Persecution of Christians: A Tally for 2002

Aid to the Church in Need Says 938 Died for Their Faith

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ROME, JUNE 27, 2003 ( More than 900 Christians died for the faith last year, and 100,000 were arrested, says a new report by Aid to the Church in Need.

ACN’s fifth report on religious liberty in the world was presented here Thursday. Prepared by ACN’s Italian section, it states that last year 938 Christians were killed for their faith, 629 were injured and 100,345 were arrested for the same reason.

The 2003 Report on Religious Liberty in the World, a work of 455 pages, analyzes the situation of this fundamental right with country studies, tables and maps.

«We are not a Catholic ‘Amnesty International,'» aid ACN Italian director Attilio Tamburrini. «We do fieldwork, covering realities we have been following for 50 years, in particular, discrimination suffered by Catholics and other believers.»

According to the report, the most critical situation for religious liberty is, perhaps, in Nigeria, Sudan, China and Cuba.

In Europe, the most difficult situations are in Belarus, with one of the most restrictive laws on religious liberty, and Romania, where Eastern-rite Catholic communities are deprived of their churches, confiscated by the Communist regime in 1948.

The report dedicates 30 pages to Russia, emphasizing that «respect for religious liberty has met with new difficulties, especially for the Catholic Church.» The Russian administration has engaged in hostile gestures, including the expulsion of some priests, in response to the «alleged Catholic expansionism.»

The American picture begins with a reference to Mexico, pointing out that «relations between the Church and state are increasingly serene,» and Colombia, which holds the tragic record of 127 Christians killed during 2002.

In Cuba, 86 Christians are imprisoned for the sole reason of having witnessed to their faith. Permissions to build or repair churches are hard to obtain.

In Venezuela, «the Church has been the object of controls and threats on the part of the police» and «insults at the highest institutional level.» In an address Feb. 24, President Hugo Chávez described the Catholic Church as the cancer of his «revolution.»

In the United States, there are positive signs, as freedom of worship is growing in places of work and in educational institutions, ACN said.

There has also been progress in Asia — as is the case of East Timor — and signs of openness — in Qatar, for example. But overall it is the continent with the greatest number of countries where religious liberty is questioned.

In India, Hindu radical nationalism promotes «anti-conversion» laws that worry Christians, ACN said. Problems also persist in Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos. In North Korea, there are 100,000 Christians detained in concentration camps, the group said.

During the presentation, Father Bernardo Cervellera, the new director of Asia News, an agency of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions (PIME), explained that in China, «religion is valued only in relation to the government’s support. The religious element in China has been absorbed into politics.»

This leads the government to control religion to the point of naming bishops and interfering in matters of faith, Father Cervellera said.

He said he believes that the excessive control of the Communist Party and of the state-sanctioned Patriotic Association over religious affairs «denotes a failure of the fierce opening to the capitalist system. They thought that in this way they would respond to the people’s longings, but it hasn’t been like this.»

The ACN report said that most Muslim countries practice discrimination against non-Muslims. The report also said that the center of international terrorism is moving slowly from the Middle East to the southern region of the Asia.

In Africa, research coordinator Marco Invernizzi highlighted «two very serious cases: Sudan and Nigeria,» where there is a radicalization of intransigent Muslim positions, as proved by the approval of Islamic law.

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