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January 09, 2011

Pope Calls for Religious Freedom, Protection

by Sabina Castelfranco

Pope Benedict is demanding governments do more to ensure Christians can practice their faith without discrimination or violence. He also called for Pakistan to repeal its anti-blasphemy laws.

Pope Benedict’s concern for religious freedom was the focus of his annual address to ambassadors accredited to the Vatican. He cited recent attacks on Christians in Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria.

The pope addressed the diplomats in French, the language of diplomacy. Speaking of the recent "brutal" attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt he insisted that Christians are original members of these societies and deserve to live there in security with full civil rights.

He said a succession of attacks is yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt effective measures for the protection of religious minorities, despite the difficulties and dangers.

In a rare move, Benedict used his speech to specifically ask a country to change one of its laws.

He told Pakistan to reverse its blasphemy laws, which carry the death sentence for insulting Islam. He said these laws are a pretext for violence against non-Moslems.

The pope made reference to last week’s assassination of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province and an outspoken liberal, who was gunned down for opposing the law.

The pope also cited China in his speech, saying the state should never have a "monopoly" over the faith.