Pope Benedict addressed a gathering of diplomats to the Holy See yesterday, urging them to encourage religious freedom in their home countries:
The Pope asked the representatives of 178 countries, as well as of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the European Community and the Knights of Malta, to examine how well their own countries respected the right of individuals to believe, to act in accordance with their conscience, to gather with other believers for worship and to carry out the educational and social projects their faith inspires.
Pope Benedict met diplomats accredited to the Holy See and continued his Christmas-season focus on the connection between religious liberty and peace, and on threats to full religious freedom in western democracies as well as in countries notorious for violating human rights.
Once again he denounced attacks on Christians in Iraq, Egypt and Nigeria and expressed concern about the renewal of Chinese government restrictions on Catholics.
Condemning the murder last week of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab in Pakistan, the Pope said the country must overturn its blasphemy law, which makes insulting the Prophet Mohammed or the Koran punishable by death.
Taseer supported the move to abrogate the law, which the Pope said often “serves as a pretext of acts of injustice and violence against religious minorities”.
The reaction to his speech? Egypt recalled their Vatican envoy, calling the pope’s remarks “an unacceptable interference in its internal affairs,” while Islamic demonstrators in Pakistan protested even the suggestion that their blasphemy laws should be thrown out, calling it “insane.”
Something tells me Benedict picked exactly the right subject for his Christmas/New Year’s messages.