Vatican City – The violence “which today especially targets Christians”, with the deaths of 20 people in the attack last night against the Church of Saints (Al-Qiddissine) in Alexandria in Egypt, is the bloody background to today’s World Day of Peace. Benedict XVI does not mention it, but the massacre of the faithful who attended the Mass is present the words he pronounced on respect for freedom of religion. In fact, Benedict XVI has announced that next October, on the 25th anniversary of World Day of Prayer for Peace, desired by John Paul II in Assisi in 1986, he will return to the city of St. Francis "and invite our Christian brethren of different confessions, the leaders of the religious traditions of the world and, ideally, all people of good will to join this journey, to honour the memory of that historic gesture by my predecessor and to renew the solemn commitment of believers of all religions to live their religious faith as a service to the cause of peace. He who is on the journey towards God can not help but transmit peace, those who build peace can not help but draw close to God”.
"Freedom of religion, path to peace" is the theme chosen by the Pope for his message for the Day. A theme that today is shockingly appropriate. Pope Benedict XVI recalled as much during Mass celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica: "Today , we want to make ours the cry of so many men, women, children and elderly, victims of war, which is the most horrible and violent face of history. Today we pray that the peace which the angels announced to the shepherds on Christmas night, can reach everywhere: ‘super terram pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis’ (Lk 2:14). For this reason, especially with our prayers, we want to help every man and all people, particularly those with responsibility of government, to walk in an ever more decisive way on the path to peace. "
And later in the Angelus, to the 50 thousand people gathered in St Peter's Square he repeated that "peace can not be obtained by weapons, nor economic, political, cultural power nor that of the media. Peace is the work of consciences that are open to truth and love. "
"Before the icon of the Virgin Mother – he said - the Church on this day invokes God, through Jesus Christ, for the gift of peace: it is the World Day of Peace, a propitious occasion to reflect together on the big challenges that our era poses to humanity. One of them, which is dramatically urgent today, is that of religious freedom, so this year I wanted to dedicate my message to this theme: Freedom of religion, path to peace. We are witnessing today - he continued - two opposite trends, both negative extremes: on one hand, secularism, which often in a very deceitful way, marginalizes religion to confine it to the private sphere and on the other fundamentalism, which would instead impose it an all by force. In reality, God beckons humanity with a loving plan that, while engaging the whole person in his or her natural and spiritual dimensions, calls for a free and responsible answer which engages the whole heart and being, individual and communitarian' (Message, 8). Where religious freedom is recognized, the dignity of the human person is respected in its roots and, through a sincere search for truth and goodness, it consolidates and strengthens the moral conscience of the same institutions and civil society (cf. ibid. 5). This is why religious freedom is best way to build peace. "
Earlier, during Mass, the Pope recalled that the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, "since January 1, 1968, has been celebrated all over the world as the World Day of Peace. Peace is a gift of God, as we heard in the first reading: "... The Lord give you peace" (Num 6:26). It is the messianic gift par excellence, the first fruit of love that Jesus gave us, is our peace and reconciliation with God. Peace is a human value to be achieved on a social and political level, but has its roots in the mystery of Christ. "
"In light of this, the ecclesial community is increasingly committed to working, in accordance with the directives of the Magisterium, to offer a safe spiritual patrimony of values and principles in the continuing search for peace. I recalled in my Message for Today, entitled 'Freedom of religion, path to peace': ‘The world needs God. It needs universal, shared ethical and spiritual values, and religion can offer a precious contribution to their pursuit, for the building of a just and peaceful social order at the national and international levels.'(15). I pointed out, therefore, that 'religious freedom is an essential element of a constitutional state; it cannot be denied without at the same time encroaching on all fundamental rights and freedoms, since it is their synthesis and keystone.' (no. 5).
"Humanity can not appear resigned to the negative force of selfishness and violence, it must not become accustomed to conflicts that cause casualties and put at risk the future of peoples. Faced with the threatening tensions of the moment, especially in the face of religious discrimination, abuses and intolerance, which today affect Christians in particular (cf. ibid., 1), once again I address this urgent appeal to not give in to despair and resignation. I urge everyone to pray that the efforts undertaken by several parties to promote and build peace in the world come to fruition. For this difficult task words are not enough, we need the constant and concrete commitment of the leaders of nations, but it is especially necessary that every person be animated by the true spirit of peace, to invoke it over and over again in prayer and to live it in daily relations and in all situations”.