According to Bishop John McAreavey, the Chair of the Council for Justice & Peace of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, statistics show that the situation of Christian persecution in the world is far more dire than most people understand.
The bishop called the breadth and scale of the suffering of Christians “unprecedented.”
At least 100,000 Christians are killed every year because of their faith, which amounts to 273 per day, or eleven every hour, McAreavey said, without mentioning those who are “being tortured, imprisoned, exiled, threatened, excluded, attacked and discriminated against on a widespread scale.”
In a sobering presentation before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade this past week, McAreavey said that Christianity is the most oppressed religion in the world, and the followers of Jesus are actively persecuted in some 110 countries.
More striking still, he contended, according to the International Society for Human Rights, a non-religious organization, “80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed against Christians.”
The bishop recalled how the former Chief Rabbi of Britain, Jonathan Sacks, recently described this suffering of Christians in the Middle East as “one of the crimes against humanity of our time,” comparing it to the Jewish pogroms in Europe and saying he was “appalled at the lack of protest it has evoked.”
The barbaric actions against Christians, particularly in the Middle East, he said, call out for an urgent, coordinated and determined response from the international community. They are “a threat to our common humanity and to the religious and cultural patrimony of the world” as well as putting at risk “the peace and stability of the entire planet.”
The bishop noted with dismay what he called “a reluctance, including on the part of Christian based international aid agencies, to give direct support to minority religious communities, including to the Christian Churches.”
McAreavey also had strong words for the leaders of Western nations that refuse to commit to assisting Christians in the Middle East, or even to acknowledge the gravity of their plight.
“Perhaps because of a fear of being seen as less than aggressively secular in their own country,” he said, “many Governments of majority Christian countries in the west seem reluctant to give direct aid to Churches and religious minorities.”
The West also runs the risk of losing its own understanding of the importance of faith and of religion for a healthy society, he said, which can endanger religious liberty even in democratic nations.
As Catholics, he said, we appeal “to all governments and societies to affirm the vital importance of respecting the right to religious freedom and conscience as a fundamental principle of genuine pluralism in a tolerant society.”
Because “where this pivotal right to freedom of conscience and religion is denied, diluted or culturally suppressed other human rights abuses follow in its wake,” he said.
The denial of religious freedom “can run from subtle cultural exclusion of the religious voice from the public square and refusal to accommodate reasonable differences of conscience to active discrimination, forced displacement, exploitation and loss of life,” he said.
Unfortunately, McAreavey asserted, even in many countries that “pride themselves on being free, tolerant and diverse,” the denial of religious freedom is already a reality.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome