Archbishop Martino addresses UN General Assembly
NEW YORK, 15 NOV. 2001 (ZENIT).
Archbishop Renato Martino, apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of
the Holy See to the United Nations, presented this speech on religious
liberty Tuesday to the General Assembly.
* * *
Statement by H. E. Archbishop Renato R. Martino
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the U. N.
Before the Third Committee of the 56th Session
of the United Nations General Assembly
on Item 119C
Human Rights QuestionsóReligious Tolerance
13 November 2001
The Holy See welcomes the Report prepared by the Special Rapporteur of
the Commission on Human Rights on freedom of religion or belief, in
accordance with General Assembly resolution 55/97 of December last year.
The Report identifies positive situations where improvements have been
made in curbing intolerance and discrimination based on religion or
belief in certain fields and in certain countries.
Of serious concern to my Delegation, however, is the information
contained in the Report which reveals the maintenance, in many parts of
the world, of discriminatory or intolerant policies with regard to
minorities in States having an official religion; the increase in
extremism affecting all religions; and the gradual shift towards
non-belief within society, characterized by a growing militancy that
enters into competition or conflict with religions.
Mr. Chairman, at the heart of every culture lies the attitude humanity
takes toward the greatest of all mysteries: the mystery of God. Indeed,
different cultures throughout history and throughout the world testify
to the many and varied ways in which people face the question of the
meaning of personal existence. Religion expresses the deepest
aspirations of the human person. It shapes people's vision of the world
and affects their relationships with others.
Religious freedom, therefore, constitutes the very heart of human
rights, and the right to religious freedom is based upon the dignity of
the human person, who experiences the inner and indestructible exigency
of acting freely according to the imperatives of his or her conscience.
This inner reflection, even if it does not result in an explicit and
positive assertion of faith, cannot but be respected in the name of the
dignity of each one's conscience, whose hidden searching may not be
judged by others. This concrete liberty of reflection and its expression
has its foundation in human nature itself. As such, "one's exercise
of the right to freedom of religion is not to be impeded, provided that
the just requirements of public order are observed."1
The right to life and the right to freedom of religion or belief are the
basic premises for human existence. The fact that there are still many
places today where the right to gather for worship is either not
recognized or is limited to the members of one religion alone, is a sad
commentary on any claim to a more just, peaceful world where fundamental
rights and freedoms are more widely promoted and respected. It is a
direct and serious contradiction to Article 18 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, which states clearly that "everyone
has the right to freedom of religion, including the freedom to change
his or her religion or belief." Despite the various national and
international Declarations which proclaim the right to freedom of
conscience and religion, there are still too many cases of religious
repression. It is common knowledge that there are nations in which
individuals, families and entire groups are still being discriminated
against and marginalized because of their religious beliefs. This grave
violation of one of the fundamental rights of the person is a source of
enormous suffering for countless believers. "Unhappily," as
Pope John Paul II has said, "the world has yet to learn how to live
with diversity, as recent events throughout the world have painfully
On the other hand, my Delegation renews its conviction that recourse to
violence in the name of religious belief is a perversion of the very
teachings of the major religions. The Holy See reaffirms here today what
many religious leaders have repeated so often: "The use of violence
can never claim a religious justification, nor can it foster the growth
of true religious feeling."3 Any strategy which seeks to quell such
cases of violence must help people to understand that believers have a
duty to treat all men and women as brothers and sisters in the one human
family, and that prejudice and enmity have no place in true religion and
can never be justified on religious grounds. Such a strategy must assist
believers to recognize with joy the religious values that people have in
common. Many religious traditions believe in one God, the only God, who
is all Justice and all Mercy; most profess a belief in the importance of
prayer, of fasting, of almsgiving, of repentance and of pardon.
While no one can ever deny that there are important differences between
religious traditions, these differences should be accepted with humility
and respect, in mutual tolerance. The practice of any faith must be
conducted with respect for other religious traditions because everyone
hopes to be respected for what he or she is, and for what he or she
conscientiously believes. Religious tolerance is based on the conviction
that God wishes to be adored by people who are free. This is a
conviction which requires us to respect and honor that inner sanctuary
called the conscience, wherein each person meets God.
When such respect and understanding is not realized, and when the
divisions become manifest in civil strife and war, there is a need for
mutual forgiveness. The commitment to religious tolerance and
collaboration must be based upon the conversion of hearts and upon
prayer, which will also lead to the necessary purification of past
Mr. Chairman, the world is scandalized by the sharp divisions that
manifest themselves in the destruction of human life. Called to overcome
our fears, men and women of faith everywhere are invited to commit
themselves courageously to the path that leads to peace, to make a gift
of their spiritual wealth, and to share it in a trusting exchange. Such
an invitation is not impossible to accept, but rather it is a true and
lasting way to peaceful co-existence and human flourishing.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
1 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dignitatis Humanae, no. 2.
2 Pope John Paul II, Address to the United Nations, 1995, no. 9.
3 Ibid., Message for World Day of Peace, in L'Osservatore
Romano (23-30 December 1998), p.9.
[Original text: English; distributed by Holy See mission]