On Tuesday, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict decided the theme for the 2011 World Day of Peace celebration will be “Religious freedom, the path to peace.”
A communique released on July 13 stated that the event, “will therefore be dedicated to the theme of religious freedom. It is well known that in many parts of the world there are various forms of restriction or denial of religious freedom, from discrimination and marginalization based on religion, to acts of violence against religious minorities.”
According to the Vatican, the World Day of Peace has been celebrated every year on January 1, since 1968.
Emphasizing that religious freedom is about man coming to understand himself, the Holy See said in its communique, “Religious freedom is authentically realized when it is experienced as the coherent search for truth and for the truth about man. This approach to religious freedom offers us a fundamental criterion for discerning the phenomenon of religion and its expressions.”
The statement also underlined that the approach “necessarily rejects the 'religiosity' of fundamentalism, and the manipulation of truth and of the truth about man. Since such distortions are opposed to the dignity of man and to the search for truth, they cannot be considered as religious freedom.”
Quoting the words of the Holy Father when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly in 2008, the statement said, “Human rights, of course, must include the right to religious freedom, understood as the expression of a dimension that is at once individual and communitarian - a vision that brings out the unity of the person while clearly distinguishing between the dimension of the citizen and that of the believer.”
“Today,” the communique added, “there are many areas of the world in which forms of restrictions and limitations to religious freedom persist, both where communities of believers are a minority, and where communities of believers are not a minority, and where more sophisticated forms of discrimination and marginalization exist, on the cultural level and in the spheres of public, civil and political activity.”
“It is inconceivable,” Benedict XVI remarked during his address to the U.N., “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. The rights associated with religion are all the more in need of protection if they are considered to clash with a prevailing secular ideology or with majority religious positions of an exclusive nature.”
“Refusal to recognize the contribution to society that is rooted in the religious dimension and in the quest for the Absolute - by its nature, expressing communion between persons - would effectively privilege an individualistic approach, and would fragment the unity of the person,” the Holy Father told the U.N.
Tuesday's communique concluded by emphasizing that, in light of the Pontiff's words, “man cannot be fragmented, and separated from what he believes, because that in which he believes has an impact on his life and on his person.”