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Pope condemns the manipulation of religion to justify terrorism

VATICAN CITY (CNS): Pope Benedict XVI condemned “religiously motivated terrorism” and restrictions on religious freedom during his annual address to 179 diplomats accredited to the Vatican on January 9. 

Looking both at signs of promise and areas of concern around the globe, the pope said human dignity, truth and justice demand governments safeguard all human life and recognise the importance of the traditional family based on the marriage of a man and a woman. 

But his strongest words were reserved for the topic of religious freedom and religiously motivated violence. 

The pope also paid tribute to Shahbaz Bhatti, the Catholic, government minister for minorities in Pakistan, “whose untiring battle for the rights of minorities ended in his tragic death,” when he was murdered last March. 

“Sadly, we are not speaking of an isolated case,” the pope told the diplomats gathered in a formal, frescoed hall of the Apostolic Palace. 

“In many countries, Christians are deprived of fundamental rights and sidelined from public life; in other countries they endure violent attacks against their churches and homes,” he said, mentioning particularly the Christmas Day attacks against churches in Nigeria. 

“In other parts of the world we see policies aimed at marginalising the role of religion in the life of society, as if it were a cause of intolerance rather than a valued contribution to education in respect for human dignity, justice and peace,” he said noting, “In the past year, religiously motivated terrorism has also reaped numerous victims, especially in Asia and in Africa.” 

Turning his gaze on the Arab Spring that toppled repressive governments in north Africa and spread to the Middle East, Pope Benedict said, “It is hard to make a definitive assessment” of the recent events, but “initial optimism has yielded to an acknowledgment of the difficulties of this moment of transition and change.” 

Noting the concerns expressed about creating new power elites or situations where Christian minorities could face more pressure, the only way forward toward true democracy and peace “is through the recognition of the inalienable dignity of each human person and of his or her fundamental rights,” the pope continued. 

“Respect for the person must be at the centre of institutions and laws,” the pope stressed. 

Looking to the needs and concerns of the world’s young people, Pope Benedict said, “The present moment is sadly marked by a profound disquiet and the various crises—economic, political and social—are a dramatic expression of this.”......

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