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Vatican balancing calls for democracy, religious freedom in Middle East

Catholic World News - September 12, 2012

Speaking to a conference in Istanbul on the “Arab Awakening,” the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue offered a summary of the Vatican’s perspective on the current turmoil in Syria—and, more generally, on the developments in the Middle East since the “Arab Spring.”

Father Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot said that the Holy See recognizes the authority of the Assad regime in Syria, but also recognizes the legitimate aspirations of the people who seek more democratic rule and respect for fundamental human rights.

The Vatican has sought to maintain the same balance in other Arabic countries, said Father Ayuso—who was the director of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies before taking his current post. He said that the Vatican has welcomed the moderate tone adopted by some Islamic groups in countries such as Egypt, but remains alert to the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism and the threats to religious minorities.

In Syria, where the current regime has generally protected the freedom of the Christian minority, Church leaders have voiced their concerns about the Islamic influence within rebel groups. In reply, rebels have charged that the Church is siding with the regime. That charge is misguided, Father Ayuso said; the Church is seeking to make a non-partisan defense of religious freedom and democracy.

The Comboni missionary priest listed five priorities for the Vatican’s policy regarding Syria: “an immediate end to violence from whatever part; dialogue towards reconciliation as the necessary path to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people; preserve the unity of the Syrian people regardless of ethnicity and religious affiliation; an appeal from the Holy See to the international community to dedicate itself to a process of peace in Syria and the entire region for the benefit and well-being of all humanity.”

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