Pope Hoping for Fresh Insights on Religious Freedom

Notes How God Expects a Free Response to His Call

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 4, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is calling for fresh insights on the topic of religious freedom, noting how this fundamental human right was enshrined after the downfall of 20th-century totalitarianisms, but now again faces threats.

The Pope made his appeal in an April 29 message to Mary Ann Glendon, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, on the occasion of the academy's 17th plenary session.

The April 29-May 3 session focused on the theme "Universal Rights in a World of Diversity: the Case of Religious Freedom."

The Holy Father offered a brief historical and philosophical summary of the understanding of this human right:

"Deeply inscribed in our human nature are a yearning for truth and meaning and an openness to the transcendent. [...] Many centuries ago, Tertullian [...] emphasized that God must be worshipped freely, and that it is in the nature of religion not to admit coercion. [...] Since man enjoys the capacity for a free personal choice in truth, and since God expects of man a free response to his call, the right to religious freedom should be viewed as innate to the fundamental dignity of every human person, in keeping with the innate openness of the human heart to God."

The Second Vatican Council offered a renewed anthropological foundation to religious freedom, the Pontiff added. "The Council Fathers stated that all people are 'impelled by nature and also bound by our moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth' (Dignitatis Humanae, 2). The truth sets us free (cf. Jn 8:32), and it is this same truth that must be sought and assumed freely."

He noted how the council carefully clarified that religious freedom "is a right which each person enjoys naturally and which therefore ought also to be protected and fostered by civil law."

Noting that some nations "allow broad religious freedom [...] while others restrict it for a variety of reasons, including mistrust for religion itself," the Pope affirmed that the Holy See calls on all states to "respect, and if need be protect, religious minorities who, though bound by a different faith from the majority around them, aspire to live with their fellow citizens peacefully and to participate fully in the civil and political life of the nation, to the benefit of all."

He concluded by telling the 37 academicians of the pontifical academy of his "sincere hope that your expertise in the fields of law, political science, sociology and economics will converge in these days to bring about fresh insights on this important question and thus bear much fruit now and into the future."

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