Archive for the ‘persecution’ Category

By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, FEB. 28, 2010 (Zenit.org).- In recent years, religion has come to be seen as a problem or a threat to national or international security. One strategy for countering religious extremism has been to attempt to banish faith to the purely private sphere. This is a big mistake, according to a report released Feb. 23 by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

The report, “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy,” was authored by a task force of 32 experts, ranging from former government officials, religious leaders, heads of international organizations, and scholars.

Currently, the authors of the report argued, the U.S. government does not have the capacity to fully understand and effectively engage religious communities. There have been improvements in the past years in recognizing the role religion plays in global affairs, but this process is still far from complete.

For better or worse, religion is playing an increasingly influential role in politics, the report observed. The trend to globalization along with new media technologies has facilitated the spread of extremist views. This is not about to go away, the report noted, and it urged the U.S. government not only to improve its knowledge of religious communities and trends, but also to develop better policies to engage believers.

It’s important to realize, the report commented, that religion is not some kind of a secondary human experience without any bearing on political developments and that we can therefore ignore. “Religion — through its motivating ideas and the mobilizing power of its institutions — is a driver of politics in its own right,” the report affirmed.

The report also warned against viewing religion solely through the focus of terrorism, as this would lead to overlooking the positive role of religion in dealing with global problems and promoting peace.

It’s also necessary to move beyond a focus just on the Muslim world and to take into account other religious communities, the report said.

Global

While attention is often focused on the Middle East when it comes to the interaction between religion and politics the report pointed out that religion is a factor in many other countries.

China, for example, has a number of indigenous new religious movements such as Falun Gong as well as a rapidly-growing sector of legal and underground Christian churches and Muslim communities.

Buddhist monks have justified, and even promoted, conflict against Tamils in Sri Lanka, as well as marching against a repressive regime in Burma. Tensions between Christian and Muslims exist in Nigeria, and Indonesia, but also in European cities like London, Amsterdam, and Paris.

In India political debates are often influenced by different visions of Hinduism and the proper relationship of Hindus to other ethnic and religious communities.

The rise of Pentecostalism in Latin America and of Christian churches and preachers in Africa and Asia are other important religious developments that warrant attention, the report added.

And while religion has fomented bloody conflicts in countries such as Bosnia and Sudan, it has also promoted peace and forgiveness in South Africa and Northern Ireland. Alongside religious extremists there are other figures such as Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama, the report noted.

“The many examples of religious contributions to democratization and of religious leaders who help provide foreign assistance, implement development programs, and build peace are emblematic of how religion can play a positive role everywhere in the world,” the task force affirmed.

Patterns

The members of the task force identified six principal patterns in the role religion plays in international affairs.

1. The influence of religious groups — some old and others new — is growing in many areas of the world and affects virtually all sectors of society.

2. Changing patterns of religious identification in the world are having significant political implications.

3. Religion has benefited and been transformed by globalization, but it also has become a primary means of organizing opposition to it.

4. Religion is playing an important public role where governments lack capacity and legitimacy in periods of economic and political stress.

5. Religion is often used by extremists as a catalyst for conflict and a means of escalating tensions with other religious communities.

6. The growing salience of religion today is deepening the political significance of religious freedom as a universal human right and a source of social and political stability.

In more concrete terms the report pointed out how these trends can present challenges in making policy decisions. For example, while the United States supports the spread of democracy, in some countries the introduction of popular elections could give greater power to religious extremists who often have anti-American views. So there needs to be a reconciliation between the promotion of human rights and democracy with protecting national interests, according to the task force.

The report also pointed out that the promotion of religious freedom as part of the foreign policy of the United States needs to be done in a way that is not seen as some kind of challenge by Western society on local religions or customs.

Recommendations

In dealing with religion’s role in public affairs the report advocated that the best way to counter extremism is through a greater engagement with religion and religious communities.

This means listening carefully to the concerns and fears they have and then entering into a substantive dialogue with them. At the same time it’s important not to overstep this dialogue by intervening in theological disputes or by trying to manipulate religion, the task force warned.

One of the most important things the United States must do, the report noted, is to learn how to communicate effectively. Therefore, in addition to listening to what religious communities are saying government needs to be more effective in presenting America’s own views. It’s also vital to keep in mind that actions often speak louder than words, so government policies must back up its media strategy, the report added.

