Benedict XVI Message for 2011 World Peace Day 

   "Religious Freedom Expresses What Is Unique About the Human Person"


VATICAN CITY, DEC. 16, 2010 - Here is the the text of Benedict XVI's message for the 44th World Day of Peace, which will be observed Jan. 1. The theme for the day will be: "Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace." The Vatican press office released the message today.

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1. at the beginning of the new year I offer good wishes to each and all for serenity and prosperity, but especially for peace. Sadly, the year now ending has again been marked by persecution, discrimination, terrible acts of violence and religious intolerance.

My thoughts turn in a special way to the beloved country of Iraq, which continues to be a theatre of violence and strife as it makes its way towards a future of stability and reconciliation. I think of the recent sufferings of the Christian community, and in particular the reprehensible attack on the Syro-Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baghdad, where on 31 October two priests and over fifty faithful were killed as they gathered for the celebration of Holy Mass. In the days that followed, other attacks ensued, even on private homes, spreading fear within the Christian community and a desire on the part of many to emigrate in search of a better life. I assure them of my own closeness and that of the entire Church, a closeness which found concrete expression in the recent Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. The Synod encouraged the Catholic communities in Iraq and throughout the Middle East to live in communion and to continue to offer a courageous witness of faith in those lands.

I offer heartfelt thanks to those Governments which are working to alleviate the sufferings of these, our brothers and sisters in the human family, and I ask all Catholics for their prayers and support for their brethren in the faith who are victims of violence and intolerance. In this context, I have felt it particularly appropriate to share some reflections on religious freedom as the path to peace. It is painful to think that in some areas of the world it is impossible to profess one’s religion freely except at the risk of life and personal liberty. In other areas we see more subtle and sophisticated forms of prejudice and hostility towards believers and religious symbols. At present, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith. Many Christians experience daily affronts and often live in fear because of their pursuit of truth, their faith in Jesus Christ and their heartfelt plea for respect for religious freedom. This situation is unacceptable, since it represents an insult to God and to human dignity; furthermore, it is a threat to security and peace, and an obstacle to the achievement of authentic and integral human development.[1]

Religious freedom expresses what is unique about the human person, for it allows us to direct our personal and social life to God, in whose light the identity, meaning and purpose of the person are fully understood. To deny or arbitrarily restrict this freedom is to foster a reductive vision of the human person; to eclipse the public role of religion is to create a society which is unjust, inasmuch as it fails to take account of the true nature of the human person; it is to stifle the growth of the authentic and lasting peace of the whole human family.

For this reason, I implore all men and women of good will to renew their commitment to building a world where all are free to profess their religion or faith, and to express their love of God with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their mind (cf. Mt 22:37). This is the sentiment which inspires and directs this Message for the XLIV World Day of Peace, devoted to the theme: Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace.

A sacred right to life and to a spiritual life

2. The right to religious freedom is rooted in the very dignity of the human person,[2] whose transcendent nature must not be ignored or overlooked. God created man and woman in his own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:27). For this reason each person is endowed with the sacred right to a full life, also from a spiritual standpoint. Without the acknowledgement of his spiritual being, without openness to the transcendent, the human person withdraws within himself, fails to find answers to the heart’s deepest questions about life’s meaning, fails to appropriate lasting ethical values and principles, and fails even to experience authentic freedom and to build a just society.[3]

Sacred Scripture, in harmony with our own experience, reveals the profound value of human dignity: "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have established, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man, that you care for him? Yet you have made him little less than God, and crowned him with glory and honour. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet" (Ps 8:3-6).

Contemplating the sublime reality of human nature, we can experience the same amazement felt by the Psalmist. Our nature appears as openness to the Mystery, a capacity to ask deep questions about ourselves and the origin of the universe, and a profound echo of the supreme Love of God, the beginning and end of all things, of every person and people.[4] The transcendent dignity of the person is an essential value of Judeo-Christian wisdom, yet thanks to the use of reason, it can be recognized by all. This dignity, understood as a capacity to transcend one’s own materiality and to seek truth, must be acknowledged as a universal good, indispensable for the building of a society directed to human fulfilment. Respect for essential elements of human dignity, such as the right to life and the right to religious freedom, is a condition for the moral legitimacy of every social and legal norm.

Religious freedom and mutual respect

3. Religious freedom is at the origin of moral freedom. Openness to truth and perfect goodness, openness to God, is rooted in human nature; it confers full dignity on each individual and is the guarantee of full mutual respect between persons. Religious freedom should be understood, then, not merely as immunity from coercion, but even more fundamentally as an ability to order one’s own choices in accordance with truth.

