On Sunday, before his weekly Angelus prayer, delivered from the window of his private study, Pope Benedict stressed the need for religious freedom, noting the long road a head toward this right being universally recognized.
As he marked the second week of Advent, the Pope said that "the ecclesial community, as it prepares to celebrate the great mystery of the Incarnation, is called to rediscover and deepen its relationship with God. ... God awaits a response of love.”
“…over these days,” he continued, “the liturgy presents us with the perfect model of such a response in the Virgin Mary, whom we will contemplate next Thursday, December 8, in the mystery of the Immaculate Conception."
Highlighting the fact that Mary "is an example for believers who's lives are spent searching for God," the Pope observed that, "to this theme, as well as to that of the relationship between truth and freedom, Vatican Council II dedicated careful attention."
This, he pointed out, resulted in the Declaration "Dignitatis Humanae", on religious freedom.
This fundamental human right, the Pope said, "derives from the special dignity of man who, among all the creatures of the earth, is the only one capable of establishing a free and conscious bond with his Creator."
"Vatican Council II thus reaffirms the traditional Catholic doctrine according to which man, in as much as he is a spiritual creature, can know truth and, thus, has the duty and the right to seek it.”
“On the basis of this supposition,” Benedict added, “the Council insists on religious freedom, which must be guaranteed both for individuals and for communities, while respecting the legitimate needs of public order."
The Holy Father stressed the fact that, as it hits its fortieth birthday, this conciliar teaching "is still highly pertinent.”
“In fact,” he said, “religious freedom is still far from being effectively guaranteed everywhere; in some cases it is denied for religious or ideological reasons; at other times, though recognized on paper, in reality it is obstructed by political power or, in a more underhand way, by the cultural ascendancy of agnosticism and relativism."
The Pope closed his remarks calling "for all men and women to be able to fully realize their religious vocation, which is inscribed in their very being."
He also noted, after the Angelus, that December 9 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Disabled Persons. On this occasion, he said, "I invite everyone to ever greater efforts in support of integrating disabled persons into society, the world of work and the Christian community, recalling that all human life is worthy of respect and must be protected from conception to its natural end.”
He guaranteed his own support and prayer to this cause and to “all those who dedicate themselves to this immense task."