The Holy See has once again condemned what it described as “violence against religions or beliefs” and forms of “populism and nationalism” that regard migrants and refugees as “others” and “enemies.”
In an address during the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom forum this week, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican secretary for Relations with States, stressed the “necessity of inter-religious and intercultural dialogue to foster mutual understanding and respect.”
The forum, an annual event sponsored by the US State Department, brings together leaders from around the world to discuss the challenges facing religious freedom. Due to the pandemic, this year’s meeting, hosted by Poland, was held online.
In his talk, Archbishop Gallagher urged civil authorities to “bear in mind and respect the fundamental right of religious freedom for all,” which he said is rooted in the “inner dimension of the human person.”
“Governments should welcome an open dialogue with leaders of all religious backgrounds … to protect, to promote and to implement the freedom of religion or belief … and not manipulate it as a political tool,” said the Vatican official.
He said dialogue should not stop at “mere tolerance” but should go beyond seeing the other not as an enemy but as a “brother and a sister, equal to us in dignity.”
Archbishop Gallagher noted that restrictions imposed by states during the pandemic “have had significant ramifications on the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief and have limited the religious, educational and charitable activities of faith communities.”
He said civil authorities should be aware of the severe consequences that these restrictions can have on religious or belief communities, saying that communities play an important role in dealing with the crisis by their moral support and their messages of solidarity and hope.
In Catholic countries, the archbishop said access to the Sacraments is “an essential service.”
“Freedom of worship is not dependent upon the freedom of assembly, but an essential part of freedom of religion,” he said.
“While seeking to protect lives from the spread of the virus, we must not put the spiritual and moral dimension of the person as secondary to this earthly existence,” added the Vatican official.
The archbishop cited Pope Francis’ latest encyclical “Fratelli tutti” where the pontiff said “religious freedom for believers of all religions” is a fundamental human right that “must not be forgotten in the journey towards fraternity and peace.”