The Pope, Persecution, and Religious Freedom | Fr. James V. Schall, SJ | Catholic World Report
The bluntness of Pope Francis’ speaking of actual persecution of Christians on the scale that it is occurring is most encouraging
“Persecution against Christians today is actually worse than in the first centuries of the Church, and there are more Christian martyrs today than in that era. This is happening more than 1700 years after the Edict of Constantine which gave Christians the freedom to publicly profess their faith.”
—Pope Francis, “International Religions Freedom and Global Clash of Values,” (Conference, L’Osservatore Romano, English, June 27, 2014)
The photo in the June 27th edition of L’Osservatore Romano shows the Holy Father with a layman in suit and tie. Standing to the side are another layman and a cleric who looks like he might be a bishop. None are identified. The tall layman and the Holy Father are seen holding out a basketball jersey on which is the name “St. John’s” along with the number “10”. It turns out that St. John’s University and Roman Libera University were holding a joint conference on religious freedom, and Pope Francis delivered an important, if brief, address to those gathered.
“The debate over religious freedom,” the Pope began, “has become very intense.” He recalled that the basic document for Catholics on this matter is Dignitatis Humanae,on religious liberty from Vatican II. “Every human being,” he said at the start, “is a ‘seeker’ of the truth of his own being and of his own destiny.” Thus, Francis began his reflection, as it were, from within each human person. “In the person’s mind and in the ‘heart’, thoughts and questions arise, which cannot be repressed or smothered, such that they emerge from a person’s intimate essence. They are questions of religion and, in order to fully manifest themselves, require religious freedom.”
Religious freedom thus is not a top-down matter but one that rises out of the facts of human existence seeking meaning. Religious freedom allows such reflections to flourish. As such, even though a chaos of differing and often contradictory views arise, we must have some object standard by which we can judge the validity of the vast differences of views.
If these questions of meaning were not asked, a “darkness” would engulf our history and existence. The Pope called religious freedom a “fundamental right.” One has to be careful with this word “right.” It can have many meaning, some of which would even undermine what Francis is driving at. Many Muslims consider a “right to religious freedom” to mean a world totally under the control of Allah—only in subjection to Allah is anyone “free.” The word “right” itself has voluntarist roots. That is, a voluntarist right could always mean the opposite of what it affirmed without any need to justify itself.
But the Pope’s point is that one should be free to pursue the truth of one’s being. We are not free just to be free.