Vatican Meeting Challenges Contemporary Human Rights Record

VATICAN CITY—Pope John Paul II said the right to freedom of religion has become even more vital in today's economically oriented society. Addressing the Vatican's first global meeting on human rights July 4, he noted that religious liberty is linked to the “spiritual and transcendent dimension” of the person.

“This takes on greater importance in our modern world,” the Pope said, “which often reduces people to merely their economic dimension, and which tends to consider their development, above all, in economic terms.”

Pope John Paul II met with participants of a World Congress on the Pastoral Promotion of Human Rights. The July 1-4 congress brought together 230 clergy and lay authorities to find solutions to human rights concerns they had in common, such as religious freedom, child labor, and political asylum.

The Pope expressed his “solidarity and prayerful support” for all those whose rights are “cruelly violated.” He mentioned in particular victims of torture, violence and exploitation, war, discrimination, the unemployed, and all those “who suffer disastrous economic hardships.”

He also called the international community to task, saying the “persistence of extreme poverty” in many developing countries represents “a genuine scandal” for today's world.

As rich nations rush to forge a global marketplace, the Pope said, the “architecture of the global economy must be built upon the foundation of the dignity and rights of the person.”

The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace organized the gathering. The council's secretary, Msgr. Diarmuid Martin, said the congress highlighted the Church's role in promoting a “culture of human rights.”

“Pope John Paul II has very much been a Pope of human rights,” Msgr. Martin told the Register. “He has placed the theme of human rights—especially the respect for human dignity—as central to his pontificate.”

Msgr. Martin said the Vatican congress was timed to draw attention to the 50th anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet 50 years on, he said, there is still a “long way to go” concerning human rights.

“We have many good documents by the international community but it's clear that human rights are violated in many parts of the world,” Msgr. Martin said. “There are people who do not have the right to freedom of expression, those who cannot worship freely, and people whose dire economic situation prevents them from participating in life in a way that fully respects their own dignity.”

Among the speakers at the gathering were a number of delegates to a five-week U.N. conference in Rome to create an international criminal court. They included Pierre Sane, secretary general of Amnesty International, and human rights representatives for various international agencies. (Stephen Banyra)