by Martin Newland
THE Pope's contention that "the State cannot claim authority, direct or indirect, over a person's religious convictions" is the central theme of today's Apostolic Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace.
In a concerted attack on the traditional emnity between communist governments and organised religion under their rule, the Pope condemns the "negative confessionalism" implied when a State declares its respect for the beliefs of individuals, "but in fact takes up an attitude opposed to the faith of a part of its citizens".
John Paul II pleads instead for a balance in such situations between an atheistic world standpoint which he says is one of the "signs of the times", and a religious over-view. "In no case may the civil organisation set itself up as the substitute for the conscience of the citizens, nor may it . . . take the place of the freedom of action of religious associations," he adds.
This year has seen rising hopes for increased religious freedom in communist territories characterised by Mr Gorbachev's "glasnost" policies, coupled nevertheless with severe setbacks for the Christian churches in some countries.
The refusal of the Czechoslovakian authorities to allow the appointment of at the October synod of the Vietnamese delegates, and reports of continuing persecution of Christians from communist bloc delegates who were allowed to come have been behind increased calls for the Church to take a lead in denouncing religious persecution.
The Pope's message states that religious freedom is a lot to do with establishing world peace because it is "a very important means of strengthening a people's moral integrity."
"Civil society can count on believers . . who will not only succumb to dominating • ideologies or trends, but will endeavour to act in accordance with their aspirations to all that is true and right, an essential condition for securing peace," the message says.
Throughout the document the Pope contends that peace is not the result of sociological factors, but rather has its roots in "an order written into human society by its Divine Founder". The unassailable integrity of the human being before God means that "society exists for the individual" and not vice versa, he says.
The message exhorts "the followers of Christ" in particular to fight for peace. John Paul gives particular approval for moves towards reconciliation made between the Christian churches and asserts that as recipients of the Lord's Peace through baptism, Christians have a particular duty to "live completely and responsibly the freedom which comes to us from being children of God . . ."
Referring to the Church itself and its role in fostering peace, the Pope reaffirmed "her solidarity with all those suffering from discrimination and persecution because of their faith." He also mentions the part the Holy See to do with human rights and peace.
"In the same sense is to be understood the action, necessarily more discreet . . . of the Apostolic See and its representatives in contacts with the political authorities of the whole world," says the Message referring implicitly to "undercover missions" to religious trouble spots by Vatican representatives.
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