Among the measures proposed in the report was the need to give a comprehensive instruction to diplomats, military personnel and other officials, on the role of religion in world affairs.

The report also recommended that the United States continue to promote religious freedom. “Imposed limitations on religious freedom weaken democracy and civil society, poison political discourse, and foment extremism,” the task force commented.

Healthy cooperation

Religion’s role in politics was a theme touched upon by Benedict XVI in his Jan. 11 address to the members of the diplomatic corps.

“Sadly, in certain countries, mainly in the West, one increasingly encounters in political and cultural circles, as well in the media, scarce respect and at times hostility, if not scorn, directed towards religion and towards Christianity in particular,” he commented.

Echoing the views expressed in the Chicago Council report the Pontiff said that: “It is clear that if relativism is considered an essential element of democracy, one risks viewing secularity solely in the sense of excluding or, more precisely, denying the social importance of religion.”

Such an approach, however, only creates confrontation and division, the Pope pointed out. “There is thus an urgent need to delineate a positive and open secularity which, grounded in the just autonomy of the temporal order and the spiritual order, can foster healthy cooperation and a spirit of shared responsibility,” he urged. A cooperation that will greatly benefit efforts to promote peace in the world.

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Interview With Mark Miravalle

ROME, SEPT. 25, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Violations of human rights and religious freedom continue to be widespread in China, says the author of a book on the Asian country.

Mark Miravalle, a professor of theology and Mariology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, traveled to China last summer and saw firsthand the daily struggles of the people and the faithful in the country.

In this interview with ZENIT, he talks about his book “The Seven Sorrows of China” (Queenship Publications), and some of the testimonies from underground Church clergy, religious and laity, as well as a confidential interview with an underground bishop.

Q: What led you to visit China and write this book on the situation there?

Miravalle: I went to China with the sole intention of helping friends there who were taking in terminally ill abandoned orphans and caring for them in a Mother Teresa-type manner.

Each day instead brought with it an encounter with the horrific violations of human dignity and religious freedom that have been significantly neglected in the secular media’s recent portrayal of a “new democratic and open” China. I found the opposite to be the case.

Women are being forced to have abortions by the population police in every province. Bishops and priests who refuse to cooperate with the government-run Chinese patriotic church are oftentimes hounded down, arrested, imprisoned and sometimes tortured.

Underground seminaries are at times no more than an abandoned building without electricity or heat. Religious and human-rights violations are ubiquitous.

Q: What are the seven sorrows of China that you refer to in the title of your book?

Miravalle: The seven sorrows represent seven categories or concrete cases of oppression presently being experienced by the Chinese people. For example, one sorrow conveys the account of a woman I met in a secret refugee house for pregnant women who wanted to have their babies in spite of government prohibitions. She had to flee the house in her hospital gown and rush into a taxi held by a Catholic religious sister in order to save her baby from abortion.

Another sorrow refers to an underground bishop who risked his life to give an interview so that the West could know the real story about religious persecution in China. Still another sorrow tells of a small Catholic village that, through Catholic solidarity Chinese-style, are having large families and public Catholic liturgies in spite of the one-child policy and government opposition to unsanctioned public religious gatherings.

Love of our Blessed Mother was so frequently referred to by members of the underground Church. I could not help but think of how her heart, pierced seven times historically because of the innocent suffering of her divine Son, continues to be pierced mystically as she observes the unjust suffering of the noble Chinese people. She sees Jesus in each innocent Chinese person tortured, abused, aborted. So should we.

Q: What about the fact that Beijing has been awarded the 2008 Olympics? Isn’t the Chinese government trying to convince the West that it is more open and democratic?

Miravalle: This is precisely the question I asked the underground bishop I was able to interview.

We met secretly in an impoverished family dwelling near his cathedral, as he had numerous police watching the cathedral. His answer was, “The Chinese government is like the fox that goes up to the chicken and says, ‘Happy New Year,’ and then devours the chicken. We are not free to practice our Catholic faith. I have been imprisoned for a total of 20 years, where I have experienced hard labor, and witnessed the torture and killing of priests and laity.”

When I suggested that perhaps it would be imprudent to include the reference to 20 years in prison for fear that it would break his anonymity, he said there would be no problem including this fact since all underground bishops have spent approximately 20 years in prison for refusing to compromise their Catholic faith and their loyalty to the Holy Father.