Freedom and respect are inseparable; indeed, "in exercising their rights, individuals and social groups are bound by the moral law to have regard for the rights of others, their own duties to others and the common good of all".[5]

A freedom which is hostile or indifferent to God becomes self-negating and does not guarantee full respect for others. A will which believes itself radically incapable of seeking truth and goodness has no objective reasons or motives for acting save those imposed by its fleeting and contingent interests; it does not have an "identity" to safeguard and build up through truly free and conscious decisions. As a result, it cannot demand respect from other "wills", which are themselves detached from their own deepest being and thus capable of imposing other "reasons" or, for that matter, no "reason" at all. The illusion that moral relativism provides the key for peaceful coexistence is actually the origin of divisions and the denial of the dignity of human beings. Hence we can see the need for recognition of a twofold dimension within the unity of the human person: a religious dimension and a social dimension. In this regard, "it is inconceivable that believers should have to suppress a part of themselves – their faith – in order to be active citizens. It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one’s rights".[6]

The family, the school of freedom and peace

4. If religious freedom is the path to peace, religious education is the highway which leads new generations to see others as their brothers and sisters, with whom they are called to journey and work together so that all will feel that they are living members of the one human family, from which no one is to be excluded.

The family founded on marriage, as the expression of the close union and complementarity between a man and a woman, finds its place here as the first school for the social, cultural, moral and spiritual formation and growth of children, who should always be able to see in their father and mother the first witnesses of a life directed to the pursuit of truth and the love of God. Parents must be always free to transmit to their children, responsibly and without constraints, their heritage of faith, values and culture. The family, the first cell of human society, remains the primary training ground for harmonious relations at every level of coexistence, human, national and international. Wisdom suggests that this is the road to building a strong and fraternal social fabric, in which young people can be prepared to assume their proper responsibilities in life, in a free society, and in a spirit of understanding and peace.

A common patrimony

5. It could be said that among the fundamental rights and freedoms rooted in the dignity of the person, religious freedom enjoys a special status. When religious freedom is acknowledged, the dignity of the human person is respected at its root, and the ethos and institutions of peoples are strengthened. On the other hand, whenever religious freedom is denied, and attempts are made to hinder people from professing their religion or faith and living accordingly, human dignity is offended, with a resulting threat to justice and peace, which are grounded in that right social order established in the light of Supreme Truth and Supreme Goodness.

Religious freedom is, in this sense, also an achievement of a sound political and juridical culture. It is an essential good: each person must be able freely to exercise the right to profess and manifest, individually or in community, his or her own religion or faith, in public and in private, in teaching, in practice, in publications, in worship and in ritual observances. There should be no obstacles should he or she eventually wish to belong to another religion or profess none at all. In this context, international law is a model and an essential point of reference for states, insofar as it allows no derogation from religious freedom, as long as the just requirements of public order are observed.[7] The international order thus recognizes that rights of a religious nature have the same status as the right to life and to personal freedom, as proof of the fact that they belong to the essential core of human rights, to those universal and natural rights which human law can never deny.

Religious freedom is not the exclusive patrimony of believers, but of the whole family of the earth’s peoples. It is an essential element of a constitutional state; it cannot be denied without at the same time encroaching on all fundamental rights and freedoms, since it is their synthesis and keystone. It is "the litmus test for the respect of all the other human rights".[8] While it favours the exercise of our most specifically human faculties, it creates the necessary premises for the attainment of an integral development which concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension.[9]

The public dimension of religion

6. Religious freedom, like every freedom, proceeds from the personal sphere and is achieved in relationship with others. Freedom without relationship is not full freedom. Religious freedom is not limited to the individual dimension alone, but is attained within one’s community and in society, in a way consistent with the relational being of the person and the public nature of religion.

Relationship is a decisive component in religious freedom, which impels the community of believers to practise solidarity for the common good. In this communitarian dimension, each person remains unique and unrepeatable, while at the same time finding completion and full realization.

The contribution of religious communities to society is undeniable. Numerous charitable and cultural institutions testify to the constructive role played by believers in the life of society. More important still is religion’s ethical contribution in the political sphere. Religion should not be marginalized or prohibited, but seen as making an effective contribution to the promotion of the common good. In this context mention should be made of the religious dimension of culture, built up over centuries thanks to the social and especially ethical contributions of religion. This dimension is in no way discriminatory towards those who do not share its beliefs, but instead reinforces social cohesion, integration and solidarity.

Religious freedom, a force for freedom and civilization:
dangers arising from its exploitation

7. The exploitation of religious freedom to disguise hidden interests, such as the subversion of the established order, the hoarding of resources or the grip on power of a single group, can cause enormous harm to societies. Fanaticism, fundamentalism and practices contrary to human dignity can never be justified, even less so in the name of religion. The profession of a religion cannot be exploited or imposed by force. States and the various human communities must never forget that religious freedom is the condition for the pursuit of truth, and truth does not impose itself by violence but "by the force of its own truth".[10] In this sense, religion is a positive driving force for the building of civil and political society.

How can anyone deny the contribution of the world’s great religions to the development of civilization? The sincere search for God has led to greater respect for human dignity. Christian communities, with their patrimony of values and principles, have contributed much to making individuals and peoples aware of their identity and their dignity, the establishment of democratic institutions and the recognition of human rights and their corresponding duties.

Today too, in an increasingly globalized society, Christians are called, not only through their responsible involvement in civic, economic and political life but also through the witness of their charity and faith, to offer a valuable contribution to the laborious and stimulating pursuit of justice, integral human development and the right ordering of human affairs. The exclusion of religion from public life deprives the latter of a dimension open to transcendence. Without this fundamental experience it becomes difficult to guide societies towards universal ethical principles and to establish at the national and international level a legal order which fully recognizes and respects fundamental rights and freedoms as these are set forth in the goals – sadly still disregarded or contradicted – of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

An issue of justice and civility:
fundamentalism and hostility to believers
compromise the positive secularity of states

8. The same determination that condemns every form of fanaticism and religious fundamentalism must also oppose every form of hostility to religion that would restrict the public role of believers in civil and political life.

