150,000 Christians killed for their faith each year: Cardinal Dolan
Despite great turmoil– or perhaps, because of that turmoil– in the Middle East, our Holy Father arrived in Lebanon Friday for a three-day visit. Even as a deadly civil war rages in nearby (50 miles away) Syria, and regardless of the mob attack in Libya which killed four Americans this week, Benedict spoke of going to Lebanon as a pilgrim of peace, “as a friend of God and as a friend of men.”
Benedict will be addressing concerns by the region’s bishops over the plight of Christians in the Middle East. War, political instability and economic hardships have driven thousands from their traditional communities, dating to early Christianity in the Holy Land and Iraq. The turmoil stemming from the Arab Spring has deeply unsettled the Middle East’s Chrristian population, resulting in a modern-day exodus of Christians from persecution in their home countries. There are around 20 million Christians in the Middle East – including some 5 million Catholics – which account for 5 percent of the region’s entire population. A century ago Christians made up around 20 percent.
“We need to be respectful of other religious traditions at the same time that we unequivocally proclaim that violence in the name of religion is wrong,” said Timony Cardinal Dolan two days ago, speaking at the Catholic University of America on the topic of international religious freedom.
Americans are shocked when they read headlines of attacks on innnocent people of faith in far off places, he said, but “too often the images of pain face and with it the need for concerted action.” Dolan recounted the words of Bishop Shleman Warduni of Iraq at the USCCB meeting in Atlanta on June 13, when he implored the bishops for assistance: “We beg you to help. We want only peace, security, freedom … please no more death, no more explosions, no more injustice.”
Persecution and Intolerance is Now “Epidemic”
Cardinal Dolan noted that while the focus of his talk was on threats to international religious freedom, there are serious challenges to religious freedom within our country, as well. He said that although nobody would confuse or equate the marginalization of religious with the actual persecution and killing of Christians and other people of faith in the world, these problems threaten to marginalize the Church and her educational, charitable, and health care institutions.
“Not only is it morally imperative, consonant with the urgent gospel demands of justice and charity, for us as Catholics to be prophetic leaders in defending our co-religionists around the world who are today being ‘thrown to the lions,’ but it is strategically necessary, as our own laudable efforts to defend our ‘first and most cherished freedom’ here at home, are hollow and hypocritical if not coupled with a ringing solicitude for those under more overtly violent attack throughout the world.”
Dolan cited the 2012 Annaul Report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to show that Christians are being persecuted and killed at an alarming rate in many Muslim-majority nations. The report noted that in Egypt there is “a climate of impunity in the face of repeated attacks against Coptic Christians and their Churches.” In Etritrea there are “an estimated 2,000-3,000 religious prisoners and reports of torture and other inhumane treatment of these prisoners.” Christians in countries such as Iraq and Vietnam suffer, as well, with similar persecution of arrests, detentions, harassments of groups and individuals, violence, and land confiscations.
This violence and persecution is leading to a massive exodus of Christians from the Middle East, the cardinal said, with “thousands upon thousands” forced out of countries where Christianity has not only flourished, but in many cases where it first took root 2000 years ago.
The suffering of Christians in many countries around the world, he said, is a warning sign that the religious freedom and fundamental human rights of all people are at risk, he said, citing Pope Benedict’s reminder last December on the World Day of Peace that “the denial of religious freedom is a “threat to security and peace, and an obstacle to the achievement of authentic and integral human development.” This perseuction, Dolan said, calls us to action on behalf of the entire human family and to promote the religious freedom of our brothers and sisters in all nations and of all religious traditions.
Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong!
(1 Cor. 16:13)