Posted by Paweł A. Makowski

United Nations delegates were instructed by Pope John Paul II that their mission involves the safeguard of the „fundamental right to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience”. The Pope maintains that these rights jointly constitute “the cornerstones of the structure of human rights and the foundation of every truly free society”. Obviously alluding to political authority, the Pope said that no one is entitled to suppress these rights “by using coercive power to impose an answer to the mystery of man”. Pope John Paul II appeal for religious freedom is inherently ecumenical. For example, he did not solicit preferred status for Christianity in general or for Catholicism in particular. And what is further suggested is that just as coercive power is inappropriate for secular leaders and institutions, it is as inappropriate for religious leaders and institutions, Neither sphere may “impose” its ideology, its theology, its worldview. Freedom of religion clearly means a freedom for all religion and religions. And it even allows for freedom from religion. Conscience dictates whether and how that freedom will be actualized.

Religious practice

In last post about “engenders adherence to the norms of law”, there in mention of Pope John Paul II 1996 criticism of those nations which campaign for the extinction of religious practice within their borders. That same address expanded upon the notion of what transpires with religious oppression. Persecuting countries suffer a loss of credibility before the international order and simultaneously invite a threat to their own internal life. The Pope reasons that “a persecuted believer will find it difficult to have confidence in a State which presumes to regulate his conscience”. In his 1997 remarks the Pope decried that religious intolerance instigated the brutal murder of seven Trappist monks in Algieria and of Oran’s Bishop Pierre Cheverie. The pontiff returned to his ecumenical rationale. “All people together, Jews, Christians and Muslims, Israelis and Arabs, believers and non believers, must create and reinforce peace”. Hence, in 1998, the Pope stressed that the evolving movement toward European union must not overlook “the spiritual families… especially of Christianity” which have so greatly contributed to the continent’s civilization. Far from diminishing, their influence today seems more decisive. The  combination of social problems and social inequalities begs them to “proclaim the tenderness of God and the call to fraternity”.

Political leaders

Including those to whom diplomats are directly accountable, are administrators of the res publica. That is to say, their choices and implementation programs “guide whole societies either toward life or toward death”. Thus, in 2000, the Pope encouraged all believers to assume “their duty to take an active part in the public life of the societies to which they belong”. Reasonably, the worth of political activism at both the leadership and grassroots levels can only be fruitful of believers are “granted a place in public life”. The Pope argued (2001) that because “religious experience is part of human experience”, it is fallacy to want to relegate religion to the private sphere or to exhibit reluctance about referring to humanity’s religious aspect. These latter are prejudicial against religious liberty. Pope John Paul II, exactly aware of post-September 11th prejudice and suspicion against Muslims, invited Christians in his 2002 address, to reach out openly to the “followers of authentic Islam, a religion of peace and love of neighbor”.

Receptive Diplomacy

Diplomats should be especially receptive to the positive impact which religion exerts upon world opinion and upon the refinement of world disposition on behalf of security and solidarity. And it is diplomats who should be mindful of and grateful for the Holy See’s status of sovereignty. For it is this status which permits the Holy See to impartially and vigorously “defend the dignity, the rights and the transcendent dimension of the human person”.

This content comes from: B.J. O’Connor, Papal Diplomacy: John Paul II and Culture of Peace, South Bend, Indiana 2005.

General information about Papal Diplomacy in post: Diplomacy according to John Paul II”.

Photo: Reuters: Dylan Martinez