The necessity of religious freedom and cooperation between religions were among several themes stressed by the Holy See's Secretary for the Relations with States in a Friday address to the Sixty-second session of the UN General Assembly.
Archbishop Dominique Mamberti's speech, titled "High-level Dialogue on Interreligious and Intercultural Understanding and Cooperation for Peace," explored the influence of religion in the contemporary world. Archbishop Mamberti referenced the past gatherings of religious leaders at Assisi, which declared "violence and terrorism are incompatible with authentic religion."
The archbishop also quoted from Pope Benedict XVI's condemnation of religion "expressed in violence and intolerance" and the pope's endorsement of religious faithfulness that appeals to freedom and reason "while committed to peace and reconciliation."
Archbishop Mamberti denied an intrinsic connection between religion and violence, declaring "The use of violence cannot be attributed to religion as such, but to the cultural limitations in which religions are lived and develop in time." He criticized political manipulations of religious identity and nationalist exploitations of religious differences. He also condemned those violent protests of real injustices that used religion as a justification.
But despite these abuses, he said that positive action can direct religious efforts towards the good of society as a whole. Archbishop Mamberti praised the practices of spiritual discernment, asceticism, theological reflection, philosophical inquiry, and historical scholarship for channeling religious fervor and diminishing zealotry for the benefit and peace of whole societies. He stated "At a time when the so-called clash of civilizations is gaining currency in some quarters, religions have a special role to play in blazing new paths to peace,"
The archbishop made a vigorous defense of religious liberty, even claiming it would undermine the propaganda of terrorists: "Respect for religious liberty would unmask the pretense of some terrorists to justify their unjustifiable actions on religious grounds." He also said that religious freedom needs the support of both the state and religious groups. The archbishop voiced support for programs combating hate speech and the incitement of religious hatred.
Respect for religious minorities was emphasized, with an implicit allusion to the position of Christians in majority Muslim states. Mamberti insisted that religious minorities should "enjoy the same civil rights as the general population and members of the majority religion, e.g., for the construction and repair of places of worship." Christians often do not possess these rights in several Islamic countries, some of which are known for oppressive treatment of converts to Christianity and burdensome construction codes that hamper Christian church building.
The archbishop closed his address with an exhortation to forgiveness: "If religions want to build peace, they must teach forgiveness. In fact, there is no peace without justice, and there is no justice without forgiveness."