Home > Archives > 04 - 2005 > Religious freedom: one of the faces of the unitary prism of freedom
from issue no. 04 - 2005

Religious freedom: one of the faces of the unitary prism of freedom

The speech of Papa Wojtyla to the participants at the 69th Conference of the Interparliamentary Union, the Vatican, 18 September 1982

The speech of Papa Wojtyla at the 69th Conference of the Interparliamentary Union

John Paul II al the FAO Summit in Rome, 13 November 1996

John Paul II al the FAO Summit in Rome, 13 November 1996

Mr President,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

1 I appreciate particularly your presence here, on thc occasion of the important Conference which the noble institution of which you are members is holding here in Rome. And I thank you for your visit.
My venerable predecessors have not neglected to show their interest in and even to proffer their en­couragement to the Interparliamen­tary Union. For example, Pope Pius XII, on 9 September 1948, empha­sizcd the permanence and the op­portuneness of such an association. And ten years ago, at the Union’s Conference here in Italy, Pope Paul VI praised your work as parliamentarians. After describing the context for your political action, one which includes executive powers, the new “powers” of intermediary bodies and of technocrats, Paul VI diagnosed a certain crisis of identity and func­tion of the Parliament, but he hoped justly that as part of a necessary evolution, this institution would even more effectively fill its role, beyond partisan quarrels and beyond fruit­less political machinations. Such a Parliament contributes to the safeg­uardíng of democracy.
Does not experience show every day what a nation risks when the governmental authorities on the one hand and pressure groups on the other no longer allow a just possibilíty for the representatives of that society, elected democratically and acting freely, in all conscience, to respond to the legitimate aspirations of their compatriots, with a view to attaining the common good of the nation while taking into account the concrete realities as well as the fundamental rights of individuals and their associations?

2 Guided by the deep popular aspirations which are at the base of your mandate as representatives, you are certainly quite conscious of the urgency of contributing to the security and the progress of those who have mandated you, not only in terms of the internal affairs of each nation, but in an ever-greater context, given the close relation which exists between the common good of each populace and its realization on the global scale.
On the international level, the Parliamentary Union’s value is moreover attested by the íncreasíng number of nations joining the Union - more than one third of its members have joined within the last ten years. The representativness of the Union is all the greater in that in it, as in other international organizations, delegates of various nations endeavouring to maintain or to increase their level of prosperity take their places next to those of nations still struggling for survìval, endangered by hunger, by sickness, and by a lack of essential goods.
This diversity of positions, together wíth many political, social, and ethnic differences, confers on the Interparliamentary Union a remarkable capacity for synthesis and for advancement, which the themes you are discussing here manifest: from the connection between the reduction of military spending and the economic and social development of the Third World to the participation of the parliamentarians in the domain of international relations; from the hoped-for uniformity of ecological legislation intended to safeguard the environment to concrete means for combatting hunger in the world; and also the liquidation of the remains of old colonialism to the preservation of all forms of neo-colonialism.
Now rather than re-examine your role as parliamentarians in your own countries, I would like to take up a few of these world problems, and others, which the Catholic Church holds close to its heart.
John Paul  II during his journey to Bolivia in1998

John Paul II during his journey to Bolivia in1998

3 1 would like first of all to recall my message of last June to the second Special Assembly of the United Nations dedicated to the fundamental problem of ending the arms race in its insanity: not only of nuclear arms, which certainly incite a profound anxiety, given their terrifying capacity for destruction, but also of those which are referred to as conventional arms, which absorb immense human resources that can and should be directed to entirely different goals.
Let us not become discouraged. Admittedly, the New York Assembly did not furnish all the results which were hoped for by those nations and individuals truly dedicated to peace. Nonetheless, the hope remains of carrying on and deepening the work begun there. Let us work without respíte with capable authorities in order that the reduction of arms may become a real conquest of present generations. For this, we must strengthen the climate of confidence and collaboration. Opportunities are not lacking. For example, in the case of the European continent, the imminent resumption of the Madrid Conference can offer an occasion for appreciable progress in security and mutual understanding, along the lines of the Helsinki Final Act. But I am thinking also of meetings on other continents - American, African, Asiatic - and of initiatives which involve the world as a whole.
At the beginning of this year, in my traditional message for the World Day of Peace, I defined peace aa «a gift of God entrusted to man». Peace is thus entrusted to you as well, and in a particular way, owing to your active political vocation and because of your great responsibilities in this domain: may you be able to contribute to the safeguarding of peace, and institute and fortify it where it is now lacking!
On this subject, how can we not be especially preoccupied just now for the Middle East? I wilI not elaborate on this point; without doubt you know that at the end of the general audience last Wednesday I clearly expressed the Church’s concern for this problem, and its conviction regarding the essential means for establishing true peace there.
This is to tell you, ladics and gentlemen, to what degree the Church is ready to give its support and encouragement to all serious efforts aimed at peace. The Church does not hesitate to proclaim that if Christians have particular reasons to be active witnesses for this divine gift of peace, it is no less true that the action of all those who dedicate their best energies to this cause is in keeping with the mysterious plan of God and, to our Christian eyes, is even of great importance for the Kingdom of God founded by Jesus Christ, even if such action distinguishes itself from this plan (Cf, Pastoral Constitution of the Second Vatican Council on the Church in the Modern World, no. 39).

