The Holy See
back up


Tuesday, 8 April 2003


Madame Chairperson,

The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Mr Abdelfattah Amor, draws attention in his report (115-128) to the significance of dialogue among religions and civilizations, as a means to promote greater tolerance, respect and understanding, within the framework of freedom of religion and belief. Such dialogue is indeed an important contribution to peace, to harmonious interaction and to solidarity between persons and peoples, in a world where divisions and extremisms can easily emerge or be exploited to the detriment of the unity of the human family.

The importance of dialogue among religions in the service of peace was stressed in a particular way in the Assisi Decalogue for Peace signed at the end of the Day of Prayer for Peace called by Pope John Paul II on 24 January 2002, to which the Special Rapporteur draws attention in his report (125).

This Decalogue sets out some of the basic components which should belong to a dialogue among religions in favour of peace. These include: 

- affirmation of the fact that violence and terrorism are opposed to all true religious spirit;
- education about respect and mutual esteem among members of different ethnic groups, cultures and peoples;
- recognition of the fact that facing difference can become an occasion for greater reciprocal understanding;
- pardon for errors and prejudices of the present and the past;
- promotion of a culture of dialogue, open to understanding and trust.

The primary responsibility for fostering this dialogue rests with religious leaders themselves. Pope John Paul II has encouraged this on many occasions, while recommending that the risk of syncretism and of a facile and deceptive irenicism be avoided, as inter-alia, this would harm inter-religious dialogue itself (cf. Tertio Millennio Adveniente). Religious leaders have a responsibility - while openly and respectfully addressing differences - to ensure that those elements in their teachings which stress peace and unity of humankind become more central in their dialogue. As the Special Rapporteur notes, the quality of inter-religious dialogue in our contemporary culture will depend on the ability of religious leaders to "handle their own diversity as part of a genuine culture of pluralism".

Religious leaders have a special responsibility to strongly reaffirm - whenever possible together - that attempts to use religious sentiments to generate division, or to use religion as an excuse for violence or terrorism cannot be reconciled with any true religious spirit. A precondition for this affirmation will be to ensure that believers avoid any temptation to stereotype or misrepresent other religions and their beliefs. Attention should be given to the presentation of other religions in school and educational text books. Current texts should be re-examined - involving representatives of the religions concerned - and, where necessary, be substituted.

There is also a responsibility of those who do not espouse a religious belief, especially those who bear responsibility for public life and for the mass-media, to treat the religious beliefs of others with respect and to avoid stereotypes or forms of trivialisation of religious belief. There is no place in a culture of tolerance for gestures and declarations - whether they come from believers or non-believers - which show disrespect for or are offensive to what is most sacred to the conscience of individual believers and their communities.

The primary responsibility for inter-religious dialogue, as I have noted, rests with religious leaders but States have a responsibility to ensure the fundamental environment, culture and legislation within which such dialogue can take place, and to see to it that diversity and pluralism are fully respected, especially for religious minorities. Yet, as the Rapporteur's report notes, there still exist in today's world examples of people persecuted - even harshly - because of their religious belief.

A basic principle concerning legislation on religious freedom in today's pluralist societies is that where, because of the circumstances or history of a particular people, special civil recognition is given to one religious community in the constitution or legislative organization of a State, the right of all citizens and religious communities to religious freedom must be recognized and respected as well (cf. Vatican II, Declaration on Religious Liberty, n. 5). No one should remain a second class citizen because of their religious belief. Each religious community has the right to its own existence and to that legal recognition which allows it to operate fully in any country. Legislation should be applied equitably to all religious communities. The arbitrary interpretation or application of legislation is a violation of the right to religious freedom.

A legal framework for religious freedom should not aim at fostering a control of religion organizations, but rather at allowing believers full and free practice of their religion - subject only to those limitations set out in art. 1, 3 of the Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination based on Religion and Belief - as well as to bring their contributions, as believers, to the common good of the society to which they belong and to maintain appropriate charitable and humanitarian institutions (cf. ibid. art. 6b).

Faced with the growing tensions which exist between ethnic groups, it is in the interests of all that religious freedom is fostered and that dialogue between religions can develop in the interests of the entire human family.

*L'Osservatore Romano. Weekly Edition in English n.16 p.10.