Pope: India's Democracy Hinges on Religious Rights

Cites Challenges in Promoting Justice

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 18, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI says that the future of the great democracy of India depends on respect for the religious freedom of its citizens.



"No citizen of India, especially the weak and the underprivileged, should ever have to experience discrimination for any reason, especially based on ethnic or religious background or social position," contended the Pope.

His exhortation resounded in the Vatican today when he was receiving the letters of credence of Amitava Tripathi, India's new ambassador to the Holy See.

In his address in English, the Holy Father said that "India's ongoing efforts to build a democratic and free society are grounded in her conviction of the need to respect the variety of cultures, religions and ethnic groups which make up the nation and shape the aspirations of her sons and daughters."

"The Indian people are rightly proud of the stability of their political institutions," he said, "while at the same time recognizing the formidable challenges involved in promoting justice, combating all forms of violence and extremism, and establishing a climate of serene and respectful dialogue, cooperation and good will between the different components of their vast and diverse society."

Spirit of collaboration

Benedict XVI continued: "As the nation continues to enjoy significant economic growth, these democratic values should serve as the inspiration and the sure foundation for sound social policies aimed at enabling all citizens to share in this growth and to enjoy its benefits.

"In this regard, I wish to assure you of the wish of India's Catholic community to share fully in the life of the nation in a spirit of collaboration and concern for the common good."

"When the gifts and talents of all citizens, men and women, young and old, wealthy and poor alike, are valued and developed, the way is opened to a future of prosperity and social harmony for the whole nation," the Pope asserted.

He added: "The disturbing signs of religious intolerance which have troubled some regions of the nation, including the reprehensible attempt to legislate clearly discriminatory restrictions on the fundamental right of religious freedom, must be firmly rejected as not only unconstitutional, but also as contrary to the highest ideals of India's founding fathers, who believed in a nation of peaceful coexistence and mutual tolerance between different religions and ethnic groups."