Q: Did the underground bishop have any comment on Benedict XVI’s recent letter to the Church in China?

Miravalle: Yes, the bishop had received a copy of the letter just a few days before our interview. The Chinese government blocked all Web sites, including the Vatican Web site, that posted the Holy Father’s letter, but the underground Church has its information networks.

The bishop praised Benedict XVI’s letter for its wisdom and prudence. In fact, my interview with the bishop was interrupted 10 minutes after it began, because regional police came to the cathedral searching for the bishop. The people at the house were afraid they were taking the bishop back to prison.

A half-hour later, the bishop returned to our clandestine meeting place, and told me the police had come to warn him not to say anything publicly about the Pope’s letter. The bishop then smiled and commented how the inevitable could not be stopped.

Q: What about the government’s one-child policy? How is this being enforced?

Miravalle: I received testimonies from women who had gone to the hospital nine months pregnant and in labor, but without the government’s certificate allowing for birth. After consultation with the population police, a doctor or nurse would re-enter the room with a needle and inject a substance into the abdomen of the woman, which would instantaneously kill the unborn child.

Other married couples would return home from the hospital with their second child and find their home burned to the ground. Still others would be forced to pay high fines or return to homes where everything was removed, including windows and doors, except for the kitchen table.

Does this sound like a new, democratic, religion-respecting government? What if any of our Western families received this type of treatment for trying to bring a beautiful new baby into the world?

Just last week, another underground bishop died in prison and his body was cremated six hours later in the middle of the night. Was there something to hide? What if this happened to one of our bishops in the West?

Q: Did you see any signs of hope for the Church in China during your visit?

Miravalle: Yes. In a few remarkable villages within provinces known for their heroic stands of faith and martyrdom for our Catholic faith under untold persecution, many families had multiple children and public Masses and Marian processions.

I flew to one particular village and interviewed the parish priest, asking how this was possible in light of Beijing’s one-child policy. He answered, “Here, we are united. The priests would die for the bishop, and people would die and have died for their bishop and priests, and the bishop is completely loyal to the Holy Father. We are so united that they would have to wipe us all out, and they will not do that now.”

I asked the parish priest and religious sister translating for us, what makes this village different. They responded: “We rely on the Eucharist, Our Lady, and the blood and prayers of the martyrs before us. Here we are Catholic. If you do not follow the Holy Father, then you are not Catholic.”

Q: What can the Church in the West do to help the Church in China?

Miravalle: Our hearts should feel pierced as we hear of the daily plight of our Chinese Catholic brothers and sisters. This should lead to committed daily prayer for the Church and the people of China.

I also asked the underground bishop this question. He said, “Pray, pray for the Chinese Church. Finances can help, but most of all, pray.”

The bishop added that Communism is not the only evil facing his people.

He shared: “In the last few years, my people are being affected with a secular, worldly idea of happiness, that they can find their ultimate happiness in this life. They have lost their desire for prayer and sacrifice. This is an even greater danger than the Communist government.”

The bishop then exhorted, “Pray to Our Lady, Maria! She is the remedy for the situation in China. It is like the battle in the Book of Revelation, between the woman and the dragon. It is first a spiritual, cosmic battle. Pray to Our Lady for China.”



Professor Shares E-Mails From Father Ragheed

ROME, JUNE 13, 2007 (Zenit.org ).- “The situation here is worse than hell,” Father Ragheed Ganni wrote to a former professor the day before he and three deacons were shot after Sunday Mass in Mosul, Iraq.

Father Robert Christian, a theology professor at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelicum, in Rome, spoke at the requiem Mass held in that school on Tuesday. There, Father Ganni had studied theology and ecumenism.

On June 3, Father Ganni and three deacons, Basman Yousef Daoud, Ghasan Bidawid and Wadid Hanna, were killed in front of the Church of the Holy Spirit.

Father Christian began his homily, saying: “On Saturday, June 2, I received an e-mail from Mosul. In part it read: ‘The situation here is worse than hell, and my church has been attacked a few more times since we last met. Last week, two guards in it were wounded after an attack. We shall meet in the near future and have a chat about all these events. God bless, Ragheed.'”

