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VATICAN CITY, JULY 4, 1998 (VIS) - In his audience this morning with the participants in the World Congress on Pastoral Ministry for Human Rights, John Paul II issued a strong appeal to world leaders to promote and protect universal human rights, in particular the right to freedom of religion.

The Pope's remarks on this last day of the congress promoted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace came on the occasion of the 50th anniversary this year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He reminded his listeners that in his first Encyclical "Redemptor Hominis" in 1979, and throughout his pontificate, "it has been important for me to pay special attention to safeguarding and promoting the dignity of the person and their rights, in all stages of their life, and in every political, social, economic and cultural circumstance."

In that encyclical, he said, "in analyzing the tension between the signs of hope concerning safeguarding human rights and the most painful signs of threatening situations for mankind, I asked the question about the relation between the 'letter' and the 'spirit' of these laws. Still today, one can note the chasm which exists between the 'letter' ... and the 'spirit', currently quite far from being respected. Our century is still marked by very serious violations of basic rights."

Turning to the theme of this congress, that is, the pastoral ministry for human rights, the Holy Father highlighted the objectives of such a pastoral ministry. He stated that the first objective is to "make the acceptance of universal rights in their 'letter' include the concrete enacting of their 'spirit'."

"Every act," he stressed, "which tramples on the dignity of mankind and frustrates their possibilities of personal fulfillment is an act contrary to God's plan for man and for all of creation."

The Pope then turned to the second objective of this pastoral, that is, "'asking the essential questions relative to man's situation today and in the future' with objectivity, loyalty and a sense of responsibility." Of particular importance here, he said, are the economic and social conditions in which people live. He highlighted the "persistence of extreme poverty" in the world, calling it "a true scandal."

"The new architecture of the economy on a world scale must rest on the foundations of the dignity and rights of the person, especially the right to work and protection of the worker."

The Holy Father then pointed to the educational dimension in the pastoral ministry for human rights, saying this must involve "creating a true culture of human rights." He recalled the United Nations meeting underway in Rome to create an International Criminal Court: "I hope that this conference will end up, as everyone hopes, with the creation of a new institution aimed at protecting the culture of human rights on a world level."

John Paul II avowed that "human rights are, by nature, universal, for they have as their source the equal dignity of every person. ... Cultural specificity must not be used to cover up violations of human rights. Indeed, we must rather promote an integral concept of the rights of every person to ... integral development, that is, the development of every person and of the entire person."

In concluding remarks, the Pope underlined that "the pastoral ministry for human rights by its very nature, must be especially linked to the spiritual and transcendent dimension of the person." In this regard, he affirmed "the obligation to protect and promote the right of freedom to religion. ... I appeal to world leaders ... to guarantee the concrete recognition of this right for every one of their citizens."

AC/HUMAN RIGHTS/CON-IP VIS 980706 (600) Vatican Information Service

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