January 29, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

‘Charity in Truth’: Migration and religious freedom

John F. Fink(Eighth in a series of columns)

This penultimate column on Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Charity in Truth” (“Caritas in Veritate”) will cover two unrelated topics: what he said about immigration and, then, freedom of religion.

Regarding immigration, he reminded us that “every migrant is a human person who, as such, possesses fundamental, inalienable rights that must be respected by everyone and in every circumstance.”

The sheer numbers of migrants throughout the world represent, he said, “a social phenomenon of epoch-making proportions.”

The United States, of course, has always been a migrant country, and that continues today. But Europe, too, is seeing more immigrants from Africa filling jobs created by Europe’s declining population. Wars, droughts and other problems create migrants in Africa, and Asia, too, has its immigration problems.

Therefore, the pope said, the phenomenon of migration requires international cooperation and close collaboration between migrants’ country of origin and their countries of destination. The rights of individual migrants and their families, and, at the same time, their host countries, must be safeguarded.

Migrants seldom emigrate just because they want to. It is usually because they feel forced to do so in order to support their families. Therefore, suffering and dislocation accompany their aspirations as they make their move.

Foreign workers, Pope Benedict said, make a significant contribution to the economic development of the host country through their labor. They also contribute to the economy of their country of origin through the money they send home.

As regards freedom of religion, Pope Benedict first condemned “terrorism motivated by fundamentalism, which generates grief, destruction and death, obstructs dialogue between nations, and diverts extensive resources from their peaceful and civil uses.”

Not only does religious fanaticism impede the right to religious freedom, he said, so too does the promotion of religious indifference or practical atheism. This deprives people of the moral and spiritual strength required to attain integral human development.

Humans are not lost atoms in a random universe, the pope said. Rather, they are God’s creatures, “whom God chose to endow with an immortal soul and whom he has always loved.”

He emphasized that religious freedom does not mean religious indifferentism or imply that all religions are equal. Some religious and cultural attitudes, he said, without mentioning them by name, “do not fully embrace the principle of love and truth and therefore end up retarding or even obstructing authentic human development.” Some religions, he said, alienate people from one another rather than bringing them together.

God must have a place in the public realm, he wrote. “The exclusion of religion from the public square—and, at the other extreme, religious fundamentalism—hinders an encounter between persons and their collaboration for the progress of humanity.”

As he has done in the past, Pope Benedict called for effective cooperation between reason and religious faith.

“Reason always stands in need of being purified by faith,” he wrote, and this is also true for political reason.

For its part, he said, “Religion always needs to be purified by reason in order to show its authentically human face.” †

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