Pope criticises religious intolerance


THE POPE has argued that religious freedom remains “the fundamental path to peace” in today’s world. Making his annual address to the Vatican-based diplomatic corps, Pope Benedict XVI identified worldwide religious intolerance, Islamic fundamentalism, repression in China and the marginalisation of religion in the affluent West as among the major challenges facing mankind.

Touching on many of the issues which dominated his message for World Peace Day last week, Benedict argued yesterday that “peace is built and preserved only when human beings can freely seek and serve God”.

When he looked at the world, he said, he found “numerous situations in which, sadly, the right to religious freedom is violated or denied”.

Although the Pope at no point used the expression “Islamic fundamentalism”, his references to the persecution of Christians in Iraq and more recently in Egypt included an appeal to Muslim religious leaders.

“Looking to the East, the attacks which brought death, grief and dismay among the Christians of Iraq, even to the point of inducing them to leave the land where their families have lived for centuries, has troubled us deeply.

“To the authorities of the country and to the Muslim religious leaders, I renew my heartfelt appeal that their Christian fellow citizens be able to live in security, continuing to contribute to the society in which they are fully members.”

For the third time in the last week, the Pope expressed his dismay at the January 1st bomb attack in which 21 people were killed at the Coptic Church of All Saints in Alexandria, Egypt.

“The succession of attacks is yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the [Middle East] region to adopt, in spite of difficulties and dangers, effective measures for the protection of religious minorities.”

Pope Benedict also called on Pakistan to abrogate its law on blasphemy. Last week, Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was killed by his bodyguard who later claimed that he had done so because of the governor’s outspoken criticism of the blasphemy laws which make it a crime to insult Islam or the prophet Muhammad.

Reflecting recent tensions with China, the Pope also complained about those countries where, although the right to religious freedom existed, that right was compromised by “philosophical or political systems which call for strict control, if not a monopoly, of the state over society”.