Friday 9 November 2012
Intervention of the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations to the Third Committee of the 67th Session of the General Assembly, 9th November 2012
Intervention of the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations to the Third Committee of the 67th Session of the General Assembly on  Agenda item 69 (b) Mr. Chairman, As this is the first time my delegation has addressed this committee during this session, let me congratulate you and the bureau for your election to this committee and offer you best wishes in fulfilling your duties during this session.Today’s discussion is a valuable contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, and in this regard my Delegation would like to highlight one of the fundamental principles upon which the United Nations is founded, namely, freedom of religion. It is clear that this is a matter of great urgency today around the world as authentic human rights concerning religious exercise are being compromised with little response from the global community. International instruments rightly affirm the responsibility of all governments and the entire international community to protect, defend and promote freedom of religion for each and every person (see Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 18). Religious freedom is the pinnacle of all other freedoms and is a sacred and inalienable right rooted in the dignity of the person. This right includes, on the individual and collective levels, the freedom to follow one’s conscience in religious matters, the freedom of worship, and the freedom to live coherently by manifesting one’s beliefs in public, and not being coerced to conceal them. Moreover, religious freedom necessarily includes the right to convert, the freedom to change one’s religion and to choose one’s religion freely.  In short, authentic religious freedom and responsible citizenship go hand in hand. Research reveals important, credible and alarming data on ongoing and repetitive patterns of gross violations of the right to freedom of religion worldwide. Christians are not its only victims, but they are the most persecuted. Bombs and violent attacks against places of worship and Christian communities at prayer in this year alone have killed hundreds of innocent people in numerous countries. The persistence of such crimes and their geographical spread, the support in personnel and resources that fundamentalist groups provide them, and their objective of destabilization of peaceful coexistence in mutual respect and collaboration call for a more effective response by governments and the international community, both in terms of public awareness and of preventive action to put an end to such violence and intolerance. Mr. Chairman, In recent years the General Assembly has annually adopted two resolutions on the rights of religious believers (see e.g., A/RES/66/167 and A/RES/66/168).  These treat freedom of religion, in name and in fact, which is of great importance to my delegation. Any right to which only lip service is given becomes no right at all.  As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in his recent Apostolic Journey to Lebanon, the world is experiencing at present two opposing trends which run contrary to freedom of religion, namely: violent fundamentalism, claiming to be based on religion, and secularization, with its, at times, quite extreme consequences ( see Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in medio oriente, 29).  It is not true laïcité, the fundamentalist secularism which reduces religion to a purely private concern, considering personal or family worship and vital expressions of religious perspectives in public policy debates unrelated to daily life, ethics or one’s relationships with others. In its extreme and ideological form, it seeks to deny citizens the right to express freely and legitimately their religion and asserts a false claim that the State alone may promulgate public forms which it may take.Healthy secularity, on the other hand, serves freedom of religion by freeing it from the encumbrances of politics, while allows policies, in turn, to be enriched by the contributions of religion, maintaining the necessary balance, distinction and collaboration between these two spheres.  No society has or indeed can develop in a healthy way without embodying a spirit of mutual respect between politics and religion, avoiding the constant temptation either to merge the two or to set them at odds. The basis of a constructive relationship between politics and religion is, first and foremost, that of a sound understanding of human nature and full respect for inalienable human rights. This understanding will inevitably lead to the realization that relations between the spiritual and the temporal spheres ought to be characterized by a profound solidarity, since both spheres are called to cooperate harmoniously in the service of the common good. Such healthy secularity ensures that political activity does not manipulate religion, while the practice of religion remains free from a politics of self-interest which is antithetical to religious belief. Mr. Chairman,Another area of serious concern to the Holy See is fundamentalism. This is born of a defective understanding of religion, flourishes in economic and political instability, and is characterized by its readiness, on the part of some, to manipulate others. Fundamentalism can afflict all faith communities, but it denies their long-standing traditions of co-existence. It seeks to gain power for political reasons over individual consciences and over religion itself, at times violently. This is not religion at all but rather a falsification of religion, for it contradicts the very essence of religion, which seeks to reconcile and bring about God’s peace throughout the world.Religions are called to undertake their purification from such temptations and to illumine consciences and to make it clear that every person is created in the image and likeness of God and hence is endowed with inherent dignity and worth. My Delegation acknowledges that all persons are called to respect in the other not only his/her “otherness”, but also, within that otherness, the essential transcendental commonality we share as the image of God, and all are called to treat the other as an image of God.The essential message of religion is thus diametrically opposed to violence. In short, violence is a falsification of religion. The task of religion is therefore to educate, to illuminate, to purify consciences, and to make them capable of dialogue, of reconciliation and of peace – three human activities that are vital to the mission of this institution, the United Nations. Mr. Chairman, At the beginning of this 67th session of the General Assembly, Member States affirmed their determination to establish a just and lasting peace all over the world  and rededicated themselves to support all efforts to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including respect for the equal rights of all (see A/67/L.1,3).  It is the firm hope of my Delegation that this declaration by Member States will be translated into concrete action to protect, defend, and promote true freedom of religion for all persons which is the condition sine qua non for the realization of all other rights and freedoms. Governments have a responsibility to do this, and at every level, for the common good, that is, for the good of all people and of the whole person, to build more free and more responsible societies. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.