It should be clear that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike in that both represent extreme forms of a rejection of legitimate pluralism and the principle of secularity. Both absolutize a reductive and partial vision of the human person, favouring in the one case forms of religious integralism and, in the other, of rationalism. A society that would violently impose or, on the contrary, reject religion is not only unjust to individuals and to God, but also to itself. God beckons humanity with a loving plan that, while engaging the whole person in his or her natural and spiritual dimensions, calls for a free and responsible answer which engages the whole heart and being, individual and communitarian. Society too, as an expression of the person and of all his or her constitutive dimensions, must live and organize itself in a way that favours openness to transcendence. Precisely for this reason, the laws and institutions of a society cannot be shaped in such a way as to ignore the religious dimension of its citizens or to prescind completely from it. Through the democratic activity of citizens conscious of their lofty calling, those laws and institutions must adequately reflect the authentic nature of the person and support its religious dimension. Since the latter is not a creation of the state, it cannot be manipulated by the state, but must rather be acknowledged and respected by it.

Whenever the legal system at any level, national or international, allows or tolerates religious or antireligious fanaticism, it fails in its mission, which is to protect and promote justice and the rights of all. These matters cannot be left to the discretion of the legislator or the majority since, as Cicero once pointed out, justice is something more than a mere act which produces and applies law. It entails acknowledging the dignity of each person[11] which, unless religious freedom is guaranteed and lived in its essence, ends up being curtailed and offended, exposed to the risk of falling under the sway of idols, of relative goods which then become absolute. All this exposes society to the risk of forms of political and ideological totalitarianism which emphasize public power while demeaning and restricting freedom of conscience, thought and religion as potential competitors.

Dialogue between civil and religious institutions

9. The patrimony of principles and values expressed by an authentic religiosity is a source of enrichment for peoples and their ethos. It speaks directly to the conscience and mind of men and women, it recalls the need for moral conversion, and it encourages the practice of the virtues and a loving approach to others as brothers and sisters, as members of the larger human family.[12]

With due respect for the positive secularity of state institutions, the public dimension of religion must always be acknowledged. A healthy dialogue between civil and religious institutions is fundamental for the integral development of the human person and social harmony.

Living in love and in truth

10. In a globalized world marked by increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies, the great religions can serve as an important factor of unity and peace for the human family. On the basis of their religious convictions and their reasoned pursuit of the common good, their followers are called to give responsible expression to their commitment within a context of religious freedom. Amid the variety of religious cultures, there is a need to value those elements which foster civil coexistence, while rejecting whatever is contrary to the dignity of men and women.

The public space which the international community makes available for the religions and their proposal of what constitutes a "good life" helps to create a measure of agreement about truth and goodness, and a moral consensus; both of these are fundamental to a just and peaceful coexistence. The leaders of the great religions, thanks to their position, their influence and their authority in their respective communities, are the first ones called to mutual respect and dialogue.

Christians, for their part, are spurred by their faith in God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, to live as brothers and sisters who encounter one another in the Church and work together in building a world where individuals and peoples "shall not hurt or destroy … for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Is 11:9).

Dialogue as a shared pursuit

11. For the Church, dialogue between the followers of the different religions represents an important means of cooperating with all religious communities for the common good. The Church herself rejects nothing of what is true and holy in the various religions. "She has a high regard for those ways of life and conduct, precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women".[13]

The path to take is not the way of relativism or religious syncretism. The Church, in fact, "proclaims, and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6); in Christ, in whom God reconciled all things to himself, people find the fullness of the religious life".[14] Yet this in no way excludes dialogue and the common pursuit of truth in different areas of life, since, as Saint Thomas Aquinas would say, "every truth, whoever utters it, comes from the Holy Spirit".[15]

The year 2011 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace convened in Assisi in 1986 by Pope John Paul II. On that occasion the leaders of the great world religions testified to the fact that religion is a factor of union and peace, and not of division and conflict. The memory of that experience gives reason to hope for a future in which all believers will see themselves, and will actually be, agents of justice and peace.

Moral truth in politics and diplomacy

12. Politics and diplomacy should look to the moral and spiritual patrimony offered by the great religions of the world in order to acknowledge and affirm universal truths, principles and values which cannot be denied without denying the dignity of the human person. But what does it mean, in practical terms, to promote moral truth in the world of politics and diplomacy? It means acting in a responsible way on the basis of an objective and integral knowledge of the facts; it means deconstructing political ideologies which end up supplanting truth and human dignity in order to promote pseudo-values under the pretext of peace, development and human rights; it means fostering an unswerving commitment to base positive law on the principles of the natural law.[16] All this is necessary and consistent with the respect for the dignity and worth of the human person enshrined by the world’s peoples in the 1945 Charter of the United Nations, which presents universal values and moral principles as a point of reference for the norms, institutions and systems governing coexistence on the national and international levels.

