Five years later, I still consider Benedict’s XVI’s first Message for the 39th World Day of Peace to be one of his important documents. It give you a concise view of his thought about what true peace is.
The Holy Father take up the same theme in this year’s Message for the 44th World Day of Peace.
Benedict takes up some themes we have seen him working on all along, including the necessity of maintaining a religious voice in the public square. And not just an Islamist voice, btw. Benedict points at the fact that Christianity is the most under fire now.
The Holy Father throughout, as he did in his (better) Message for the 39th World Day of Peace, contrasts the secularist violation of freedom (therefore peace) and religious fanaticism which violates freedom.
This year’s Message is longish, 4600+ words. Here are some highlights.
3. Religious freedom is at the origin of moral freedom. Openness to truth and perfect goodness, openness to God, 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.
Freedom and respect are inseparable; indeed, “in exercising their rights, individuals and social groups are bound by the moral law to have regard for the rights of others, their own duties to others and the common good of all”.
A freedom which is hostile or indifferent to God becomes self-negating and does not guarantee full respect for others. A will which believes itself radically incapable of seeking truth and goodness has no objective reasons or motives for acting save those imposed by its fleeting and contingent interests; it does not have an “identity” to safeguard and build up through truly free and conscious decisions. As a result, it cannot demand respect from other “wills”, which are themselves detached from their own deepest being and thus capable of imposing other “reasons” or, for that matter, no “reason” at all. The illusion that moral relativism provides the key for peaceful coexistence is actually the origin of divisions and the denial of the dignity of human beings. Hence we can see the need for recognition of a twofold dimension within the unity of the human person: a religious dimension and a social dimension. In this regard, “it is inconceivable that believers should have to suppress a part of themselves – their faith – in order to be active citizens. It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one’s rights”.
He looks at the situation of marriage:
The family founded on marriage, as the expression of the close union and complementarity between a man and a woman, finds its place here as the first school for the social, cultural, moral and spiritual formation and growth of children, who should always be able to see in their father and mother the first witnesses of a life directed to the pursuit of truth and the love of God. Parents must be always free to transmit to their children, responsibly and without constraints, their heritage of faith, values and culture. The family, the first cell of human society, remains the primary training ground for harmonious relations at every level of coexistence, human, national and international. Wisdom suggests that this is the road to building a strong and fraternal social fabric, in which young people can be prepared to assume their proper responsibilities in life, in a free society, and in a spirit of understanding and peace.
Therefore, no same-sex union can accomplish what marriage accomplishes in society.
Religious freedom is denied in some places and there is religious fanaticism in others.
7. The exploitation of religious freedom to disguise hidden interests, such as the subversion of the established order, the hoarding of resources or the grip on power of a single group, can cause enormous harm to societies. Fanaticism, fundamentalism and practices contrary to human dignity can never be justified, even less so in the name of religion. The profession of a religion cannot be exploited or imposed by force. States and the various human communities must never forget that religious freedom is the condition for the pursuit of truth, and truth does not impose itself by violence but “by the force of its own truth”. In this sense, religion is a positive driving force for the building of civil and political society. [...]
The leaders of the great religions, thanks to their position, their influence and their authority in their respective communities, are the first ones called to mutual respect and dialogue.
Christians, for their part, are spurred by their faith in God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, to live as brothers and sisters who encounter one another in the Church and work together in building a world where individuals and peoples “shall not hurt or destroy … for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Is 11:9).
Not all religions, however, are the same.
11. For the Church, dialogue between the followers of the different religions represents an important means of cooperating with all religious communities for the common good. The Church herself rejects nothing of what is true and holy in the various religions. “She has a high regard for those ways of life and conduct, precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women”.
The path to take is not the way of relativism or religious syncretism. The Church, in fact, “proclaims, and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6); in Christ, in whom God reconciled all things to himself, people find the fullness of the religious life”. Yet this in no way excludes dialogue and the common pursuit of truth in different areas of life, since, as Saint Thomas Aquinas would say, “every truth, whoever utters it, comes from the Holy Spirit”. [...]
Now we get down to persecution.
13. Despite the lessons of history and the efforts of states, international and regional organizations, non-governmental organizations and the many men and women of good will who daily work to protect fundamental rights and freedoms, today’s world also witnesses cases of persecution, discrimination, acts of violence and intolerance based on religion. In a particular way, in Asia and in Africa, the chief victims are the members of religious minorities, who are prevented from freely professing or changing their religion by forms of intimidation and the violation of their rights, basic freedoms and essential goods, including the loss of personal freedom and life itself.
There also exist – as I have said – more sophisticated forms of hostility to religion which, in Western countries, occasionally find expression in a denial of history [Europe especially, and also the USA] and the rejection of religious symbols which reflect the identity and the culture of the majority of citizens. Often these forms of hostility also foster hatred and prejudice; they are inconsistent with a serene and balanced vision of pluralism and the secularity of institutions, to say nothing of the fact that coming generations risk losing contact with the priceless spiritual heritage of their countries. [...]
When you have a moment or three, give the document a glance. But be sure to read his first Message.