The role of religion in society and its protection from a “deeply intolerant” militant secularism were themes in Rome and at Lambeth Palace in Great Britain last month. A British delegation to the Vatican on Feb. 14 commemorating the 30th anniversary of the re-establishment of full diplomatic ties between the Holy See and the United Kingdom included the Conservative Party member and senior British government minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.
In an address to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the baroness, who is a Muslim, said Europe must “become more confident and more comfortable in its Christianity.” The continent’s response to “militant” secularization in Europe “has to be simple: holding firm in our faiths, holding back intolerance, reaffirming the religious foundations on which our societies are built and reasserting the fact that, for centuries, Christianity in Europe has been inspiring, motivating, strengthening and improving our societies.”
In a preview of her speech the day before, Warsi argued that Christian values “shine through our politics, our public life, our culture, our economics, our language and our architecture.” She said, “You cannot and should not extract these Christian foundations from the evolution of our nations any more than you can or should erase the spires from our landscapes.”
Back in the United Kingdom, the baroness’s monarch, Queen Elizabeth, likewise had religious liberty on her mind during a speech before Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams and an inter-religious audience gathered at Lambeth Palace to mark the beginning of the queen’s diamond jubilee year. In an address to representatives from nine faith traditions that now make their home in Great Britain, the Queen reaffirmed the positive role of religious faith in British society, but worried that “the significant position of the Church of England was “occasionally misunderstood” and “commonly under-appreciated.”
“Its role,” she said, “is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.... The Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country, the church has helped to build a better society—more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.”
As the British delegation finished its visit in Rome on Feb. 15, Lord David Howell, minister of state in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, argued that strengthening ties to the Vatican will help the United Kingdom in its efforts to confront the global challenges of poverty, arms proliferation, climate change, regional conflicts and threats to religious freedom. A joint statement released on Feb. 15 said the Vatican and the United Kingdom “agreed on the urgent need for action to strengthen the universal commitment to religious freedom as a fundamental human right.”
In a written statement, the Vatican emphasized the need “to ensure that institutions connected with the Catholic Church can act in accordance with their own principles and convictions” and “stressed the necessity of safeguarding the family based on marriage, religious freedom and conscience.”
Vatican officials and the British ministers discussed plans to work together to fight religious intolerance and discrimination; reaffirmed the need to promote sustainable development that protects human dignity; and recognized the shared commitment to tackle poverty, climate change and arms proliferation. They expressed hopes for a resumption of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.