Beyond hatred and prejudice

13. Despite the lessons of history and the efforts of states, international and regional organizations, non-governmental organizations and the many men and women of good will who daily work to protect fundamental rights and freedoms, today’s world also witnesses cases of persecution, discrimination, acts of violence and intolerance based on religion. In a particular way, in Asia and in Africa, the chief victims are the members of religious minorities, who are prevented from freely professing or changing their religion by forms of intimidation and the violation of their rights, basic freedoms and essential goods, including the loss of personal freedom and life itself.

There also exist – as I have said – more sophisticated forms of hostility to religion which, in Western countries, occasionally find expression in a denial of history and the rejection of religious symbols which reflect the identity and the culture of the majority of citizens. Often these forms of hostility also foster hatred and prejudice; they are inconsistent with a serene and balanced vision of pluralism and the secularity of institutions, to say nothing of the fact that coming generations risk losing contact with the priceless spiritual heritage of their countries.

Religion is defended by defending the rights and freedoms of religious communities. The leaders of the great world religions and the leaders of nations should therefore renew their commitment to promoting and protecting religious freedom, and in particular to defending religious minorities; these do not represent a threat to the identity of the majority but rather an opportunity for dialogue and mutual cultural enrichment. Defending them is the ideal way to consolidate the spirit of good will, openness and reciprocity which can ensure the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms in all areas and regions of the world.

Religious freedom in the world

14. Finally I wish to say a word to the Christian communities suffering from persecution, discrimination, violence and intolerance, particularly in Asia, in Africa, in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land, a place chosen and blessed by God. I assure them once more of my paternal affection and prayers, and I ask all those in authority to act promptly to end every injustice against the Christians living in those lands. In the face of present difficulties, may Christ’s followers not lose heart, for witnessing to the Gospel is, and always will be, a sign of contradiction.

Let us take to heart the words of the Lord Jesus: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted … Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied … Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven" (Mt 5:4-12). Then let us renew "the pledge we give to be forgiving and to pardon when we invoke God’s forgiveness in the Our Father. We ourselves lay down the condition and the extent of the mercy we ask for when we say: ‘And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us’ (Mt 6:12)".[17] Violence is not overcome by violence. May our cries of pain always be accompanied by faith, by hope and by the witness of our love of God. I also express my hope that in the West, and especially in Europe, there will be an end to hostility and prejudice against Christians because they are resolved to orient their lives in a way consistent with the values and principles expressed in the Gospel. May Europe rather be reconciled to its own Christian roots, which are fundamental for understanding its past, present and future role in history; in this way it will come to experience justice, concord and peace by cultivating a sincere dialogue with all peoples.

Religious freedom, the path to peace

15. The world needs God. It needs universal, shared ethical and spiritual values, and religion can offer a precious contribution to their pursuit, for the building of a just and peaceful social order at the national and international levels.

Peace is a gift of God and at the same time a task which is never fully completed. A society reconciled with God is closer to peace, which is not the mere absence of war or the result of military or economic supremacy, much less deceptive ploys or clever manipulation. Rather, peace is the result of a process of purification and of cultural, moral and spiritual elevation involving each individual and people, a process in which human dignity is fully respected. I invite all those who wish to be peacemakers, especially the young, to heed the voice speaking within their hearts and thus to find in God the stable point of reference for attaining authentic freedom, the inexhaustible force which can give the world a new direction and spirit, and overcome the mistakes of the past. In the words of Pope Paul VI, to whose wisdom and farsightedness we owe the institution of the World Day of Peace: "It is necessary before all else to provide peace with other weapons – different from those destined to kill and exterminate mankind. What are needed above all are moral weapons, those which give strength and prestige to international law – the weapon, in the first place, of the observance of pacts".[18] Religious freedom is an authentic weapon of peace, with an historical and prophetic mission. Peace brings to full fruition the deepest qualities and potentials of the human person, the qualities which can change the world and make it better. It gives hope for a future of justice and peace, even in the face of grave injustice and material and moral poverty. May all men and women, and societies at every level and in every part of the earth, soon be able to experience religious freedom, the path to peace!

From the Vatican, 8 December 2010



[1] Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 29, 55-57.

[2] Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 2.

[3] Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 78.

[4] Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions Nostra Aetate, 1.

[5] ID., Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 7.

[6] BENEDICT XVI, Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations (18 April 2008): AAS 100 (2008), 337.

[7] Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 2.

[8] JOHN PAUL II, Address to Participants in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) (10 October 2003), 1: AAS 96 (2004), 111.

[9] Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 11.

[10] Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 1.

[11] Cf. CICERO, De Inventione, II, 160.

[12] Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Address to Representatives of Other Religions in the United Kingdom (17 September 2010): L’Osservatore Romano (18 September 2010), p. 12.

[13] Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions Nostra Aetate, 2.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Super Evangelium Joannis, I, 3.

[16] Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Address to Civil Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps in Cyprus (4 June 2010): L’Osservatore Romano (6 June 2010), p. 8; INTERNATIONAL THEOLOGICAL COMMISSION, The Search for Universal Ethics: A New Look at Natural Law, Vatican City, 2009.

