Religious freedom and peace education

The Pope's keynote address at the traditional New Year's reception for the diplomatic corps is eagerly awaited every year. Before the ambassadors of the 179 states represented at the Holy See, he considers the world situation from a Vatican perspective.

He expresses concern and expectations of the international community, sets special emphases and highlights what is current and urgent for the Vatican and its diplomacy. This time, it is the topics of religious freedom and peace education that Benedict XVI. to address the crises and catastrophes of the world. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right – and it is violated again and again for various reasons, the pope criticizes. Not infrequently Christians are denied basic rights.

Benedict XVI. registers intolerance and deplores the fact that religiously motivated terrorism also claimed victims in 2011. Although he mentions the Catholic Pakistani minister Shahbaz Bhatti and mentions the recent attacks on churches in Nigeria, he does not mention the Catholic Church in Italy. But more cautious than in his diplomatic speech last year, he avoids any accusation or blame. At the time, Egypt had the impression that the pope was making the government partly responsible for attacks on churches in Alexandria – and ordered the ambassador back.

Also progress
Benedict XVI. But also sees progress for religious freedom. Georgia enacted its own law for religious minorities last year, he said. At the world peace meeting in Assisi in the fall, the leaders of all major religions expressed their commitment to respect and tolerance. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled positively in the dispute over crucifixes in Italian schools. And anyway, in Italy, which celebrated its 150th anniversary of unification in 2011, there is today an exemplary state-church relationship after initial discord. There is also praise for the fathers of the German Basic Law and for those of European unification, who were significantly guided by the Christian image of man.

Of course, the pope addresses the world's trouble spots. Specifically, he comments on Syria – where he hopes for a swift end to the bloodshed and a fruitful dialogue, supported by the presence of independent observers. He also praised the Jordanian initiative for a new round of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. He encourages the actors to make courageous and far-sighted decisions for a lasting peace that takes into account the right of both peoples to live securely in sovereign states and internationally recognized borders.

He mentions the attacks in Iraq, the civil war in Côte d'Ivoire, and the permanent instability in the Horn of Africa. In general, he urges closer cooperation between Christian churches and governments for peace, justice and reconciliation in Africa. More extensively, he calls for international support for the peoples of the "Arab Spring," especially young people. After the initial optimism quickly evaporated as a result of the transitional problems, it is important to have clear legal foundations that focus on human dignity.

Economic and financial crisis
The international economic and financial crisis is also an important topic for the pope. What is needed are "new forms of engagement" and "new rules that offer everyone the possibility of a dignified life". Ethical considerations must play an important role, he emphasizes. And Benedict XVI also makes environmental and climate protection a priority. on the topic: After the conference in Durban, South Africa, the world as a "family of nations" must show solidarity and responsibility for today's and tomorrow's generation.

The Pope also names ethical criteria in the areas of protection of life, promotion of the family and medicine. He criticizes legislation that not only allows abortion, but even favors it. At the same time, however, he sees positive signals. The European Court of Justice has forbidden the patenting of research results with human stem cells. And the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has opposed prenatal selection on the basis of sex.

In an outlook for 2012, Benedict XVI points out. the diplomats on his trip to Mexico and Cuba in March. But he also mentions the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). With this Council, the Church had initiated dialogue with the world and offered – as he now reiterates – "to humanity the sincere collaboration of the Church for the construction of a more fraternal community of all".

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