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Religious freedom is top priority for Church leaders in Middle East

Catholic World News - December 05, 2012

Religious freedom is high on the agenda as Catholic patriarchs and bishops of the Middle East meet this week in Harissa, Lebanon, to discuss Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, the apostolic exhortation by Pope Benedict XVI that furnishes a “road map” for the work of the Church in that region.

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai told Vatican radio that the Church will defend “the right and duty of Christians to take part in national life in their various homelands and to enjoy full citizenship, without being treated as minorities. “We continue to insist, on every occasion, on the need for freedom of conscience and the separation of religion and state.”

However, religious freedom remains a controversial matter in many Islamic societies, the Maronite Patriarch said. While the Church welcomes Muslims into the schools and hospitals run by Catholic institutions, Islamic law does not grant the same sort of freedom to Christians.

Restrictions on religious freedom have a great impact on the Church’s evangelizing activities, the Maronite leader said. “Because freedom of conscience is not recognized, there are many secret conversions to Christianity in Lebanon and in Arab countries.”

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