[17] PAUL VI, Message for the 1976 World Day of Peace: AAS 67 (1975), 671.

[18] Ibid., p. 668.

© Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana


Cardinal Turkson's Comments on Papal Peace Message 2011
"Religious Freedom ... Has Come Under Great Stress and Threat"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 16, 2010  - Here is the text of the comments made today by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, at a press conference for the presentation of Benedict XVI's message for the 44th World Day of Peace,  celebrated on Jan. 1, 2011.

The theme of this day is "Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace."

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The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, will celebrate the XLIV World Day of Peace next year (2011) with a message on religious freedo m. The message consists of a New Year Greeting, an introductory reference to the attack on Christians in Iraq, the main body of the message, which presents the sense of religious freedom and the various ways in which it fashions peace and experiences of peace, and a concluding reflection on peace as a gift of God and at the same the work of men and women of goodwill, and , especially, of believers.

Religious Freedom is the theme of the Pope’s Message for the World Day of Peace not only because that subject matter is central to Catholic social doctrine; it is also because the living of religious freedom -- a basic vocation of man and a fundamental, inalienable and universal human right, and key to peace – has come under great stress and threat:

-- from raging secularism, which is intolerant of God and of any form of expression of religion;

-- from religious fundamentalism, the politicization of religion and the establishment of state religions;

-- from the growing cultural and religious pluralism that is being made ever more present and pressing in our day by globalization (which heightens interdependence and fashions new forms of relations) and the increased mobility of people (who run into new cultures and religions). Thus, differences which should enrich human culture are increasingly being exploited, especially in the area of religion, to achieve the opposite effect of impoverishing human culture through intolerance, denial and negation of the right of religious freedo m.

The Holy Father, in his Message, sees the safeguarding of religious freedom in our multi-cultural, multi-religious and secularized world as one of the ways to safeguard its peace.


As you may recall, one of the important tasks that our world set for itself following the 2nd World War was the formulation, adoption and promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Dec. 1948). Against the background of intolerant totalitarian ideologies, injustices and evils of war (hatred), the Universal Declaration was a human rights agenda (a magna carta) for ensuring tolerance, mutual respect, justice, peace and the common good of humanity. The 18th Article of the Declaration enshrines religious freedom: “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, a right which “includes freedom to change religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest [one’s] religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”!

Pope Benedict XVI praised the Universal Declaration for “enabling different cultures, juridical expressions and institutional models to converge around a fundamental nucleus of values and hence of rights”, but, he also worried about the increasing instances of the denial of the universality of these rights in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks.[1]

Consider the Lautsi case here in Italy and the Crucifix case in the EU Court of Human Rights, the case of Asia Bibi in Pakistan, the case of Southern Sudan, Christians in the Middle East, Doctors who are denied license because they will not terminate pregnancies, denial of aid-packages to developing countries who object to aid-conditions on religious-moral grounds, and so on.

So, the Message of Peace of the Holy Father for the year 2011 is set within this context, and it addresses incidents of the denial of the universal right of Religious Freedom in the name of culture, religion, politics and State policies even by nations which are party to the Declaration. These denials obscure the truth about the human person, disregard people’s dignity, badly compromise the respect for the other rights, and ultimately threaten the peace of the world.


3.1. The Nature of religious freedom. Religious freedom is a “way to peace” because of what it is essentially. Rooted in the dignity of the human person (body and spirit), with a vocation to transcendence, religious freedom expresses that capacity and longing in every person to seek to realize oneself fully in relationship, opening up to God and to others. It expresses the search for meaning in life and for the discovery of values and principles which make life, alone and in community, meaningful. Religious freedom, ultimately, is the expression of man’s capacity to seek the truth of God and the truth about himself, as “a maker of an earthly city which anticipates the heavenly city” of justice, peace and happiness.

3.2. The right to religious freedo m. Religious freedom is not considered a human right just because the Universal Declaration affirms it. Religious freedom is not a right granted by a State. Its foundation is not to be found in the subjective disposition of the person.[2] With the other rights of man, the right of religious freedom is derived, as Pope John XXIII and subsequent Church doctrines have taught, from natural law and from the dignity of the person which are rooted in creation. Rather, the State and other public institutions, as Pope Benedict XVI recalls in par. 8 of his Message, need to recognize it as intrinsic to the human person and in its expressions, as indispensable for its integrity and peace.

3.3. Religious freedom is a duty of public authority (par.10). Although religious freedom does not need the State or even the Universal Declaration to establish it, it is not an unlimited right. To ensure that religious freedom makes for peace and is not abused, as in the case of Pastor Jim Jones who led a group of believers to their death in Guyana , “the just limits of the exercise of religious freedom must be determined in each social situation with political prudence, according to the requirements of common good.”[3] Cfr. Message no. 10.

3.4. Religious freedom and the search for truth. Religious freedom then, as the Holy Father recalls in his Message (par. 3), is freedom from coercion and freedom for the truth: the (religious) truth of seeking the God of man’s creation, “for what does the soul desire more strongly than the truth?”[4] It is the absolute truth of God, the longing of man’s soul; and it is this truth which calls forth the expression of freedom in man (his freewill) to respond to it. Thus religious freedom does not refer, first and foremost, to man’s decision or his choice between one and the other religion, although this can be an expression of it (as in the Universal Declaration). Religious freedom refers primarily to man’s freedom to express his being capax Dei: his freedom to respond to the truth of his nature as created by God and created for life with God without coercion or impediments.[5] It is in this that man finds his peace, and from there becomes an instrument of peace.

