Pope in Cuba makes passionate case for religious freedom

In his homily yesterday during Mass in the Cuban capital, Havana, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the need for religious freedom as key to human and social development. Religious freedom, he said, "consolidates social bonds, nourishes the hope of a better world, creates favourable conditions for peace and harmonious development, while at the same time establishing solid foundations for securing the rights of future generations."  Noting that "the truth is a desire of the human person, the search for which always supposes the exercise of authentic freedom," he spoke of the Christian impulse to witness.

Christianity, in highlighting those values which sustain ethics, does not impose, but rather proposes Christ’s invitation to know the truth which sets us free. The believer is called to offer that truth to his contemporaries, as did the Lord, even before the ominous shadow of rejection and the Cross. The personal encounter with the one who is Truth in person compels us to share this treasure with others, especially by our witness.

Cuba is a socialist state in which freedom of worship, but not freedom of religion, is allowed. Like the rest of society, the Church is carefully controlled. But there have been significant improvements in recent years. Pope Benedict said he wished "to encourage the country’s Government authorities to strengthen what has already been achieved and advance along this path of genuine service to the true good of Cuban society as a whole."

He then made the case for religious freedom:

The Church lives to make others sharers in the one thing she possesses, which is none other than Christ, our hope of glory (cf. Col 1:27). To carry out this duty, she must count on basic religious freedom, which consists in her being able to proclaim and to celebrate her faith also in public, bringing to others the message of love, reconciliation and peace which Jesus brought to the world. It must be said with joy that in Cuba steps have been taken to enable the Church to carry out her essential mission of expressing her faith openly and publicly.

The right to freedom of religion, both in its private and in its public dimension, manifests the unity of the human person, who is at once a citizen and a believer. It also legitimizes the fact that believers have a contribution to make to the building up of society. Strengthening religious freedom consolidates social bonds, nourishes the hope of a better world, creates favourable conditions for peace and harmonious development, while at the same time establishing solid foundations for securing the rights of future generations.

When the Church upholds this human right, she is not claiming any special privileges for herself. She wishes only to be faithful to the command of her divine founder, conscious that, where Christ is present, we become more human and our humanity becomes authentic. This is why the Church seeks to give witness by her preaching and teaching, both in catechesis and in the schools and universities. It is greatly to be hoped that the moment will soon arrive when, here too, the Church can bring to the fields of knowledge the benefits of the mission which the Lord entrusted to her and which she can never neglect.

He returned to the theme at Havana airport before returning to Rome. In remarks which also contained criticism of the U.S.'s trade embargo on the island, he said:

Respect and promotion of freedom which is present in the heart of each person are essential in order to respond adequately to the fundamental demands of his or her dignity and, in this way, to build up a society in which all are indispensable actors in the future of their life, their family and their country.

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