VATICAN CITY – The only way to ensure that religions contribute to peace rather than violence is to guarantee religious freedom and promote religious education so believers understand that peace and harmony are at the core of every religion, the Vatican’s foreign minister said.
Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states, spoke Oct. 5 at the U.N. General Assembly’s high-level dialogue on interreligious and intercultural understanding and cooperation for peace.
The text of his remarks was released Oct. 6 at the Vatican.
Archbishop Mamberti said Pope Benedict has taught that “faithfulness to one’s own religious convictions is not expressed in violence and intolerance, but in sincere respect for others, in dialogue and in an announcement that appeals to freedom and reason while remaining committed to peace and reconciliation.”
While religion is a herald and source of peace, the archbishop said, it too often has been manipulated by politicians, nationalists and those seeking power.
Theological reflection, philosophical questioning and spiritual discernment have been used effectively throughout the ages to harness religious fervor and direct it toward the good of society, he said.
“There cannot be peace without understanding and cooperation among religions,” he said. “There cannot be understanding and cooperation among religions without religious liberty.”
Archbishop Mamberti told the conference, “The full exercise of the right to religious freedom is based on respect for human reason and its capacity to know the truth; it ensures openness to transcendence as an indispensable guarantee of human dignity; (and) it allows all religions to manifest their own identity publicly, free from any pressure to hide or disguise it.”
Restricting or denying religious freedom is not the way to combat violent tendencies when they arise, he said. Rather, governments and groups must mobilize religious leaders, promote education, and rally the public in opposition to “hate speech and other public acts calculated to spur sectarian violence.”
Archbishop Mamberti said international interreligious meetings to promote prayers for peace, such as those convoked by Pope John Paul II in Assisi, Italy, should be duplicated on the local and national level.
“Indeed, prayer and good intentions are authentic only if they translate into practical gestures at all levels,” he said.
The archbishop said religions can realize their potential to build peace and understanding only when they are free to practice their faith and educate their members.
“All of us must work together to ensure that religious freedom is recognized, safeguarded and fostered by all and everywhere,” he said.