by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
The annual celebration of Thanksgiving is one of our nation’s best traditions. With all the challenges our country continues to face, we remain incredibly blessed.
Among our most cherished freedoms is religious liberty. Sadly in recent years, there have been efforts in the United States to diminish the scope of religious freedom and the protection of conscience rights. Yet, compared to most of the rest of the world, we remain extremely fortunate.
Recently, the Catholic Bar Association held its second annual meeting in Kansas City. One of the special guests for the meeting was Jan Figel, who serves as the European Union’s first special envoy for the promotion of religious freedom or belief around the world.
Previously, Ambassador Figel served in his native Slovakia as the secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and he was his nation’s chief negotiator for acceptance into the European Union.
Ambassador Figel shared the Pew Research Center estimates that 77 percent of the world’s population lives in countries that experience what they term a high or very high level of religious restriction.
In 2016, the Knights of Columbus published a 300-page report that detailed and provided evidence regarding the genocide of Christians and other religious minorities by ISIS. It was shortly after the release of the Knights of Columbus report that then-Secretary of State John Kerry publicly acknowledged that ISIS was committing genocide against Christians in the Middle East.
The executive report entitled “Persecuted and Forgotten,” authored by Aid to the Church in Need, chronicles what it terms the oppression and persecution of Christians throughout the world. The following is a summary description of the religious freedom conditions in just a few of the countries included in their report.
China: New regulations led to more churches destroyed and crosses pulled down. Surveillance of religious activities has increased. The underground Catholic Church has experienced mounting pressure to conform to state demands or disband. And recently, a consecrated bishop has not been allowed to exercise his ministry.
Egypt: More than 100 killed in three major attacks on Christian churches and an increasing number of individual Christians being murdered by extremists.
India: Christians have faced a rising wave of violence with attacks drastically increasing since March 2017 elections. 316 incidents of violence against Christians were reported in the first five months of this year.
Iran: There has been an escalation in anti- Christian sentiment in media outlets and proliferation of anti- Christian publications. Christian churches have experienced land confiscations, visa refusals, targeted surveillance and intimidation attacks.
Iraq: ISIS tried to eliminate Christianity in areas under their control destroying churches and coercing conversions to Islam under threats of death.
Nigeria: Increased attacks by Islamic extremists have resulted in the murders of many Christians and the devastation of Christian villages. Church reports indicate local government and military collusion in the killing of Christians, as well as supplying funding and weapons to extremist groups.
North Korea: Christians are often accused of being U.S. spies. They are sent to political internment camps, where they experience sexual violence, starvation, torture and execution.
Pakistan: Discrimination has increased against Christians where they are denied job and educational opportunities. Many of the textbooks used in schools contain anti-Christian content
Syria: Horrific accounts of genocidal atrocities by ISIS. A disproportionately high number of Christians have fled Syria. Some estimates are that more than 50 percent of Christians have left Syria.
By no means is this a comprehensive list of all the countries where Christians are being oppressed or persecuted.
November 26 has been designated “A Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians” and the week of Nov. 26 – Dec. 2 designated as “A Week of Awareness for the Plight of Persecuted Christians.”
Bishop Oscar Cantu, the chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, has called on Catholics throughout the United States to:
- Pray for those suffering persecution.
- Donate to Catholic organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Near East Welfare Association, or Aid to the Church in Need.
- Advocate with your U.S. senators and congressional representative for our government to do more to assist those experiencing religious persecution. Urge them to work to expand, rather than contract, the number of refugees of religious persecution that our nation accepts annually.
There are some hopeful signs. With the defeat of ISIS in most of Iraq, some Christians are beginning to return. Unfortunately, for most of them, their homes have been either completely destroyed or severely damaged.
The Knights of Columbus have initiated a project encouraging every Knights of Columbus council across the United States to raise enough money to rebuild one home. Obviously, the Knights welcome assistance in this effort from the broader Catholic community.
Special envoy Jan Figel concluded his address to the Catholic Bar Association with the reminder that 2017 is the 100th anniversary of both the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and the Marian apparitions in Fatima, Portugal. He posed the question: Which event is still profoundly influencing the lives of people today?
I ask every member of the archdiocese to pray this week for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith throughout the world.
Consider participating in a weekday Mass or spending an additional hour in a eucharistic adoration chapel or praying a rosary for those oppressed or persecuted for their Christian faith. In your prayer, ask the Lord how he desires you to provide tangible support to those suffering for the faith.
Jesus tells us: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Mt 5: 11-12).
I have to believe that Jesus will also bless those who seek to aid those who are persecuted because of their Christian faith.