Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

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World peace impossible without religious freedom: Pope Benedict

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

ROME, December 21, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Calling religious freedom “the path to peace” in the world, Pope Benedict XVI has deplored the murder of 58 Christians who were killed while they were celebrating Mass in Baghdad.

Pope Benedict made the comments in his prepared message for the UN’s annual World Day of Peace, January 1st. In the address, he pointed to the increasing “prejudice and hostility” suffered by Christians in both Muslim and non-Muslim, Western secularist countries. 

The pope noted that Christians in Iraq have been under increasing threat since the October 31st attack from bomb and rocket attacks on their homes. Christian Iraqis fear an escalation of anti-Christian violence from Islamic militants over the Christmas season.

“Sadly, the year now ending has again been marked by persecution, discrimination, terrible acts of violence and religious intolerance,” the pope said. “At present, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith.”

“Many Christians,” the pope said, “experience daily affronts and often live in fear because of their pursuit of truth, their faith in Jesus Christ and their heartfelt plea for respect for religious freedom.”

“It is painful to think that in some areas of the world it is impossible to profess one’s religion freely except at the risk of life and personal liberty.”

“In other areas,” he continued, “we see more subtle and sophisticated forms of prejudice and hostility towards believers and religious symbols.”

He expressed his hope that in the West, especially Europe, “there will be an end to hostility and prejudice against Christians because they are resolved to orient their lives in a way consistent with the values and principles expressed in the Gospel.”

The growing persecution of Christians around the world has become a key issue for Pope Benedict’s meetings with ambassadors over the last year. His assertion that Christians have become the most persecuted religious group in the world was backed up by reports from various international watchdog groups.

This month, in Uzbekistan, a former Soviet state dominated by the dictator Islom Karimov, a Christian man was fined the equivalent of seven years’ salary for possessing a movie about Jesus that the court ruled could have been used for proselytizing, reported AsiaNews.it.

The U.S. ambassador to Viet Nam issued a statement this month decrying the violent suppression by the communist government of Catholic parishes in Dong Chiem and Con Dau. The government has stated that it will “wipe out” Christian communities in the country with a formerly large and flourishing Catholic community. This, said ambassador Michael Michalak, has “damaged the progress made in the field of religious freedom.”

The group International Christian Concern reports that in May this year, a bus-load of Christian students were targeted in a bomb attack as they travelled from a predominantly Christian area in Mosul to Mosul University in Iraq. Amnesty International reported fatal bomb attacks on churches in Mosul on December 15 and 23 last year. In total, 65 attacks on Christian churches in Iraq were recorded between mid-2004 and the end of 2009.

The pope warned of the threat of this growing suppression of religious freedom around the world, saying it will “stifle the growth of the authentic and lasting peace of the whole human family.”

“To eclipse the public role of religion is to create a society which is unjust, inasmuch as it fails to take account of the true nature of the human person.”

Moreover, the pope warned against a false concept of freedom based on moral relativism and indifference to the laws of God.

“The illusion that moral relativism provides the key for peaceful coexistence is actually the origin of divisions and the denial of the dignity of human beings,” he wrote.

Therefore, “it is inconceivable that believers should have to suppress a part of themselves – their faith – in order to be active citizens. It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one’s rights.”

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