(Source: Novena/Vatican News)

The Vatican has once more condemned violence against religions or beliefs, as well as forms of populism and nationalism that regard migrants and refugees as “others” and “enemies”. Holy See Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, made those points at the Ministerial to Advance Freedom of Religion or Belief, November 16-17. 

The annual event sponsored by the US Department of State brings together leaders from around the world to discuss the challenges facing religious freedom, to identify means to address religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, and to promote greater respect and preservation of religious liberty for all.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s summit, hosted by the government of Poland, was held online. 

Interreligious and intercultural dialogue

Addressing the event on Monday, Archbishop Gallagher indicated two paths on how to counteract violence against religion and the challenges of populism.

“One critical dimension”, he said, “is the necessity of interreligious and intercultural dialogue to foster mutual understanding and respect”.

Carried out in a sincere and authentic way, he said, that dialogue will not just stop at mere tolerance, with all its negative connotation, but will go beyond to seeing the other not as an enemy but as a “brother and a sister, equal to us in dignity”.

This, Gallagher stressed, is the “sort of dialogue that is necessary to build fraternity and social friendships, which are necessary to have peaceful coexistence in our pluralistic societies”.

Civil authorities and religious freedom

Archbishop Gallagher also called on civil authorities to “bear in mind and respect the fundamental right of religious freedom for all”.

This right, he said, is rooted in the inner dimension of the human person. Hence, “governments should welcome an open dialogue with leaders of all religious backgrounds, seeking effective ways to protect, to promote and to implement the freedom of religion or belief for the common good of society, for the good of each person, and not manipulate it as a political tool”.

Minority communities

Speaking about religious freedom, the Vatican Secretary of State recalled Pope Francis in his latest encyclical Fratelli tutti. There the Pope says, “We Christians ask that, in those countries where we are a minority, we be guaranteed freedom, even as we ourselves promote that freedom for non-Christians in places where they are a minority”.

“One fundamental human right”, the Holy Father says, “must not be forgotten in the journey towards fraternity and peace. It is religious freedom for believers of all religions” (FT, 279).

Archbishop Gallagher said it would be wonderful if other religious leaders could say the same for their faithful where they are a minority.

Religions and Covid-19

The Vatican official also addressed the issue of freedom and practice of religion under the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He noted that “different restrictions imposed by States to combat 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”.

Civil authorities, he said, should be aware of the severe consequences that these restrictions can have on religious or belief communities.

These communities, he pointed out, play an important role in dealing with the crisis not only through their active support in the field of healthcare but also through their moral support and their messages of solidarity and hope.

Catholic faith

Speaking from the Catholic perspective, Archbishop Gallagher underscored that access to the sacraments is “an essential service”.

“Freedom of worship”, he emphasised, “is not dependent upon the freedom of assembly, but an essential part of freedom of religion”.

“While seeking to protect lives from the spread of the virus”, he said, “we must not put the spiritual and moral dimension of the person as secondary to this earthly existence”.

Archbishop Gallagher’s address begins at minute 45:38 of the video above

More on Novena on religious freedom in times of COVID-19:

French bishop criticises Catholic uproar against COVID public Mass ban: “It does not send the right signal for our Church”

Analysis: Why masks are a faith issue: untangling religion and politics in the time of COVID-19

Viewpoint: Freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom from COVID-19 mask mandates

Vatican complains of “de facto discriminatory treatment” of Christians during COVID-19