Poverty Doesn´t Equal Virtue, Says Relief-Group Worker

Coordinator for "Aid to the Church in Need" Comments on U.S. Report

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 4, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Poverty is not automatically synonymous with virtue, says an aid-group official who warns about widespread violations of religious liberty in the world.

Marco Invernizzi, coordinator of Aid to the Church in Need´s "2001 Report on Religious Liberty in the World," recently spoke with Vatican Radio about religious liberty.

The interview came in the wake of the U.S. State Department´s annual report on religious liberty. The report noted violations against religious freedom in China, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar, Sudan and North Korea, among other countries. It also singled out the Taliban in Afghanistan.

--Q: Where is religious liberty violated?

--Invernizzi: The U.S. State Department report lists the countries, but others could be added. These are areas that we have described with colors.

There is a green area, in which violation of religious liberty is due to countries of Muslim majority.

There is a red area that embraces countries where the totalitarian Marxist ideology survives.

There are other colors -- black and blue -- which we have used to indicate places where religious liberty has been endangered by local conflicts or states´ restrictive legislation. However, beyond the different cases, the problem lies in understanding what is meant by religious liberty.

--Q: What? Isn´t this point clear? Aren´t there a lot of U.N. documents in this respect?

--Invernizzi: There is lack of clarity, because [although] it is the principal right of man, in general, very little is said about it.

Religious liberty means that every man must be able to profess his own religion freely, within the state in which he lives, including acts of public worship, and he must be able to change religions without being subjected to pressures of any kind by the state, within the framework of the laws of the state and the common good.

--Q: The present crisis is attributed in part to the difference between the rich North and the poor South. Don´t you think that the poor countries must be reminded that their development must necessarily include respect for human rights, in particular, for religious liberty, including countries of Muslim religion that violate them?

--Invernizzi: We must be careful above all of demagogy. Poverty is not automatically synonymous with virtue, especially from the point of view of states. A state can be poor and violate human rights, in particular, that of religious liberty.

Moreover, there are cases, such as that of Saudi Arabia, of rich states that violate religious liberty, which do not use their wealth to promote development, or improve the situation of their peoples, or of the countries to which they are linked because of their common religious faith.

As missionary Father Piero Gheddo affirms, for example, I think that respect for human rights, the practice of religious liberty, and respect of a person´s fundamental rights are not the immediate cause, but certainly affect economic development and, therefore, the situation of poverty of many countries.