Benedict: Religious Freedom Promotes Peace

Infringements on the freedom of religion threaten peace and security worldwide as well as stifle authentic human growth and development, Pope Benedict XVI said. "Religious freedom is an authentic weapon of peace," which fosters the human qualities and potentials that "can change the world and make it better," the pope said in his message for World Peace Day, Jan. 1, 2011. Pope Benedict's message, which was delivered to world leaders by Vatican ambassadors, was released at the Vatican Dec. 16. The message, titled "Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace," made special mention of the "theater of violence and strife" in Iraq and the deadly attack on a Syrian Catholic church in Baghdad Oct. 31. The pope said it is in the context of widespread violence, persecution, intolerance and discrimination against people of faith that he decided to dedicate the peace day message to the fundamental importance of religious freedom as the basis for the well-being and growth of individuals and whole societies. "At present, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith," citing specifically the Christian communities in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and "especially in the Holy Land," said the pope. During a presentation of the message to the press, Msgr. Anthony Frontiero, an official at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said that of all the people "who are discriminated against, hurt, killed or persecuted for religious reasons, 75 percent worldwide are Christian." "A conservative estimate of the number of Christians killed for their faith each year is somewhere around 150,000," Msgr. Frontiero said. "Virtually every human rights group and Western government agency that monitors the plight of Christians worldwide arrives at more or less the same conclusion: Between 200 million and 230 million of them face daily threats of murder, beating, imprisonment and torture, and a further 350 to 400 million encounter discrimination in areas such as jobs and housing.”

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