OREM, Utah (CNS) — Every human being “is a seeker of truth of his own origin and of his own destiny” and has thoughts and questions that “cannot be repressed or smothered,” the U.N. nuncio told an audience at Utah Valley University in Orem.
Such questions are by nature religious and “to fully manifest themselves, they require freedom,” Archbishop Bernardito Auza said April 13. “The human person wants to be able freely to profess his or her religion in private and in public as individuals and as groups.”
The Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations made the comments in a keynote address at the public university’s daylong Mormon Studies’ Conference on the topic “Mormons and Catholics, From the Margins to the Mainstream.”
The archbishop began by discussing the state of religious freedom around the world and how the international community must confront threats to such freedom and the atrocities taking place against Christians.
He also outlined several ways he said Catholics and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are working together to protect and promote religious freedom.
Religious freedom has been enshrined as a civil right in international documents, and “every government bears the proud responsibility to guarantee in its constitution religious freedom for its people, and must uphold religious freedom both in principle and in fact,” Archbishop Auza said.
However, governments for years have been “trying to curtail, if not completely stop, people from exercising their religious freedom in public,” said the archbishop, adding that the state of religious freedom in the world today is “very worrisome.”
“Today, religious persecution — be it open or discreet, overt or private — is the emerging trend; today religious freedom is more and more curtailed,” he said.
Even in some Western democracies, he said, “the long-standing paragons of human rights and freedoms, we find instances of increasingly less subtle signs of persecution, including the legal prohibition of the display of Christian symbols and imagery, and the legal imposition to choose between one’s religious conviction and law, between conscience and law.”
Religious persecution has never been as barbaric as it has been recently, he added.
He gave an overview of the atrocities being committed against Christians worldwide, particularly in the Middle East and Africa.
“Even as we speak, thousands are being killed, persecuted, deprived of their fundamental human rights and being discriminated against simply because they profess a belief which is different from the persecutors, and especially if they are Christians,” Archbishop Auza said.
However, “it seems that the international community, specifically the (U.N.) Security Council, has not yet found a way to confront that,” despite the resolutions that have been signed stating that governments have the responsibility to protect their citizens against such violence against genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, he said.
Historically, he said, Catholics and Mormons in particular “did not always find a welcome mat” in the United States, and “in that crucible” learned “how to welcome and provide for others, especially for those in need.”
As a result, “our churches have built institutions to embrace, to educate, to help, to nourish, to ensure, and hospitalize those in need, as much as our generosity could afford,” the archbishop said. “Rather than wallowing in self-pity and playing the card of the victim, Catholics and Mormons both took advantage of the freedoms and opportunities still available in the United States to build institutions that have endured the passage of time.”
Today, Catholics and Mormons have found several ways to work together, he noted. For example, the global Catholic aid agency Caritas International and the Mormons’ Humanitarian Center collaborate in offering humanitarian aid in various regions of the world, he pointed out.
Such collaboration strengthens the churches’ theological and moral dialogue and what’s “really a dialogue of life,” Archbishop Auza said. “We believe that, as Pope Francis affirmed, that true ecumenical and interreligious dialogue is not so much a conversation but a mutual journey. It is about building bridges rather than walls.
“It begins with a conviction that others have something good and valuable to say, with a focus on what one has in common rather than on differences, with embracing rather than excluding. It doesn’t ignore differences … but it seeks to understand those differences and treat the persons who hold them with respect.”
Four areas in which Catholics and Mormons share common beliefs and can work together, he said, are traditional family values, education, charity, and living and sharing faith publicly.
All four areas face challenges from the secular world. For example, there are efforts underway to require Catholic agencies to refer clients to abortions, against the church’s beliefs.
Referring to St. Augustine’s exclamation to God “O beauty ever ancient, ever new,” the archbishop said: “Freedom is a gift of God, just like beauty, just like goodness and peace. And just like these gifts, it is ever ancient and ever new.
“Ever ancient because it is one of the attributes of God, and freedom is one of God’s greatest gifts to his crowning creation,” continued. “It is ever new because it is the fruit of our daily resolve and our daily efforts to respect freedom. It is a challenge held out to each one of us in every generation that it must be constantly won over every day for the cause of peace, for the cause of freedom.”
Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.