Father Christian continued: “The patriarch of the Chaldeans called them martyrs. And martyrs, who conform closely to the passion and death of Jesus Christ, have been revered since Christian antiquity as saints.”

A hell

Father Christian called a hell that which “those left behind are experiencing: Ragheed’s family and friends; the flock he pastured; his Chaldean Church, other Christians, and yes, Muslims, too, trapped in the senseless vortex of blind hatred and violence that is daily life in Iraq.”

“Ragheed could have fled,” Father Christian continued. “As far as I know, he came to Italy three times after he returned to Mosul upon finishing his licentiate in ecumenism at the Angelicum.

“But Ragheed had a strong sense of his priestly duty to be an icon of the Good Shepherd for his people.”

Father Christian also read a message he received from Father Ganni last October.

It read: “Dear Father Christian, How are you? I’m really happy to get your message, and to know that there are people who still think of and pray for my country.

“The situation, as you can follow in the news, is dreadful. Christians are suffering twice, first because of the situation, second because of their religion.

“The Pope’s speech lit a fire in the city. A Syrian Orthodox priest was beheaded; my parish church was attacked five times. I was threatened even before that priest was kidnapped, but I was very careful about moving around. I postponed my vacation twice because I couldn’t leave the city under such conditions.

“I was planning to travel to Europe on Sept. 18, but I moved it to Oct. 4. Then I had to change the date to Nov. 1.

“Ramadan was a disaster for us in Mosul. Hundreds of Christian families fled outside the city — including my family and uncles. About 30 people left all their properties and fled, having been threatened.

“It is not easy but the grace of the Lord gives support and strength. We face death every day here.”

Courageous witness

These words show, Father Christian said, that Father Ganni “knew he was facing the threat of death for his faith. But he also knew that staying there was his duty, giving courageous witness to our faith in the resurrected Lord.”

The professor continued: “We are used to teaching future leaders of the Church. When we hear about one of our former students becoming a bishop, we rejoice. But having taught a martyr is something else entirely. And sometimes we professors learn from our students.

“The emotions are strong: sadness, pain, anger and the feeling of helplessness.

“However, there is the awareness that we are before a person who was prepared to pay the supreme price; a person who wanted to live and die heroically; a person ready to shed his blood for the life of the faithful. This awareness humbles us.”

Body and blood

Father Christian explained the source of Father Ganni’s fortitude: “The strength of Father Ragheed was the Eucharist, and in his homilies he taught the faithful that the body and blood of Jesus, who was sacrificed and resurrected, strengthened the union among the members of the mystical body of Christ.

“May the Eucharist give us the courage to live and die like Father Ragheed.

“Giving into the temptation of revenge does not honor Father Ragheed, but rather promoting peace, dialogue, and constructing or building a civilization of love.”

On Sunday, another requiem Mass was celebrated by Father Joseph Chedid in the Church of St. Roukoz of the Antonine Maronite order in Lebanon.

In his homily, Father Chedid, an Antonine priest and friend of Father Ragheed, spoke about the “souls of the martyrs whose blood was shed to witness to the word of God.”

He asked the faithful to pray to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the Iraqi people, and especially for Christians, to remove the “dark clouds hanging over them during the dreadful situation they are experiencing.”

Interview With Lebanese Presidential Hopeful

ROME, JUNE 11, 2007 (Zenit.org).- A candidate for the Lebanese presidency says that the country needs a balanced government, which includes the participation of Christians.

General Michel Aoun, 72, a Lebanese military and political leader, came to Rome last week to visit Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Vatican secretary for relations with states.

Aoun returned to his country just two years ago, after spending 15 years exiled in Paris. He has become one of the leading figures in the complex Lebanese political scene.

As the leader of the opposition-aligned Free Patriotic Movement, he is a presidential hopeful.

In this interview with ZENIT, Aoun reflects on the role of Christianity in the Middle East.

Q: General, you are the leader of one of the biggest parliamentary factions with an Arab Christian majority. What does this visit to the Vatican mean to you?

Auon: To me, the Vatican is the supreme spiritual reference point in the heart of the Catholic Church. We can also say that it is an important moral authority in the Christian world in general, Catholic or not. The Vatican’s positions are influential at an ethical and moral level. And we, as Maronites, are part of the Catholic world.

