Last Friday we met at the Bishops Conference for our last seminar of the year. This was delivered by John Pontifex the Head of Press and Information at Aid to the Church in Need, a global organisation helping Christians who are persecuted.
John started by telling us that the right to religious freedom, and to choose or change your religion, is enshrined within the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which is as good a place as any to start for defending Christians worldwide.
We learnt about the real life stories behind the news stories we’ve all seen, including the terrible bombing of a church in Nigeria during Mass on Christmas Day in 2011.
The risks people take to continue to be Christians and practice their faith in many places around the world, especially in the East, were astounding and made me feel pretty lazy not to mention lucky. I’ve certainly never had the feeling that I am literally taking my life in my hands by attending Mass, no matter how dodgy Euston may seem.
In North Sudan, for example, Priests have been kidnapped and their houses ransacked. In China and North Korea, priests and Bishops have been jailed or simply disappeared. In Zimbabwe, the Catholic community have been caught up in conflict between the Anglican church and the government. In these countries and many more people carry out their faith at a considerable cost, their courage must not be forgotten by those of us who take such things for granted.
|Easter in South Sudan|
John Allan, a senior Catholic reporter on world affairs, has described these people as a “New wave of Christian martyrs.” They face persecution on a daily basis and struggle against prejudices which label them as Western sympathisers and outsiders.
The lack of political will to deal with the issue of Christian persecution is staggering. Government’s are aware but unwilling to deal with hate crimes committed against Christians, opting to keep the status quo.
Catholics are often particularly mistrusted by their governments because of our loyalty to Rome and the Pope. Authoritarian regimes try to contain Catholicism like a disease, fearful of it spreading and causing general dissent or disillusionment with the governing authorities.
Upholding the rights of Christians in these countries is especially problematic due to the lack of respect for the rule of law. Local militia groups often claim responsibility for attacks carried out on Christian neighbourhoods or individuals, taking the law into their own hands and interpreting it to suit themselves.
Aid to the Church in Need carries out a range of projects across the world, from building churches in the wake of the 2004 Tsunami, to distributing the Children's Bible wherever it works, as well as funding seminarians in developing countries and providing relief in exceptional circumstances.
|The 50 millionth copy of the Children's Bible was published last month|
John finished his talk by reminding us that whilst fundraising is crucial to the work of Aid to the Church in Need, so is prayer.