3.5. Religious freedom and identity. Religious freedom does not imply that all religions are equal. Nor is it a reason for religious relativism or indifferentism.[6] Religious freedom is compatible with defense of one’s religious identity against relativism, syncretism and fundamentalism: all abused forms of religious freedo m.

3.6. Communal dimension of religious freedom. Religious freedom is also an expression of a person that is at once individual and communitarian (cfr. Message no. 6). Religious freedom is not limited to the free exercise of worship. There is a public dimension to it, which grants believers the chance of making their contribution in building the social order. Let us recall here the four faith-filled founders/architects of the European Union (Adenauer, De Gasperi, Schuman and Monnet), the centers of learning and culture of the Church, the very many developmental, health-care and educational projects of the Church in mission countries, and so on.

As Pope Benedict XVI would say, the Church’s social doctrine came into being in order to claim citizenship status for the Catholic religion. Denying the right to profess one’s religion in public and the right to bring the truth of faith to bear upon public life has negative consequences for true development.[7] Similarly, “refusal to recognize the contribution to society that is rooted in the religious dimension and in the quest for the Absolute – by its nature, expressing communion between persons – would effectively privilege an individualistic approach, and would fragment the unity of the person.”[8]

The exercise of the right of religious freedom as a way to peace thus implies the recognition of the harmony that must exist between the two areas and forms of life: private and public, individual and community, person and society. A Catholic (believer) therefore is not only a subject of religious freedom, but also a member of a “body”. Submitting, therefore, to that body is not a loss of freedo m. It becomes an expression of fidelity to the “body”; and fidelity is the development of freedo m.

Furthermore, there is a unity of reciprocal relationship between the individual and one’s community, a person and one’s society. A person is born and lives in relationships, and the purpose of community is to promote the life of a person. Accordingly, the development and the exercise of one’s religious freedom, is also the task of one’s community. Families and schools (places of formation) are often the primary agents of formation in religious freedo m. In multi-cultural and multi-religious communities, schools and institutions are also the privileged places of training in tolerance and dialogue in the exercise of religious freedom for peaceful coexistence.[9]

3.7. Religious freedom and dialogue. For Benedict XVI, religious dialogue, conducted according to charity and truth, is a resource for the common good (cfr. Message no. 11). Dialogue should be recognized as the means by which various bodies can articulate their points of view and build consensus around the truth concerning particular values or goals. It pertains to the nature of religions, freely practiced, that they can autonomously conduct a dialogue of thought and life with view to placing their experiences at the service of the common good.[10] Precisely this dialogue is the objective of the official dialogue groups in the Church, and even of a small initiative like the Cardinal Lüstiger Foundation for dialogue with Judais m. [11] The same objective can inspire an active dialogue between the free practice of one’s religion and unbelievers, between faith and reason. “Fruitful dialogue between faith and reason cannot but render the work of charity more effective within society, and it constitutes the most appropriate framework for promoting fraternal collaboration between believers and non-believers in their shared commitment to working for justice and the peace of the human family.”[12]

3.8. Religious freedom and the State (protection). Although religious freedom is not established by the State, it (the State) nevertheless, needs to recognize it as intrinsic to the human person and in its public and communitarian expressions. This recognition of religious freedom and a respect for the innate dignity of every person also imply the principle of the responsibility to protect on the part of the community, society and the State. “Every State has the primary duty to protect its population from grave and sustained violations of human rights, …. If States are not able to guarantee such protection, the international community must intervene with the juridical means provided in the UN Charter and in other international instruments.”[13]

3.9. Religious freedom is motivated by Solidarity and not Reciprocity. The Church’s appeals for religious freedom are not based on a claim of reciprocity, whereby one group respects the rights of others only if the latter respect the rights of the group. Rather, the appeals for religious freedom are based on the dignity of persons. We respect the rights of others because it is the right thing to do, not in exchange for its equivalent or for a favour granted. At the same time, when others suffer persecution because of their faith and religious practice, we offer them compassion and solidarity.

3.10. Conclusion: Religious freedom and the Missionary Charge. The missionary charge of Jesus to his apostles to go preach his Gospel to the whole world brings us back to consider the nexus between freedom and truth in the exercise of religious freedo m. The observation was made above, referring to St. Augustine , that there is nothing which the soul desires more strongly than the truth. It was then observed that true freedom desires the truth, God. All proclamation of the Gospel, as the good news of Jesus Christ, is an effort to awaken the freedom (religious freedom) of man to desire and to embrace the truth of the Gospel. This truth of the Gospel, however, is unique, because it is truth that saves (Mk.16:15-16). It is different from all other truths, arrived at as a fruit of the cognitive activity of man. It is as such an offer of unique saving truth that the Gospel is preached to all creation.

