(January 30, 2011)
INDIVIDUAL AND COLLECTIVE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM,
THE PATH TO PEACE
Although the Universal Church celebrates World Peace Day on the 1st of January each year, India holds this celebration on 30th January, the day of the martyrdom of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi.
For his Peace Day Message this year, Pope Benedict XVI has chosen the theme, “Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace.” He states: “Religious freedom expresses what is unique about the human person, for it allows us to direct our personal and social life to God, in whose light the identity, meaning and purpose of the person are fully understood. To deny or arbitrarily restrict this freedom is to foster a reductive vision of the human person; to eclipse the public role of religion is to create a society which is unjust, in as much as it fails to take account of the true nature of the human person; it is to stifle the growth of the authentic and lasting peace of the whole human family.”
Based on this belief, the Pope urges all persons of goodwill to re-affirm their commitment to build a society wherein everyone is free to profess his or her faith, as also to express their love of God with all their heart and with all their mind, in the fullness of the Spirit. He explains that, just as every human person has the sacred right to life, he has the right to spiritual life and to religious freedom, rooted in the very dignity of the human person. He further states that religious freedom is at the origin of moral freedom and that openness to truth and to perfect goodness is rooted in human nature; it confers full dignity on each individual and is the guarantee of full mutual respect between persons. Religious freedom should be understood, then, not merely as immunity from coercion, but even more fundamentally, as an ability to order one’s own choices in accordance with truth.
This deep-founded longing of all human beings to direct their own choices based on truth has led to the establishment of structures which would foster common interest and community welfare. These structures, from the international, national and regional levels, have reached the grassroots as local self-governance institutions, like Municipalities and Panchayats. The mandate to these Institutions is to direct all functions not only for the well-being of the people, but also for the protection and promotion of environment and ecology. Sadly, however, such structures, which were meant to promote genuine community participation that empowers the citizens to be partners in decision-making, for their own welfare, have today become instruments in the hands of a powerful minority to advance their selfish interests at the cost of the helpless majority.
With a realistic foresight and a deep yearning to attain an all encompassing unity, Mahatma Gandhiji sacrificed his life. With this far-reaching vision, the Fathers of the Constitution of India ensured that six Rights were enshrined in the Constitution. The fourth of these Rights is the Right to Freedom of Religion for all the citizens of India, covered in Articles 25, 26, 27 and 28. The objective of this Right is to sustain the principle of secularism in India. According to the Constitution, all religions are equal before the State and no religion shall be given preference over the other. Citizens are free to preach, practise and propagate any religion of their choice. Violation of the spirit and the letter of this Right is a serious offence, punishable under the Law.
Unfortunately, events in the past few years have unfolded an alarming trend of thought and actions, verging towards extremism and fanaticism, where one misled section of society has been selectively unleashing terror and destruction, as experienced in Godhra, Khandamal, Hyderabad and some other towns and villages. Other such discriminatory violations are the attacks on and the killings of Tribals in various parts of the Nation. In our own Goa, highly appreciated for its communal harmony, there have been disquieting happenings, not only in terms of destructions in and of holy places, but also in the holding of meetings and conventions for the sole aim of disturbing inter-religious peace and harmony. Recently, in a gathering, I had said, “it is as if some people will not be at peace, until peace is disturbed.”
Peace is a precious gift of God and its pursuit is a consistently continuous task, transcendent in nature and therefore imposing on us a prophetic obligation to set concrete examples for posterity at all costs. May we all come to experience true religious freedom, the path to peace. And soon.
Archbishop’s House, Panjim, Goa, January 22, 2011.
( + Filipe Neri Ferrão)
Archbishop of Goa and Daman
Therefore, the disciples said to one another, "Could someone have brought him something to eat?"