dignity of the human person is respected at its root, and the ethos and institutions of peoples are strengthened.
“Religious freedom expresses what is unique about the human person, for it allows us to direct our personal and social life to God, in whose light the identity, meaning and purpose of the person are fully understood. To deny or arbitrarily restrict this freedom is to foster a reductive vision of the human person; […] it is to stifle the growth of the authentic and lasting peace of the whole human family”.
I think you could not find a better introduction to your work. We, as believers or persons of good-will, think that the resolution of conflicts such as the delicate co-existence of different religions, can be transformed into human co-existence if we only recognize that we are all created and loved by God. Without religious freedom, on the contrary, this becomes a burden few are able to carry.
The human person, man and woman, needs to be the object of the attention and the concern of political and religious leaders, because each one of us is a citizen and a believer. We belong to the same human family. We share the same dignity, we are confronted by the same problems, we enjoy the same rights and we are called to accomplish the same duties.
The practice of a religion has never been only something personal: we are part of a community of believers. Religious freedom means the right of each person to determine his/her own conscience without outside pressure or consequences: “Truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth” (Dignitatis humanae, n. 1). Clearly, religious freedom includes the liberty to witness and proclaim one’s faith.
Pope Francis has recently spoken in favour of the right to profess and express one’s religion in some parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East: “Let us not resign ourselves to thinking of a Middle East without Christians. Yet, many of your brothers and sisters have emigrated […]. I urge that there be mutual respect between different religious confessions, in order to ensure for all a future based on the inalienable rights of the person, including religious freedom.” (Address to Pilgrims of the Greek-Melkite Community, 20 November 2013).
What the human society needs today is believers who commit themselves: - to listen and to better know each other; - to think before judging; and – to reveal the content of our faith and our reasons for living with “respect and friendship”.
Starting from certain social issues of great importance for the future of humanity, Pope Francis tries to make explicit the social dimension of the Gospel and to encourage all Christians to demonstrate it by their words, attitudes and deeds. As Pope Francis also said, we can achieve a healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, without privatizing nor reducing religions to the obscurity of the individual’s conscience or relegating them to the precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques. “This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism” (cfr Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 255).
I encourage, therefore, each of you to “demonstrate” with your lives what Pope Francis pointed to during the Vigil of Prayer for Peace in Syria on September 7th: “Creation forms a harmonious and good unity, but above all humanity, made in the image and likeness of God, is one family […]. God’s world is a world where everyone feels responsible for the other, for the good of the other.”
As Christians, this is our vision and our task at hand.
With prayerful best wishes for the success of this conference, I invoke the Blessing of God on your time together.