Religious freedom a ‘moral imperative,’ pope tells leaders of major religions in Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand, Nov 22, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- In a meeting with leaders of major religions in Thailand Friday, Pope Francis stressed the importance of upholding human dignity and religious freedom.

“For our part, we are asked to embrace the moral imperative of upholding human dignity and respecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom,” he said Nov. 22 at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

Addressing religious leaders, he said “all of us are called not only to heed the voice of the poor in our midst: the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, the indigenous peoples and religious minorities, but also to be unafraid to create opportunities, as is already quietly occurring, to work hand in hand.”

“And to do so,” he added, “in a spirit of fraternal solidarity that can help end the many present-day forms of slavery, especially the scourge of human trafficking.”

Pope Francis met the 18 Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh leaders at Chulalongkorn University, which was founded in 1899 and is the oldest university in Thailand. It is considered highly prestigious, and is the university which members of the royal family and nobility have attended.

The university is named for King Chulalongkorn, who ended slavery in Thailand. In his address, Pope Francis recalled a significant moment from 122 years ago, when Pope Leo XIII met with King Chulalongkorn, also known as King Rama V, at the Vatican, the first time a non-Christian head of state was received in audience there.

“May the memory of that significant encounter, as well as that of his reign, whose virtues included the abolition of slavery, challenge us, in our own time, to pursue the path of dialogue and mutual understanding,” Francis said.

He stressed the importance of religions working together to protect the environment, and noted the many challenges faced by society today, such as civil conflicts, which cause mass migration, refugees, famine, and war.

“All these situations require us to be bold in devising new ways of shaping the history of our time without denigrating or insulting anyone,” he stated.

“Now is the time to be bold and envision the logic of encounter and mutual dialogue as the path, common cooperation as the code of conduct, and reciprocal knowledge as a method and standard.”

Pope Francis also asked the religious leaders to build solid foundations, “anchored on respect for, and recognition of the dignity of persons, the promotion of an integral humanism, alert to and concerned for the protection of our common home, and a responsible stewardship that preserves the beauty and richness of nature as a right fundamental for existence.”

“All of us are members of the human family. Each person, in his or her own way, is called to be actively and directly engaged in building a culture founded on the shared values that lead to unity, mutual respect and a harmonious coexistence,” he said.

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