Pope defends Christians against injustice

Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday called for “Christ’s followers” to be defended in Africa, Asia and the Middle East and warned governments not to allow “antireligious fanaticism.”

“I ask all those in authority to act promptly to end every injustice against the Christians living in those lands,” the pope said in a message on religious freedom ahead of the World Day of Peace on January 1.

“Many Christians experience daily affronts and often live in fear because of their pursuit of truth, their faith in Jesus Christ and their heartfelt plea for respect for religious freedom,” he said.

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“This situation is unacceptable,” he said, adding: “In the face of present difficulties, may Christ’s followers not lose heart.”

The message was one of the pope’s strongest ever condemnations of discrimination against the world’s Christians.

It follows an attack on the main Syriac Catholic cathedral in Iraq last month that killed 46 worshippers and caused outrage in the Vatican, as well as a mounting row with China over rights for Catholics there.

The pope also urged the world’s governments not to allow “religious or antireligious fanaticism” but said people should be allow to convert to other religions or profess no faith at all.

“Whenever the legal system… allows or tolerates religious or antireligious fanaticism, it fails in its mission, which is to protect and promote justice and the rights of all,” he said.

“It should be clear that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike.”

Western countries, he said, have more “sophisticated forms of hostility to religion,” such as “a denial of history and the rejection of religious symbols which reflect the identity and culture of the majority of citizens.

“May Europe rather be reconciled to its own Christian roots, which are fundamental for understanding its past, present and future role in history,” he added