VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI will focus on religious freedom’s contribution to peace in his World Peace Day message for 2011, the Vatican said.

The theme the pope has chosen for the Jan 1 celebration is Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace, the Vatican announced earlier this year.

The Vatican said the pope intends to discuss how the fundamental human right to believe in God is a prerequisite for full human development and “a condition for the realisation of the common good and the promotion of peace in the world”.

“In many parts of the world there exist various forms of restrictions or denials of religious freedom, from discrimination and marginalisation based on religion to acts of violence against religious minorities,” the statement said.

The papal message will expand on comments the pope made in his address to the UN General Assembly in 2008 when he said it was “inconceivable that believers should have to suppress a part of themselves – their faith – in order to be active citizens” and to enjoy their human rights.

In that speech, the pope said, “The rights associated with religion are all the more in need of protection if they are considered to clash with a prevailing secular ideology or with majority religious positions of an exclusive nature.”

Pope Benedict also will distinguish between authentic religious freedom, “which broadens the horizons of humanity and freedom of man” as well as respects human dignity and life, and religious fundamentalism, in which the truth is manipulated or exploited to the detriment of people, the Vatican statement said.

Authentic religious beliefs unite people and can have a positive impact on society, it said. - CNS

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