At an event in Saudi Arabia this week, a Vatican diplomat emphasized the importance of religious freedom and said that "authentic encounter" among religions can take place only in the context of the "pursuit of Truth."

Human dignity is the premise which allows dialogue among different cultures, but "the pursuit of Truth" is what permits "an authentic encounter between various religions confessions," Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič said in Saudi Arabia Nov. 22.

Jurkovič spoke at the presentation of a book entitled "The promotion of intercultural and interreligious dialogue as an instrument for peace and fraternity" in the city of Jeddah.

The permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva said that "when human dignity is protected, men and women are at liberty to devote themselves with an unhindered conscience to seek the Truth."

"The divine spark present in all human beings makes them also capable of receiving the Truth, which they must be free to seek and to express, both singularly and collectively," he added. "Thus, religious freedom is one of the most fundamental among the inviolable rights, because it comes from the inherent necessity of men and women to nourish their spirit."

Jurkovič argued that religious tolerance can be an important first step toward peace, but "mere tolerance is not enough." It is more fruitful to facilitate relationships among religious traditions based on the concept of "mutual brotherhood," because "this affords the ability to render an account not only for actions made, but also for those omitted," he said.

"In this regard, we are called to more than peaceful coexistence, but also to strive for mutual enrichment through dialogue," he urged, saying that dialogue required both the "right to speak" and "the duty to listen to what the other says."

The nuncio said that these essential components of dialogue arose from two "intrinsic characteristics that every human being possesses, namely, that each person is the bearer of human dignity and shines with 'a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.'"

This "ray of Truth" derives from God's act of creation, which in Christian terminology is described as "imago Dei, the image of God," he explained.

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Jurkovič said: "Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God in their moral, spiritual, and intellectual and bodily composition. They are part of His plan and, therefore, must not be deprived in any way either of their humanity, which is the source of one's dignity, or of their right to seek and express Truth."

The diplomat also underlined that peace and justice must go hand-in-hand, drawing attention to the classic definition of justice: "'iustitia suum cuique distribuit,' justice renders to each person his or her due."

"Since we all share the same human nature, and therefore equal dignity, justice demands rendering respect for the rights of every person. The protection of fundamental human rights of the individual, therefore, matters for the whole of society and, consequently, everybody has the duty to work towards this objective," he stated.

It is a great cultural challenge to construct peace, he said, but it is both an urgent and an exciting challenge.

"We -- Christians, Muslims and all believers -- are called to offer our specific contribution: 'We live under the sun of the one merciful God… Thus, in a true sense, we can call one another brothers and sisters… since without God the life of man would be like the heavens without the sun,'" he said, quoting St. Pope John Paul II's 1982 address to Muslim religious leaders.

"May the sun of a renewed fraternity in the name of God rise in this land, blessed with an abundance of sunlight, to be the dawn of a civilization of peace and encounter," he concluded.