From her divine Founder the Church has received the mission of guiding men and women in worshiping the living and true God, in singing his praises and proclaiming his wonders, and in professing that there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Eph 4:5). But the sacrifice acceptable to God is, as the Prophet Isaiah says, “to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free … to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house, [and] when you see the naked, to cover him…. Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard” (Is 58:6-8). The Church’s liturgical, prophetic and charitable mission is in fact indissolubly one, for both the prophetic word in defence of the poor and charitable service give authenticity and consistency to worship.
Respect for religious freedom must ensure the opportunities, programmes and means by which these three dimensions of the Church’s mission can be carried out so that, in addition to worship, the Church can devote herself to the proclamation of the truth of the Gospel,the defence of justice and peace, and the integral development of the human person. None of these dimensions should be restricted; one does not exclude the others, nor should one be emphasized at the cost of the others.
When the Church demands religious freedom she is not asking for a gift, a privilege or a permission dependent on contingent situations, political strategies or the will of the authorities. Rather she demands the effective recognition of an inalienable human right. This right cannot be conditioned by the behaviour of the Pastors and the faithful, nor by the surrender of the exercise of any aspect of her mission, much less by ideological or economic considerations. It is not simply a matter of a right belonging to the Church as an institution, it is also a matter of a right belonging to every person and every people. Every individual and every people will be spiritually enriched to the extent that religious freedom is acknowledged and put into practice.
Furthermore, as I have already had occasion to state: “Religious freedom is a very important means of strengthening a people’s moral integrity. Civil society can count on believers who, because of their deep convictions, will not only not succumb readily to dominating ideologies or trends, but will endeavour to act in accordance with their aspirations to all that is true and right” (Message for the 1988 World Day of Peace, n. 3). — from His Holiness’ address to Cuba’s bishops (January 25, 1998)