4 In speaking of disarmament, I referred to the human resources to be preserved and developed. The problem of world hunger is at stake here; I noted with satisfaction that you have it on your agenda. The composition of your Union predis­poses you to treat this crucial ques­tion of our time in a duly serious manner. I myself have often taken it up, notably to delegates and mem­bers of the FAO. I will content myself here with an observation and an appeal. When we listen to the experts, are we not struck by a para­dox which leaves our consciences uneasy? Not only do they set before our eyes the frightening statistics of hunger, but they reveal to us that the world as a whole has the po­tential for properly feeding all hu­manity, and that a certain causal link exists between those who eat their fill and those who die of hunger. For example, does not the wasteful diet of some, who consume so much grain for their livestock, while they themselves would benefit from a more balanced diet, lead them to deprive their undernourisfied brothers of the proteins necessary for survival? And could not dis­tribution networks be improved? Many other similar questions assail our conscience. Yes, solutions must exist to check this scourge of humanity: we must search them out; we must make public opinion con­scious of them; we must set them to work. Like me, you cannot help but be distressed by this tragedy; with you I launch an urgent appeal that our solidarity in this domain gain in efficacy, and I hope that the means of action contem­plated during this conference will contribute to this.
John Paul II and Michail Gorbaciov

John Paul II and Michail Gorbaciov

5 Further, even if this extends beyond the programme of the present session, I cannot let such an important occasion pass without bringing to your attention as legislators and political leaders the importance of the values of the family and of its social mission. These as well must find their expression in the form of political action, as I recalled in the Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (no. 44). Otherwise said, families must be the first to see to it that the laws and the institutions of the State keep from damaging, and even support and positively defend, the rights of the family. Do not consider this essential task of the family an interferenee with public power, which risks diminishing its authority; for then there would be a lack of coherence with the repeated appeals to participation and initiative.
You know to what degree the Catholic Church, for its part, defends, maintains, and promotes, incessantly and all over the world, the values of the family such as conjugal fidelity, the meaning of sexuality and the requirements of interpersonal relationships, the dignity of the female, the gift of and respect for life, the right and the duty of education incumbent upon parents. If the Church dedicates so much energy to bearing witness to these values and takes so much initiative in this domain for the mediation of its clergy and lay members, it is because it attaches great importance to the sanctity of marriage for the life of Christians and the progress of the Church, and it is convinced that this is equally essential for society, of which the family is the basic and vital cell. It hopes that the various officials, especially the legislators, understand with it the importance of this for society’s future.
The Pope, withYasser Arafat, on a  visit to the Palestinian refugee camp of Deheishe,  (West Bank), during the journey to the Holy Land in March 2000

The Pope, withYasser Arafat, on a visit to the Palestinian refugee camp of Deheishe, (West Bank), during the journey to the Holy Land in March 2000

6 It is also timely to mention the problem of religious freedom. As you know, the Church does not ask for any privilege of civil power; with a clarity which, since the Council, emerges even more completely than before, the Church has set forth a global position according to which religious freedom is only one of the facets of the whole prism of human freedom, which is an essential component of an authentically modern and democratic society. Consequently, no state may claim to benefit from a positive esteem or to be considered as deserving for the sole reason that it seems, to grant religious freedom; and a state cannot define itself as «democratic» if it creates obstacles of any kind to religious freedom, whether in the practice of a cult, or in the participation on equal footing in scholarly and educationaI activities, or in social initiatives in which modern man is involving himself more and more. History, even most recent history, attests that civil officials preoccupied with the good of their people have nothing to fear from the Church; rather, in respecting its activities, they procure an enrichment for the people itself, because they are using a sure method for their improvement and elevation.

7 For yourselves, is not the goal of your annual meetings to seek together this improvement and elevation in order to work towards a more human world? You are not content merely to discuss and compare the methods of parliamentary work and the major themes of current political events. Through the discussions and contacts which permit you to increase your mutual understanding, you are also continually looking for models which will make it possible to overcome the great tensions which arise from the varied violations and restrictions of the rights of man, such as exploitation in labour and the multiple injustices which affect human dignity.
On 2 October 1979, having the honour of speaking to the Assembly of the United Nations, I affirmed that the basic criterion which makes it possible to establish a comparison among socio-economic and political systems is not and can not be a hegemonical or an imperialist criterion, but can and must be one of a humanist nature, that is, regarding the true capacity of each system to reduce, to check, and to eliminate as much as possible the various forms of exploitation of man and to assure him, through his own work, not only the just distribution of essential material goods, but also a participation, corresponding to his dignity, in the whole process of production and in the social life which arises around that process. Let us not forget that man, even if he depends on the resources of the material world in order to live, should not be their slave, but rather their master” (no. 17).
John Paul  II and Fidel Castro at the José Martí airport, Havana, 22 January 1998

John Paul II and Fidel Castro at the José Martí airport, Havana, 22 January 1998

8 You are to be thanked and congratulated, Ladies and Gentlemen, for the contribution which you are making and will continue to make, in each of your parliaments and on the international level through the work of your Interparliamentary Union. May you be able to aid the progress of humanity which, in many areas, is weighed down by past or newly emerging injustices, humanity which aspires to equality of treatment and to responsible participation, which is seeking legitimate well-being in peace, without renounchig its authentic and vigorous freedom! All of this is part of God’s plan for the world.
I pray God to give you light and strength to serve his plan without partisan prejudice, and I am sure that those among you who share the joy of religious faith will not fail to implore him to grant this end, for God is greater than all our hearts.
On each of you, on your families, and on your countries, I invoke the abundant Blessings of God, who is the source of all good.

Italiano Español Français Deutsch Português