POPE'S CHARGE ON RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE
The rising wave of religious violence across the world has become such that requires all hands on board to stem the flood. The recent charge by Catholic Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, to world leaders to take effective measures to protect religious minorities is, therefore, a welcome addition to efforts to raise a standard against the menace.
The Pope, in a speech to ambassadors accredited to the Vatican, cited recent attacks on Christians in Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria, and urged all governments to ensure that Christians practise their faith without discrimination or violence.
We share the sentiments of the Pope and his concern for religious minorities in all countries. His views are timely and in order, especially coming at a time when religious minorities in different parts of the world practise their faith under fear of violence, and at great risk of their lives. Adherents of minority religions in many parts of the world, including Nigeria, are often victims of religious cleansing. They are killed, maimed and dispossessed of their property, with places of worship razed with impunity by rampaging zealots. They are also often discriminated against, both officially and unofficially, in many countries.
It is sad that religion, which should be an instrument to unify people and promote peaceful co-existence in the spirit of brotherhood, is now used to perpetrate violence. Intolerance of adherents of other faiths is increasing at a time when the world is being united into a global village by science and technology. Faith in God should promote peace, understanding and tolerance, which all religions preach, but it is the excuse for so much tears, sorrow and unconscionable killings, the world over.
Pope Benedict has spoken for his immediate constituency. He has called for protection for Christians and adherents of minority religions, everywhere. World leaders should heed this admonition and promote tolerance and cooperation among adherents of all religious faiths within their boundaries. They have a responsibility to protect all religious minorities, and ensure that they do not practise their religion under fear of threat to their lives.
Religious intolerance is dangerous. It can lead to conflagration that can tear a country apart. Fanaticism in religion is the cause of escalation of wars and conflicts in many parts of the world today. It is noteworthy that fanatics often cite portions of their religious texts to justify violence. Religious leaders must, therefore, be careful about what they preach in their places of worship. They should exercise maturity in handling sensitive portions of their texts.
Let them focus more on promoting peaceful co-existence and godliness, which are the essence of all faiths.
They must be careful not to incite their followers to violence. They should rather encourage the faithful to cherish portions of their religious texts that encourage love, brotherliness and the essential oneness of humanity. Parents and guardians should also be involved in the effort to discourage tendencies towards intolerance and violence since no one actually thrives in an atmosphere of violence.
We need to eschew discrimination and teach children the oneness of all faiths and the need for peace to achieve progress in all life endeavours. Religious violence also often has economic underpinnings. Let all governments ensure justice and equity for all. Provision of a just economic society should be vigorously pursued by all countries. Religion should not be used to promote evil but to minimize it. It should be a comfort to humanity, and not an instrument for terror.
The responsibility of governments to protect everyone, irrespective of religion, race, sex and education should be taken more seriously. Those who step outside the bounds of the law to oppress anyone because of religious beliefs should be punished to deter recurrence.
It is disheartening that Nigeria is now counted among countries where violence is visited on religious minorities. The incessant outbreaks of violence in Jos, Plateau State and other parts of northern Nigeria are responsible for this dismal categorization. The Federal Government and concerned state governments must expedite action to correct this negative perception of Nigeria. Protection by the government is a fundamental human right of all.
All governments should live up to the moral and political responsibility to protect minorities of all shades within their domain.