Intervention of the Permanent Observer of
the Holy See to the United Nations
to the Third Committee of the 67th
Session of the General Assembly on
Agenda item 69 (b)
this is the first time my delegation has addressed this committee during this
session, let me congratulate you and the bureau for your election to this
committee and offer you best wishes in fulfilling your duties during this
Today’s discussion is a valuable
contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, and in this
regard my Delegation would like to highlight one of the fundamental principles
upon which the United Nations is founded, namely, freedom of religion. It is
clear that this is a matter of great urgency today around the world as authentic
human rights concerning religious exercise are being compromised with little
response from the global community. International instruments rightly affirm
the responsibility of all governments and the entire international community to
protect, defend and promote freedom of religion for each and every person (see Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
Article 18 and International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights, Article 18).
Religious freedom is the
pinnacle of all other freedoms and is a sacred and inalienable right rooted in
the dignity of the person. This right includes, on the individual and
collective levels, the freedom to follow one’s conscience in religious matters,
the freedom of worship, and the freedom to live coherently by manifesting one’s
beliefs in public, and not being coerced to conceal them. Moreover, religious
freedom necessarily includes the right to convert, the freedom to change one’s
religion and to choose one’s religion freely.
In short, authentic religious freedom and responsible citizenship go
hand in hand.
Research reveals important,
credible and alarming data on ongoing and repetitive patterns of gross
violations of the right to freedom of religion worldwide. Christians are not
its only victims, but they are the most persecuted. Bombs and violent attacks
against places of worship and Christian communities at prayer in this year
alone have killed hundreds of innocent people in numerous countries. The
persistence of such crimes and their geographical spread, the support in
personnel and resources that fundamentalist groups provide them, and their
objective of destabilization of peaceful coexistence in mutual respect and
collaboration call for a more effective response by governments and the
international community, both in terms of public awareness and of preventive
action to put an end to such violence and intolerance.
In recent years the General
Assembly has annually adopted two resolutions on the rights of religious
believers (see e.g., A/RES/66/167 and
A/RES/66/168). These treat freedom of
religion, in name and in fact, which is of great importance to my delegation.
Any right to which only lip service is given becomes no right at all. As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in his
recent Apostolic Journey to Lebanon, the world is experiencing at present two
opposing trends which run contrary to freedom of religion, namely: violent
fundamentalism, claiming to be based on religion, and secularization, with its,
at times, quite extreme consequences ( see Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in medio oriente, 29).
It is not true laïcité,
the fundamentalist secularism which reduces religion to a purely private
concern, considering personal or family worship and vital expressions of
religious perspectives in public policy debates unrelated to daily life, ethics
or one’s relationships with others. In its extreme and ideological form, it
seeks to deny citizens the right to express freely and legitimately their
religion and asserts a false claim that the State alone may promulgate public
forms which it may take.
Healthy secularity, on the other hand, serves freedom of religion by
freeing it from the encumbrances of politics, while allows policies, in
turn, to be enriched by the contributions of religion, maintaining the
necessary balance, distinction and collaboration between these two
spheres. No society has or indeed can
develop in a healthy way without embodying a spirit of mutual respect between
politics and religion, avoiding the constant temptation either to merge the two
or to set them at odds.
The basis of a constructive
relationship between politics and religion is, first and foremost, that of a
sound understanding of human nature and full respect for inalienable human
rights. This understanding will inevitably lead to the realization that
relations between the spiritual and the temporal spheres ought to be
characterized by a profound solidarity, since both spheres are called to
cooperate harmoniously in the service of the common good. Such healthy secularity ensures that
political activity does not manipulate religion, while the practice of religion
remains free from a politics of self-interest which is antithetical to
Another area of serious concern
to the Holy See is fundamentalism. This is born of a defective understanding of
religion, flourishes in economic and political instability, and is
characterized by its readiness, on the part of some, to manipulate others.
Fundamentalism can afflict all faith communities, but it denies their
long-standing traditions of co-existence. It seeks to gain power for political
reasons over individual consciences and over religion itself, at times
violently. This is not religion at all but rather a falsification of religion,
for it contradicts the very essence of religion, which seeks to reconcile and
bring about God’s peace throughout the world.
Religions are called to
undertake their purification from such temptations and to illumine consciences
and to make it clear that every person is created in the image and likeness of
God and hence is endowed with inherent dignity and worth. My Delegation
acknowledges that all persons are called to respect in the other not only his/her
“otherness”, but also, within that otherness, the essential transcendental
commonality we share as the image of God, and all are called to treat the other
as an image of God.
The essential message of
religion is thus diametrically opposed to violence. In short, violence is a
falsification of religion. The task of religion is therefore to educate, to
illuminate, to purify consciences, and to make them capable of dialogue, of
reconciliation and of peace – three human activities that are vital to the
mission of this institution, the United Nations.
At the beginning of this 67th
session of the General Assembly, Member States affirmed their determination to
establish a just and lasting peace all over the world and rededicated themselves to support all
efforts to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including respect for
the equal rights of all (see A/67/L.1,3).
It is the firm hope of my Delegation that this declaration by Member
States will be translated into concrete action to protect, defend, and promote
true freedom of religion for all persons which is the condition sine qua non for the realization of all
other rights and freedoms. Governments have a responsibility to do this, and at
every level, for the common good, that is, for the good of all people and of
the whole person, to build more free and more responsible societies.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.