Since 1968 the Roman Catholic Pontiff’s have shared a message of peace on January 1st of every year. January first is observed in the Catholic calendar as the World Day of Peace and the annual message offers a reflection to the Catholic family for the purpose of building peace in our tattered world. This year’s message is written as the Pope reflected on the recent attack in Iraq where 52 faithful Catholics were killed on October 31st while celebrating Mass in Baghdad. In light of this tragic event Pope Benedict XVI offers the following message “Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace.” The Pope reminds us that “the right to religious freedom is rooted in the very dignity of the human person.”
Throughout this message the Pope is addressing two related issues. On the one hand, he is strongly condemning religious fundamentalism and any form of hostility to believers of any faith. These actions, whether done by individuals or by national juridical authorities, are an affront to religious freedom. At the same time the Pope also condemns what he calls secularism where a society’s actions reject any public form of religious expression. Our human dignity is grounded in God and our own American Declaration of Independence reminds us that our inalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are endowed to us by our Creator. Thus for us to truly observe the fullest expression of our dignity society should safeguard our public right to express our religious convictions in a way that fully respects the religious or secular belief of others.
The call to religious freedom is a call towards mutual respect:
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” -#3
In this message the Pope sees dialogue as a vehicle for us to promote a religious freedom through mutual respect. He suggests two forms of dialogue. First he suggests that civil institutions ought to engage in a healthy dialogue with religious institutions. Pope Benedict believes that “the great religions can serve as an important factor of unity and peace for the human family.” In a recent post I highlighted the current international movement to foster religious moral dialogue through the “Charter for Compassion.” This movement seeks to accomplish the very civil dialogue that Pope Benedict is promoting.
But he also suggest that “for the Church, dialogue between the followers of the different religions represent an important means of cooperating with all religious communities for the common good.” He reminds us of the famous 1986 World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi where Pope John Paul II gathered with the leaders of great world religions and prayed for unity and peace. The Pope urges us to follow this example and to engage in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue with our all our neighbors.
CBS Morning News aired an amazing program over Christmas weekend titled “Finding a Religious Common Ground.” In this program they talked with many amazing individuals who started “Faith Clubs” throughout the United States. These clubs are local dialogue between people of faith that have successfully broken down stereotypes and assumption between people of different faiths. In dismantling these stereotypes people effectively put a halt to hatred and prejudice that are often times born out of ignorance. This CBS show also promoted a current exhibit at the NY Public Library called “Three Faiths” which can help us understand the similarities between the three great monotheistic faiths from their own sacred texts.
I encourage the readers to visit these links and to consider being Christian peacemakers through dialogue with people of other faiths for the purpose of promoting mutual respect and religious freedom. As Pope Benedict tells us at the conclusion of his message:
Peace is the result of a process of purification and of cultural, moral and spiritual elevation involving individuals and people, a process in which human dignity is fully respected. … 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! -#15