Evangelization and the carrying out of the missionary charge, then, do not contradict and oppose the sense of religious freedo m. Rather evangelization stirs up the religious freedom of every person and drives it towards the truth that saves, in the hope that persons in their religious freedom would desire it and embrace it. In the embrace of the truth that saves, all religious freedom enjoys the peace that, on earth, is bestowed “on all on whom his favour rests”!

[1] UN Address, 2008.

[2] Dignitatis Humanae, #2.

[3] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, #422.

[4] “Quid enim fortius desiderat anima quam veritatem?” St. Augustine : Tractatus in Io 26,5.

[5] Cfr. Dignitatis Humanae.

[6] Caritas in veritate, #55.

[7] Caritas in veritate, #56.

[8] Pope Benedict XVI, UN Address, 2008.

[9] Cfr. P. Turkson, “The Role of Education in a Multi-Ethnic and a Multi-Religious Society,” Oasis 6:11, June 2010, pp. 5-9.

[10] Pope Benedict XVI, UN Address, 2008.

[11] New York , March 2009.

[12] Caritas in veritate. #57.

[13] UN Address, 2008.


Papal Homily on World Day of Peace
We Pray "So the Peace the Angels Proclaimed to the Shepherds on Christmas Eve Can Reach Everywhere"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 8, 2011 .- Here is a translation of the homily given by Benedict XVI during Mass on Jan.1, Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God, and the World Day of Peace. The Mass was celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Still enveloped in the spiritual atmosphere of Christmas, in which we have contemplated the mystery of the birth of Christ, today we celebrate with the same sentiments the Virgin Mary, whom the Church venerates as Mother of God, in that she gave flesh to the Son of the eternal Father. The biblical readings of this solemnity focus primarily on the Son of God made man and on the "name" of the Lord. The first reading presents to us the solemn blessings that the priests pronounced on the Israelites in the great religious feasts: It is marked precisely by the name of the Lord, repeated three times, as though expressing the fullness and force that derives from that evocation. This text of liturgical blessing, in fact, evokes the wealth of grace and peace that God gives to man, with a benevolent disposition toward him, and which is manifested in the "radiance" of the divine face and is "directed" toward us.

The Church hears these words again today, while asking the Lord to bless the new year which has just begun, with the awareness that in face of the tragic events that mark history, in face of the logic of war that unfortunately is still not surmounted altogether, only God can touch the human soul in its depth and assure hope and peace to humanity. It is already a consolidated tradition, in fact, that on the first day of the year, the Church spread throughout the world raises a joint prayer to invoke peace. It is good to begin a new stage of the journey placing oneself decidedly on the path of peace. Today we wish to take up the cry of so many men, women, children and elderly victims of war, which is the most horrendous and violent face of history. We pray today so the peace the angels proclaimed to the shepherds on Christmas Eve can reach everywhere: "super terram pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis" (Luke 2:14). That is why, especially with our prayer, we wish to help every man and all peoples, in particular all those who have the responsibility of government, to walk ever more decidedly on the path of peace.

In the second reading, St. Paul summarizes in filial adoption the work of salvation carried out by Christ, in which the figure of Mary is set. Thanks to her the Son of God, "born of woman" (Galatians 4:4), was able to come to the world as true man, in the fullness of time. This fulfillment, this plenitude, refers to the past and to the Messianic expectations, which are fulfilled but, at the same time, it refers also to plenitude in the absolute sense: In the Word made flesh, God has said his last and definitive Word. On the threshold of a new year, the invitation thus resounds to walk with joy toward the light of the "day that shall dawn upon us from on high" (Luke 1:78), as in the Christian perspective, all time is inhabited by God, there is no future that is not directed to Christ, and there is no plenitude outside that of Christ.

The passage of the Gospel ends today with the imposition of the name of Jesus, while Mary participates in silence, meditating in her heart on the mystery of this Son of hers, who in such a singular way is a gift of God. However, the evangelical life that we have heard puts in particular evidence the shepherds, who returned "glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen " (Luke 2:20). The angel had announced to them that in the city of David, namely, in Bethlehem, the Savior was born and that they would have found the sign: a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (cf. Luke 2:11-12). Leaving hastily, they found Mary and Joseph and the Child. Let us observe how the evangelist speaks of Mary's maternity beginning from the Son, from that "child wrapped in swaddling clothes," because it is he -- the Word of God (John 1:14) -- who is the point of reference, the center of the event that is taking place and it is he who makes Mary's maternity to be described as "divine." This greater attention that today's readings dedicate to the "Son," to Jesus, does not reduce the role of the Mother; on the contrary, it places her in the correct perspective: Mary, in fact, is true Mother of God precisely in virtue of her total relationship to Christ. Hence, by glorifying the Son, the Mother is honored, and by honoring the Mother, the Son is glorified. The title "Mother of God" that the liturgy highlights today underlines the unique mission of the Holy Virgin in the history of salvation: a mission that is at the base of the cult and devotion that the Christian people reserve to her. Mary, in fact, did not receive God's gift for herself, but to bring it to the world: In her fecund virginity, God gave men the goods of eternal salvation (cf. Collect). And Mary offers continually her mediation to the People of God, she continues giving divine life to men, which is Jesus himself and his Holy Spirit. Because of this she is considered mother of each man born of grace and at the same time is invoked as Mother of the Church.

