Religious Liberty Seen Improving Slightly Worldwide

So Says a Report by Aid to the Church in Need

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ROME, JULY 1, 2002 ( Religious tolerance and dialogue is improving worldwide, but some countries are marred by intolerance, says Aid to the Church in Need’s 2002 Report.

In countries such as Sudan and Yemen, conversion to Catholicism can cost a person his life, said the report, which was presented in Rome. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is a Germany-based international pastoral aid organization of the Catholic Church.

In others, like China and Vietnam, evangelization is strictly controlled by the authorities, who impose severe sanctions for violations of norms, it said.

In India and Indonesia, the terrorism of fundamentalist groups impedes the profession of one’s faith, ACN noted. And in countries such as Russia and Ukraine, an existing religious tradition makes the missionary work of other confessions difficult.

ACN said the situation of religious liberty still has many dark areas and unresolved problems, including persecutions, massacres and repression.

The report’s authors have divided countries into five categories, where religious liberty is infringed to a greater or lesser degree. They are:

Muslim areas

There are extreme cases, such as Sudan, Yemen and particularly Saudi Arabia, where no form of worship other than Islam is officially permitted. Non-Muslim workers are considered second class; they are not even allowed to be buried in the area.
In countries such as Iran, the ban on proselytism applies even to important non-Muslim religious communities. Even in countries like Egypt, where there is no restrictive law, it is virtually impossible to construct new churches.

Communist areas

In China, Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea, places of worship are tolerated but only when under the strict control of state structures that often intervene in delicate decisions, such as the appointment of bishops or the number of candidates to be admitted annually to seminaries.

To this must be added discrimination of a political and social nature, such as the marginalization in the political party of an individual who professes a religious belief, and the violent repression of those who adhere to churches or confessions that are not controlled by the government.

Buddhist and Hindu areas

The spread of religious fanaticism in countries such as India, Sri Lanka and Nepal creates difficulties in coexistence with other minority forms of worship. There is increasing violence against followers of minority religions, perpetrated by extremist groups, and petitions on the part of the local clergy to limit their worship.

Areas of local conflicts

Civil war and ethnic confrontations in Colombia, Sudan and Rwanda have resulted in the killing of missionaries and the massacre of members of various religious communities.

Areas with restrictions

This category includes countries where there are limitations and obstacles of an administrative nature to the full exercise of the right to religious liberty, or where leaders of the majority religion exert pressure on the government not to confer the same citizenship on all confessions.

Among these are former Communist states such as Russia and Ukraine, «secular» Muslim nations such as Turkey and Iraq, and other countries, such as Venezuela, where the government’s policy is in conflict with the Church’s position.

Yet, in general, it is possible to speak of a slight improvement in religious liberty in the world, officials said.

Luca Diotallevi, a professor of the University of Rome, highlighted four positive trends: increase of countries that adopt models of legislative protection for religious diversity, growth in the number of conversions, greater pluralism within religions, and increase in sensitivity and relations among different religions.

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