When Lebanon goes through crises or challenges, we find it important to keep the appropriate Vatican authorities informed of the situation, especially since the media coverage sometimes reflects the interests of those covering the news and not the reality lived by the Lebanese people.

From this arises the importance of my coming here in person, to have a dialogue and discuss with [Vatican] authorities and get this image clear. We certainly met with people equipped with a critical sense, and therefore able to discern what is true and what is false. This means that the Church’s position, be it a moral question, or advice or something else, is more useful and objective.

Q: Given your faith experience, is it possible to speak of Arab Christianity? Could we say that such a thing exists?

Aoun: Arab Christianity was one of the first forms of Christianity that expanded throughout the Arab peninsula, Mesopotamia and even to India.

There are multiple traces of a Christian culture that can be seen in northern Syria even today; and recorded Arab history tells us that Christians were widely spread. There are remains of only a small number of Christian Arabs but, historically speaking, they were present throughout the Arab peninsula.

Q: What is the present role of Christian Arabs in modern-day Lebanon?

Aoun: The Christians of Lebanon comprise Maronites, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholics and other confessions. Setting aside the fact that there are five patriarchs that bear the name of “Patriarch of Antioch,” we know that the first Christians and the Good News came out of Antioch.

In my book, I recall the Christian presence in the East, our historic roots, and the fact that we are not immigrants but authentic inhabitants established in the East 662 years before the birth of Islam. There is some confusion between Westerners regarding what is considered Arab. Everything that is Arab is not necessarily Muslim.

The Arab race includes all regions. Regarding the Arab civilization, it is the Christians that have worked to keep it alive, and the ones that have preserved the Arab language. They were among the most illustrious scribes, and in the time of the Caliphate, the court poets were Christians — for example, the poet Al-Akhtal.

Arabs form part of the Eastern world, thus the importance of the postsynodal apostolic exhortation written by Pope John Paul II, and published in May 1997, in which he speaks of the Christians of Lebanon and the East.

On the other hand, the Christians of Lebanon these days serve as a reference point for the Middle East; and the model of their relationships serve as an assurance and guarantee of the Christian presence in the rest of the Arab countries of the region.

Q: In Islam there is an intimate link between the political and the social. Do you expect Lebanon to someday separate politics from religion?

Auon: As a political movement, we seek to separate the political sphere from the religious one. Lebanon has known periods — like the Ottoman War, which was one of the most cruel and unjust — during which people were forced to “affiliate” with a particular religion, under a policy of marginalization and persecution.

The situation started to improve after World War I, when Lebanon became a French protectorate and later gained its independence thanks to the national pact. At that time the Christian influence in the social life was notable and Christian elements were active in the political life until the events of the ’70s — the civil confrontation between Christians and Muslims — 1975-1980 — when the political equilibrium was shaken and Christians were marginalized.

Lebanon can’t survive without a balanced government and the participation of everyone, which includes Christians, Shiites and Sunnis. Michel Chiha — may he rest in peace — one of the most prominent figures who understood well the Lebanese reality, said, “Whoever tries to eliminate religion in Lebanon is trying in reality to eliminate Lebanon.”

“Thank You for Your Solidarity”

CAIRO, Egypt, JUNE 9, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a message sent to ZENIT by Auxiliary Bishop Boutros Fahim Awad Hanna of Alexandria for the Copts, in response to a letter written by a Muslim friend of Father Ragheed Ganni.

Father Ganni and three deacons were shot and killed in Mosul, Iraq, on Sunday after Mass.

* * *

My Dear Brother, Adnam,
Peace be with you,

Thank you for your humanity, your faith, your fidelity and your solicitude. Your letter to Father Ragheed, assassinated in Iraq, is a message of peace that resounds in an absurd world of mad and senseless wars.

Thank you for your sensitivity toward all, and in the face of everything. I have known you, friend, brother, Muslim believer, exceptional for your humanity and for your faith.

Thank you for your solidarity. I hope to always encounter people like you, who can add zest and value to life, regardless of which religion one professes. I hope that all together we would be able to work for our Arab world and for all our brethren that suffer for so many different reasons, including, among others, religious ones.

Hoping to see you soon, I thank you and I embrace you with fraternal affection in the one God that inspires all in love for life and peace.

Bishop Boutros Fahim Awad Hanna (formerly Father Kamai Fahim)
Auxiliary bishop of Alexandria for the Copts