We Christians in the United States take much for granted, including our right to worship freely at the church of our choosing without fear that we will be targeted with violence or other forms of retribution. Unfortunately, it is a right that many fellow Christians in other parts of the world do not enjoy.
The British arm of the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need recently published a nearly 200-page study documenting worsening persecution experienced by Christians in 30 countries around the world. Much of it is happening in places like the Middle East and Africa at the hands of those who adhere to violent interpretations of Islam as well as in Communist countries that preach state-sponsored atheism.
The plight of Christians in Egypt is just one of many instances cited in the report, titled “Persecuted and Forgotten?” Just this past August, in one 48-hour period, nearly 80 churches, convents, church-run schools and clinics across the country were attacked, unfairly blamed for problems facing the country. Bishop Kyrillos William of Assiut, Egypt, said people not surprisingly feared leaving their houses. The situation in other countries is similar, with Christians being targeted with harassment, torture and even execution.
Sometimes these instances of persecution make headlines here in the United States. But often they do not, and the victims suffer a quiet martyrdom. We Christians who enjoy guarantees of religious liberty need to raise more awareness about religious persecution in other parts of the world and do more to help its victims.
Efforts on the home front
Pope Benedict XVI called religious freedom “a sacred and inalienable right” that must be protected. As the report notes, we should encourage peaceful dialogue and reconciliation among religious faiths whenever possible. But we as a nation must also make religious freedom a higher priority in our foreign policy dealings and other interactions with nations where religious freedom is under attack.
And, we must also work to protect religious liberty here at home. Freedom of religion constitutes more than just freedom of worship. And, while we in the United States are not experiencing the violent persecution that our brothers and sisters in faith are facing in other parts of the world, our own religious freedom is under fire in other ways, such as through the federal Department of Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate.
Such infringements on religious liberty certainly have not reached the level as those documented by the Aid to the Church in Need report. But, as the U.S. bishops have noted: “If religious liberty is eroded here at home, American defense of religious liberty abroad is less credible.”
Religious freedom is a human right for everyone — Christians, Muslims, Jews and people of every other faith. This right includes the freedom to worship and the ability to contribute to the common good through works motivated by faith. Right now, many of our fellow Christians do not enjoy that freedom.
We don’t need more martyrs; we need more commitment from governments and faith leaders to end such violence and protect the rights of all. We cannot let the persecuted be forgotten.
Category: This Catholic Life