Pope Francis dedicates his first prayer message of 2022 to combatting religious discrimination and persecution. He reminds us that religious freedom is not limited to freedom of worship; rather, it is tied to fraternity.
Indicating fraternity as the path to follow, the Pope invites us to value other people’s differences and to recognize, before all else, the dignity each and every person has as a human being.
The Pope Video begins its seventh year sharing the prayer intention that Francis entrusts to the entire Catholic Church through the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network. The January edition has just been released, with a powerful message in favor of religious freedom and people who suffer discrimination. The Holy Father invites all people to choose “the path of fraternity. Because either we are brothers and sisters, or we all lose.” To achieve this, it is fundamental that we put an end to the numerous restrictions that many people encounter when they profess their faith.
With an appeal to all the governments of the world, the Pope Video—which is supported this month by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), an international Catholic charity and pontifical foundation, with the mission to help the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in need, through information, prayer, and action—emphasizes the idea that, in the societies in which we live and grow, the recognition of the rights and dignity which we all have as persons must flourish.
Religious minorities and persecutions
Pope Francis opens his first prayer intention of 2022 with two direct and incisive questions which cry out for an answer: “How is it possible that many religious minorities currently suffer discrimination or persecution? How can we allow there to be people who are persecuted simply because they publicly profess their faith?” Indeed, according to the Religious Freedom in the World report published by ACN in April of 2021, religious freedom is violated in a third of the countries around the world, in which live close to 5.2 billion people. The same document reports that more than 646 million Christians live in countries where religious freedom is not respected.
Similarly, since 2020, reports have denounced how many ethnic and religious minorities, especially Islamic ones, do not enjoy full rights of citizenship in the countries where they live.
Religious freedom as the foundation of peace
This topic merits attention, as Thomas Heine-Geldern, Executive President of ACN, confirms: “Although it is impossible to know the exact number, our research indicates that two-thirds of the world’s population lives in countries where violations of religious freedom occur in one way or another. Surprising? No, this situation has been growing for centuries from the roots of intolerance, through discrimination, to persecution. We firmly believe that the right to be free to practice or not practice any religion is a fundamental human right that is directly related to the dignity of every individual. It may sound obvious, but even when human rights are on everyone’s lips, religious freedom often leads a shadowy existence. But this right is the starting point for our entire mission. How could we defend the rights of the Christian community if we did not advocate universal law first? Religion is manipulated again and again to spark war. We at ACN are confronted with it every day. Defending the right to religious freedom is key to debunking these conflicts. The religious communities play a central role when ‘nothing works’ politically or diplomatically in war and crisis regions of the world. The world should be aware that the prospects for peaceful coexistence will be bleak unless freedom of religion or belief is respected as a fundamental human right based on the human dignity of every individual.”
Paths of fraternity: welcoming other people’s differences
The Pope reminds us that religious freedom is tied to the concept of fraternity. In order to begin walking the paths of fraternity upon which Francis has been insisting for years, it’s imperative that we not only respect others, our neighbors, but that we genuinely value them “in their differences and recognize them as true brothers and sisters.” For the Holy Father, “as human beings, we have so many things in common that we can live alongside each other, welcoming our differences with the joy of being brothers and sisters.” Without granting this premise, it is impossible to undertake the path towards peace and living side by side with each other.
Fr. Frédéric Fornos, S.J., International Director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, commented on this intention: “Francis has given us a compass with his encyclical Fratelli Tutti: human fraternity. As he also said in his message for the First International Day of Human Fraternity, ‘Today, fraternity is humanity’s new frontier. Either we are brothers and sisters or we destroy each other.’ It is important to recognize what wounds fraternity, so as to heal it and avoid it being translated into religious discrimination and persecution, as so often happens, particularly against Christians. Let us pray for this intention with all our heart: ‘for all those suffering from religious discrimination and persecution; may their own rights and dignity be recognized, which originate from being brothers and sisters in the human family.’”