CLOSING REMARKS BY HIS EMINENCE, CARDINAL PIETRO PAROLIN
SECRETARY OF STATE OF HIS HOLINESS
AT THE INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM SYMPOSIUM
U.S. Embassy to the Holy See
Rome, 3 April 2019
Excellencies, Dear Friends,
I am pleased to have this occasion to offer some brief remarks at the
conclusion of this International Religious Freedom Symposium, organized by the
United States Embassy to the Holy See with the cooperation of other
institutions. A special word of thanks goes to Ambassador Gingrich for
extending the kind invitation to me to deliver some final reflections on the
theme: Stand Together to Defend International Religious Freedom.
A brief consideration of the numerous violations of religious liberty
on the global stage and the appalling number of innocent persons that suffer
persecution, because of their beliefs, including many Christians, should leave
no doubt in our minds that we are dealing with an aggressive attack that strikes
at the very core of the enjoyment of fundamental human rights, which are
necessary for the flourishing of the human person, of society as a whole, and
for the peaceful coexistence among nations.
Despite so many efforts to promote and reinforce the fundamental human
right of religious freedom, we are actually witnessing a continued
deterioration, we might even say an assault, of this inalienable right in many
parts of the world. Religion has always been the subject of great consideration
as seen in its regulation by domestic or international legal systems. The choice
of faith and the consequent adherence to a religion impacts every level of life,
as well as the social and political spheres. Therefore, the choice, and the
practice, of one’s faith must be free of constraints and coercion.
Notwithstanding the strong protection that religious freedom has within the
framework of international law, including its clear presentation in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) as well as in the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, we continue to witness grave violations
of this basic fundamental right that often occur with impunity and at times
receiving little, if any, attention in the media.
This being said, the subject matter of the two panel discussions held
this morning are quite appropriate. Raising public awareness on the reality of
religious persecution, particularly via the rapid means now available with
digital media, remains a useful step to address violations of religious
freedom. Indeed, those involved in the area of media and social communications
must bringing to light those realities that threaten the common good of the
human family. Crass violations of the freedom of religion should be numbered
among such threats.
The second panel raises an even more difficult subject, that of
international cooperation not simply “standing together” but “working together”
on all levels to defend and to advance religious freedom. Regarding this
aspect, the Catholic Church has been continuously pursuing all means possible to
encourage mutual respect and collaboration among nations, peoples and religions
to favor peaceful coexistence, to foster a social/political ambiance that
respects the freedom of the individual person’s conscience and the beliefs that
person holds while respecting their equal right as any other citizen, especially
in those contexts in which their belief may not be that of the majority.
Indeed, in reflecting on the two main areas discussed in the panels,
it becomes clear that raising awareness on the brutal reality of religious
persecution in the world would be useless unless there is a serious and
dedicated attempt to work together at addressing and overcoming the root causes
of this issue. This is, of course, a great challenge, because in moving from
“words” to “actions” one always encounters a certain number of complications.
One important aspect is that, when discussing religious freedom, we
should never lose sight of the anthropological basis of this right. To do so is
to run the risk of understanding religious freedom as something ancillary to the
human person, as something conceded from “outside” the person, even by the
State, rather than as a God-given gift, indeed a gift rooted in the transcendent
dimension of human nature. Clearly, civil authorities have the obligation to
protect and defend religious freedom, but not in the sense of being its author,
but rather its custodian.
Protection and limitations are the two key elements surrounding any debate on
religious freedom as a fundamental right because of its direct connection to the
human person. In fact, it also serves a strategic role in evaluating and
ensuring the proper attention and guarantee granted by the public authorities.
This interpretation reflects the process of affirmation of human rights that has
characterized the history of the last few centuries, placing the human person
and his/her rights at the center of legal, political, cultural and religious
actions. Indeed, religious freedom raises the question of the indivisibility
of human rights, which has become a guiding principle and fundamental assumption
of the international law of human rights.
Religious freedom is a fundamental right, which reflects the highest human
dignity, the ability to seek the truth and conform to it, and recognizes in it a
condition, which is indispensable to the ability to deploy all of one’s own
potentiality. Religious freedom is not only that of private belief or worship.
It is the liberty to live, both privately and publicly, according to the ethical
principles resulting from religious principles. This is a great challenge in the
globalized world, where weak convictions also lower the general ethical level,
and in the name of a false concept of tolerance, it ends in persecuting those
who defend their faith.
Another aspect that demands our attention is to be wise in our appraisal of the
challenges and threats to religious freedom. While violations of this right are
carried out in a wide variety of ways, it seems that, without wanting to
oversimplify the discussion, that there are two conceptual forces that lead to
violations of this right, both of which lend themselves to being easily
politicized. On the one hand, and perhaps most obviously, there is the attitude
of religious intolerance, a certain myopic approach, that considers any religion
or belief outside of one’s own as not merely inferior, but as something that
merits being degraded or categorized as second class. This is witnessed all too
often in political, social or cultural situations, for example with Christians,
who are being treated as second-class citizens. On the other hand, there is a
tendency to attack religious freedom from what might be called an “ideological”
standpoint, one that takes, for example, the principle found in the human rights
framework that considers human rights as “cross-cutting” and “transversal”.
Within this context, some of the so-called “new human rights” at times tend to
conflict with those universally recognized fundamental human rights, including
religious freedom and the right to life. For example, the exercise of religious
freedom, especially in the public square, with regard to the institution of
marriage or concerning the inviolable right to all human life, often runs up
against the so-called “new rights” that tend to present themselves in complete
contradiction with, or encroach upon, these fundamental human rights.
Given their importance, it seems that these two conceptual forces must remain in
the fore thought of our discussions. To lose sight of them would run the risk
of “missing the point” of what religious freedom is really all about. Religious
freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community,
as our consciences dictate. But, religious liberty, by its nature, transcends
places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families. Our
various religious traditions serve society primarily by the message they
proclaim. They call individuals and communities to worship God, the source of
all life, liberty and happiness. They remind us of the transcendent dimension of
human existence and our irreducible freedom in the face of every claim to
In conclusion, I would like to reaffirm that the Holy See will continue to be
fully engaged in the promotion of religious freedom, as this fundamental right
is intimately connected with the protection of conscience and the defense of the
human person. One such recent example of this priority for the Church is the
document on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” signed by
Pope Francis and the Grand Imam Ahmad al-Tayyib in Abu Dhabi last 4 February.
While I would encourage you all to read the complete text, if you have not done
so already, I would like to close by citing one of the passages, which to me
seems to be at the heart of this symposium.
“We affirm also the importance of awakening religious awareness and the need to
revive this awareness in the hearts of new generations through sound education
and an adherence to moral values and upright religious teachings. In this way we
can confront tendencies that are individualistic, selfish, conflicting, and also
address radicalism and blind extremism in all its forms and expressions.”
Thank you for your attention.