Catholic World News

Religious freedom is precondition for peace, Pope tells Lebanese leaders

September 17, 2012

In a September 15 address, Pope Benedict XVI explained why a commitment to religious freedom is a requirement for stability in the Middle East.

Speaking to an audience that included Lebanon’s political and religious leaders, the Pope summed up the challenge of establishing peace in a region marked by religious, national, and ethnic differences:

The particular character of the Middle East consists in the centuries-old mix of diverse elements. Admittedly, they have fought one another, sadly that is also true. A pluralistic society can only exist on the basis of mutual respect, the desire to know the other, and continuous dialogue.

Honest dialogue and mutual respect, the Pontiff continued, presume a willingness to allow others to express their thoughts freely and practice their beliefs openly. Therefore, he said, “It cannot be forgotten that religious freedom is the basic right on which many other rights depend.”

The Pope’s talk, attended by the Lebanese leaders of the Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim communities, outlined the basis for an approach to public affairs that could unite Christians and Muslims. The Pope underlined his insistence that responsible leaders must condemn the use of violence for religious purposes, and denounce all forms of terrorism. The Pope said, for instance, that both religions should be clear and unswerving in their defense of the dignity of human life:

The effectiveness of our commitment to peace depends on our understanding of human life. If we want peace, let us defend life! This approach leads us to reject not only war and terrorism, but every assault on innocent human life, on men and women as creatures willed by God.

Pope Benedict also appealed gently to Muslim leaders by saying that work for peace should include preservation and support for healthy family life, and opposition to materialism and consumerism. Listing the dangers of modern society that can assault human dignity, he said:

Unemployment, poverty, corruption, a variety of addictions, exploitation, different forms of trafficking, and terrorism not only cause unacceptable suffering to their victims but also a great impoverishment of human potential. We run the risk of being enslaved by an economic and financial mindset which would subordinate “being” to “having”!

The Pontiff also said that a realistic approach to peace must take into account that every human person is prone to sin. Evil, he reminded his audience, “is not some nameless, impersonal and deterministic force at work in the world.” Rather, he said, “Evil—the devil—works in and through human freedom.”

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