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MILITARY CHAPLAINS Oct-12-2007 (790 words) xxxi

Cardinals tell bishops, chaplains they must protect human rights

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church and its members serving in the military must be on the front line of protecting human rights, said Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re.

"The church, bearer of the human, moral and spiritual values without which it is impossible to build a worthy and true human society -- a family of families -- must be on the front line in supporting a correct application of humanitarian law in every circumstance," said the cardinal, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

The cardinal spoke at the Oct. 12 opening of a two-day course in humanitarian law offered to military ordinaries and chaplains from around the world. Military ordinaries are bishops responsible for the pastoral care of Catholics in the armed forces.

The course brought together about 80 participants from more than 30 countries and included speakers representing other religions and other Christian communities, as well as experts on international relations and on humanitarian law.

Cardinal Re told the bishops and priests that promoting human rights is part of their pastoral role.

"The support of the church for humanitarian law is a way of witnessing to the importance of protecting the dignity of the human person, created in God's image, in every circumstance, including the tragic context of armed conflicts," he said.

Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told participants that religious believers have a special obligation to work together to defend the rights of all people.

"In the modern world, where phenomena such as international terrorism seem to place in doubt the value of human life and where, too often, religions are considered a factor of conflict, religions themselves are called to cooperate to affirm human dignity" and demonstrate that violations of humanitarian law cannot be excused simply by invoking "political or military necessity," Cardinal Martino said.

The Congregation for Bishops, the justice and peace council, and the councils for interreligious dialogue and for Christian unity co-sponsored the course.

In a message sent to the meeting, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his hope that members of different religions would work together for "the promotion of the fundamental value of peace, based on truth, love, justice and freedom."

Mohammed Amin al-Midani, president of the Arab Center for International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Education in Strasbourg, France, told participants that in Islam the Quran and the example of the prophet Mohammed emphasize the value of each human life and lay down precise rules and limits for the conduct of war.

"Respect for the human person is the first and major principle in Islam," he said. "After respect for life comes respect for human dignity which, along with respect for other people, are notions defined and encouraged by Islamic law."

In an interview with Catholic News Service, al-Midani said he tried to explain to the bishops and chaplains the mainstream interpretation of Islamic law and Islamic principles regarding human dignity.

"Unfortunately, there are those with fundamentalist, extremist interpretations of Islam; they believe it is right to kill non-Muslims," he said. The Muslim majority has an obligation "to show the tolerant tradition of Islam, which is very ancient."

"This meeting is very important because soldiers must know how to dialogue," he said. "They must know, for example, that not all Afghans belong to the Taliban. They must go into these countries knowing what Islam is, that diversity exists and that people want to dialogue with them."

Rabbi Abramo Piettelli, who teaches at Rome's Pontifical Lateran University and serves at Rome's main synagogue, told the gathering that Christians, Muslims and Jews must encourage their followers to act on their belief that all human beings were created in God's image.

"Being created in the divine image," he said, places a "great responsibility" on each person to act in a way that promotes the creation of "a society based on the values of brotherhood, justice and truth. The conflicts, wars and controversies that trouble our times are a challenge not only for governments, but for each individual."

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said international humanitarian law exists "to make wars less cruel and to facilitate aid to its victims, but also to educate consciences in respect for the dignity of the human person."

"In a world filled with all sorts of ideas, cultures and religions, human dignity is a supreme value; it is the foundation of liberty, justice and peace," he said.

The cardinal said the peoples of the world can never hope to achieve peace unless they focus on and hold firm to a common set of moral values, beginning with the value of every human life.


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