Christian minorities in Iran are confined to sharing their faith only within their communities, a Swiss Catholic Church delegation reported after a weeklong visit to the Islamic country.
"On one side they are happy to live in a country where they can practice their faith. They can organize mass, they can pray and they can have churches," said Mario Galgano, spokesman for the Swiss Bishops Conference.
"But the problem is they cannot do more than this. They cannot speak about their faith outside their community. They don't have freedom of religion."
As a result most Iranians knew little of Christianity and other religions, added Galgano.
In light of the current political crisis over Iran's nuclear aspirations and the controversy over the Mohammed caricature, the church spokesman said Iranians had been anxious to find out what people in the West thought of Iran.
"The political situation is tough and they know this – it is not a secret there. They know about the problems in Iraq and the Palestinian territories, and they don't want a third conflict in the region. They want peace," he said.
"A lot of Iranian journalists asked us about our reaction to the Mohammed caricatures," added Galgano.
"We explained our position that caricatures about religious issues should respect the sensibility of religious faith. But on the other hand we explained that we have liberty of speech and this is very important not only for Switzerland and the West, but also for every country."
The Swiss Bishops Conference recently announced that a book is to be published in Iran in Farsi and English containing speeches from this month's trip to Iran and from the visit to Switzerland by ICRO (Islamic Culture and Relations Organization) members in September. Galgano expects further meetings between Christians and Muslims after the book releases.
"I think it is too early to say that we are closer to a better understanding between Christians and Muslims," he said. "These were just the first steps and we must continue the dialogue towards the final goal of peace."