Freedom of Religion Gets More Attention Worldwide

Conference Held by Aid to the Church in Need

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ROME, NOV. 6, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Worldwide public opinion is discovering an age-old human rights issue: religious liberty.



According to a congress of experts organized by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) last week, "the topic of religious liberty, which in past years seemed to be almost exclusively reserved to John Paul II's unheeded appeals, is beginning to awaken a certain interest in public opinion."

This view, voiced over Vatican Radio by ACN's president in Italy, Attilio Tamburrini, was supported by experts who spoke at the congress. Among the experts were Archbishop Attilio Nicora, new president of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See; Giorgio Filibeck, official of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; and Massimo Introvigne, director of the European Center of Studies on the New Religions.

ACN, an association of pontifical right, funds projects in countries where the Church is in difficulty. Since 1998, ACN has published an "Annual Report on Religious Liberty in the World," a detailed document that has become a point of reference for human-rights organizations, journalists and missionaries, among others.

This year's meeting, held at the Domus Carmelitana of Rome, highlighted the critical importance of religious liberty, the "test of the observance of all other rights," as John Paul II has stated on various occasions.

"Where there is religious liberty, other human rights may be respected; where it is lacking, all others will be violated," Tamburrini said. "For this reason, many are beginning to realize that attention to this problem not only affects the believer, but implicates man as man."

The congress heard how, in addition to countries where Communism still survives -- such as China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba -- religious liberty is regarded today as an "ancillary right" in two other key sectors: in certain Muslim and post-Communist countries.

In some Muslim countries, "the Shariah [Islamic law] is the supreme law of the state," Tamburrini continued. This ostracizes believers of other religions.

A new issue regards erstwhile republics and satellites of the former Soviet Union, "where a mentality persists that considers the right to religious liberty as a concession, namely, that [government] authorization is necessary to exercise religious liberty."

The fundamental question posed by the congress was: What to do, in the face of countries that violate this fundamental right?

Tamburrini suggested that ordinary citizens should urge their representatives to examine respect for religious liberty in partner nations before stipulating trade agreements with such nations. "But the man on the street has another fundamental weapon -- the vote. We should demand this commitment directly from candidates," he stressed.

"However, I think that the most important weapon is information," Tamburrini added. "Criticism of [religious oppression] produces a clear effect. Most governments in most countries want to show world public opinion that they are not the 'bad guys.'"