It is in the name of Mary, Mother of God and of men, that since Jan 1, 1968, the World Day of Peace is celebrated throughout the world. Peace is the gift of God, as we heard in the first reading: "the Lord ... give you peace" (Numbers 6:26). This is the Messianic gift par excellence, the first fruit of the charity that Jesus has given us; it is our reconciliation and pacification with God. Peace is also a human value to be realized in the social and political sphere, but which sinks its roots in the mystery of Christ (cf. Vatican Council II, Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 77-90).

In this solemn celebration, on the occasion of the 44th World Day of Peace, I am happy to address my deferent greeting to the illustrious Ambassadors to the Holy See, with my best wishes for their mission. A fraternal and cordial greeting goes, also, to my Secretary of State and the other heads of dicasteries of the Roman Curia, with a particular thought to the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and his collaborators. I wish to manifest to them my heartfelt gratitude for their daily commitment in favor of peaceful coexistence among peoples and the ever more solid formation of a conscience of peace in the Church and in the world. In this perspective, the ecclesial community is increasingly committed to work, according to the indications of the magisterium, to offer a spiritual patrimony certain of the values and principles of the continuous search for peace.

I wished to remind in my message for today's Day, with the title "Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace" that "The world needs God. It needs universal, shared ethical and spiritual values, and religion can offer a precious contribution to their pursuit, for the building of a just and peaceful social order at the national and international levels." (No. 15). Therefore, I have underlined that religious freedom "is an essential element of a constitutional state; it cannot be denied without at the same time encroaching on all fundamental rights and freedoms, since it is their synthesis and keystone (No. 5)".

Humanity cannot be resigned to the negative force of egoism and violence; it must not be accustomed to conflicts that cause victims and put the future of peoples at risk. Given the threatening tensions of this moment, especially in face of discriminations, abuses and religious intolerance, which today affect Christians in a particular way (cf. Ibid., 1), I address once more an urgent invitation not to yield to discouragement and resignation. I exhort everyone to pray so that the efforts undertaken by many parties to promote and build peace in the world will come to a good end. For this difficult task, words are not sufficient, the concrete and constant commitment is necessary of leaders of nations, and it is necessary that each person be animated by a genuine spirit of peace, which must always be implored again in prayer and which must be lived in daily interaction, in every environment.

In this Eucharistic celebration we have before our eyes, for our veneration, the image of Our Lady of the Sacred Mount of Viggiano, so loved by the people of Basilicata. The Virgin Mary gives us her Son, shows us the face of her Son, Prince of Peace: May she help us to remain in the light of this face, which shines over us (cf. Numbers 6:25), to rediscover all the tenderness of God the Father; may she sustain us in invoking the Holy Spirit, so that he will renew the face of the earth and transform hearts, undoing their hardness before the disarming goodness of the Child, who was born for us. May the Mother of God accompany us in this new year; may she obtain for us and for the whole world the desired gift of peace. Amen.


Vatican Statement on 2012 World Peace Day
"Educating Young People in Justice and Peace"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 19, 2011 - Here is the Vatican communique released today to announce the theme for the 45th World Day of Peace, Jan. 1, 2012, which is "Educating Young People in Justice and Peace."

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The Holy Father Benedict XVI has chosen the following theme for the celebration of the 45th World Day of Peace of January 1, 2012: "Educating Young People in Justice and Peace". The theme engages an urgent need in the world today: to listen to and enhance the important role of new generations in the realization of the common good, and in the affirmation of a just and peaceful social order where fundamental human rights can be fully expressed and realized.

In fact, there is a duty incumbent upon the present generation to prepare future ones, and creating for them the conditions that will allow these future generations to express freely and responsibly the urgency for a "new world." The Church welcomes young people and sees them as the sign of an ever promising springtime, and holds out Jesus to them as the model of love who "makes all things new" (Ap. 21,5).

Those responsible for public policy are called to work for the creation of institutions, laws and environments of life that are permeated by a transcendent humanism that offers new generations opportunities to fully realize themselves (e.g. decent job, education etc.) and to build a civilization of fraternal love directed toward a more profound awareness of truth, freedom, of love and of justice for all persons.

This, then, is the prophetic dimension of the theme chosen by the Holy Father in the path of the "pedagogy of peace" indicated by John Paul II in 1985 ("Peace and Youth Go Forward Together"), in 1979 («To Reach Peace, Teach Peace"), and in 2004 ("An Ever Timely Commitment: Teaching Peace").

Young persons must labour for justice and peace in a complex and globalized world. It is therefore necessary to establish a new "pedagogical alliance" among all those responsible for the education and formation of young people. The theme indicates an important area of concern in the teaching of Benedict XVI in hisMessages for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, beginning with the need for the truth (2006: "In Truth, Peace"), followed with the reflections on human dignity (2007: "The Human Person, the Heart of Peace"), on the human family (2008: "The Human Family, a Community of Peace"), on poverty (2009: "Fighting Poverty to Build Peace"), on the care for creation (2010: "If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation"), on religious freedom (2011: "Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace"), and now talking to the minds and beating hearts of young people: "Educating Young People in Justice and Peace".