VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI demanded on Monday that governments do more to ensure Christians can practice their faith without discrimination or violence, in one of his most pointed appeals yet for religious freedom.
In a speech to ambassadors accredited to the Vatican, Benedict cited recent attacks on Christians in Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria in demanding governments take effective measures — in law and in practice — to protect religious minorities.
He told Pakistan to reverse its blasphemy laws, which carry the death sentence for insulting Islam, saying they are a pretext for violence against non-Muslims. He urged governments on the Arabian peninsula to let Christians have churches. And he cited China in saying the state should never have a "monopoly" over the faith.
Benedict has frequently denounced the wave of attacks against Christians in the Middle East and has warned of the threat that religious intolerance poses. He has said he plans to attend a daylong prayer for peace with other religious leaders in the hilltop town of Assisi in October — an event first instituted by Pope John Paul II 25 years ago.
In his speech, Benedict also directed his concern to Europe and the West, saying religious freedom is at risk in places where all religion is so marginalized that society considers it alien or destabilizing.
He praised a recent Council of Europe decision granting doctors and nurses the right to exercise conscientious objection concerning abortion, and he also applauded European countries for joining Italy in its fight to keep crucifixes displayed in public places.
But the bulk of his remarks concerned the plight of Christians in the Middle East, particularly Iraq, where the faithful risk their lives to worship and are fleeing in droves for safety elsewhere. He noted the "brutal" attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt, in insisting that Christians are original members of these societies and deserve to live there in security with full civil rights.
"This succession of attacks is yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt, in spite of difficulties and dangers, effective measures for the protection of religious minorities," he said.
The pope singled out Pakistan's blasphemy laws and the recent murder of the Punjab governor who opposed them in urging the government to reverse them.
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