Pope calls for respect for religious freedom, peace in South Asia

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As violence surged in parts of South Asia, Pope Benedict XVI appealed for peace and respect for religious liberty.
He said he was following events unfolding in the region, especially in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, “with concern.”

“I am praying for the victims and I ask that the respect for religious freedom and the logic of reconciliation and peace may prevail over hatred and violence,” he said in an appeal at the end of his general audience Sept. 15.

Some 18 civilians died Sept. 13 in the worst violence this year in Kashmir, which has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan for decades.

Protesting both Indian control of Kashmir and a Florida minister’s threat to burn the Quran, the predominantly Muslim separatists staged violent demonstrations in several cities throughout the Kashmir Valley Sept. 13. Police reported 18 deaths among the demonstrators and said more than 80 people, including police officers, were injured.

In Pakistan, a series of suicide bombings has killed scores of people this month, and unmanned U.S. drone missiles aimed at al-Qaida militants killed at least 12 people Sept. 15. A surge in U.S. missile strikes in September left about 76 people, reportedly militants, dead in northwest Pakistan on the Afghan border.

Up to 30 insurgents were killed in fighting in Afghanistan between Sept. 13 and 15, said NATO and Afghan officials. Parliamentary elections are scheduled Sept. 18.

The pope made his appeal after delivering his catechesis to pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall.

The pope briefly left the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo to give his audience talk to some 7,000 people from all over the world, including a group of Chaldean Catholics from the Archdiocese of Urmia in Iran and pilgrims from the United Arab Emirates.

He focused his talk on the life of St. Clare of Assisi, a “great mystic” and 13th-century founder of the Poor Clares.

He said the church “is indebted to courageous women who are rich in faith,” like St. Clare, adding that such women “give a decisive impetus to the renewal of the church.”

St. Clare was able to convince Pope Gregory IX to grant the Poor Clares a unique exception to church rules at the time and allowed the sisters to completely renounce all property. Pope Benedict said “this shows that even in medieval times the role of women was not secondary, but considerable.”

In fact, St. Clare’s Rule of the Clares was the first rule for a religious order written by a woman and was formally approved by Pope Innocent IV just before her death in 1253, Pope Benedict said.

Even though she lived a holy and cloistered life, her fame and virtues “shouted out” to the rest of the world, he said.

The saints change the world for the better, the pope said, as they bring about a lasting transformation with an “energy that can only be called forth out of love inspired by the Gospel.”

“The saints are the great benefactors of humanity,” he added.

The pope’s audience came the day before he was set to leave for his visit to Scotland and England Sept. 16-19.

Ahead of his visit, the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published an article written by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who became a Catholic months after he stepped down in 2007.

Writing about the life of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who will be beatified by Pope Benedict Sept. 19, Blair praised the way Cardinal Newman held true to his conscience and did what he thought was right no matter how inconvenient or unpopular.

“This intellectual courage is admirable. It is something that many Catholics catch a glimpse of in Pope Benedict XVI,” he wrote.

“As could be foreseen, some controversy has arisen over the beatification of Newman,” who left the Anglican church and converted to Catholicism in 1845, Blair wrote.

“Some simply ask whether this is the right way to honor him,” he wrote.

“But no one can seriously doubt the fact that he was and is a doctor of the church. The time will come when he will be declared as such,” he wrote.

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Editor’s Note: The text of the pope’s audience remarks in English is posted online at: www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20100915_en.html.

The text of the pope’s audience remarks in Spanish is posted online at: www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20100915_sp.html.