Conference on Christian Martyrs

Archbishop Viganò Addresses Participants

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South Bend, Indiana, Nov. 12, 2012 ( From November 4 to 6, the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, hosted a conference on Christian martyrs.

The conference, “Seed of the Church: Telling the Story of Today’s Christian Martyrs,” was sponsored by the university’s Institute for Church Life.

Among those addressing the conference was the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. He gave a talk, titled: “Religious Freedom, Persecution of the Church, and Martyrdom.”

The Italian prelate started his talk by noting there are a variety of ways in which religious freedom is threatened. While some are obvious, there are other forms of religious persecution that while more subtle are no less dangerous.

Archbishop Viganò went on to mention the lack of religious freedom in countries such as China, India and Pakistan, and the region of the Middle East. “The heavy burdens imposed on Christians in all of these regions can be, and often are, physical and harsh,” he commented.

The issues of religious freedom, persecution, and martyrdom, should be of vital concern, he told the participants at the conference.

Martyrdom is not limited to cases of torture and death, he explained. Those who are opposed to the faith can use the tactic of ridiculing believers so that they no longer play a part in mainstream society and public life.

“It would seem, then, that the objective of persecution is to remove from the public square the beliefs themselves and the public manifestations without necessarily eliminating the persons who hold the beliefs,” he continued.

“The victimization may not be designed to destroy the believer but only the belief and its open manifestations. From the public viewpoint, the believer remains but the faith eventually disappears,” he said.


Archbishop Viganò defined religious freedom as: “the exercise of fidelity to God and His Holy Church without compromise.”

Religious freedom, he observed, is not contingent on the state’s recognition, because it subsists in our human nature and belongs to us as persons.

There are those, however, he noted who question whether religious belief should have a role in public affairs and civil life.

“The problem of persecution begins with this reluctance to accept the public role of religion in these affairs, especially but not always when the protection of religious freedom involves beliefs that the powerful of the political society do not share,” he said.

Turning to comment on current matters in the United States the nuncio referred to the recent controversy over the HHS regulations and the pressures being placed on Catholic charities and businesses.

“Evidence is emerging which demonstrates that the threat to religious freedom is not solely a concern for non-democratic and totalitarian regimes,” he pointed out.

Archbishop Viganò also referred to the 2010 case in England of an evangelical Christian couple who were found by the courts to be unfit to be foster parents because of their faith regarding sexual morality.

“As a result of the court’s decision, the exercise of religious faith which is protected in theory by juridical texts is, in fact, subject to forfeit,” he commented.

The couple in question, Mr and Mrs Johns, he said, were only doing what is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“If George Orwell were still alive today, he would certainly have material to write a sequel to his famous novel 1984 in which the totalitarian state, amongst other things, found effective means from distancing children from their parents and monopolizing the control of educational processes especially on moral issues,” he added.


Turning back to events in the United States Archbishop Viganò referred once again to concerns over health care legislation regarding topics such as contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

He also mentioned concerns over sex education in public schools, where at a young age children are exposed to ideas about “family diversity” that includes acceptance of same-sex couples. This “indoctrination” young children means that religious freedom has once more been pushed aside, he said.

Another problem he singled out was that of teachers in Catholic institutions who openly dissent from Catholic doctrine on a number of issues. This, he said, “is a grave and major problem.”

The Apostolic Nuncio to the United States finished by calling on the lay faithful to be active in temporal affairs and to defend religious freedom.

“And so, let us go into the Lord’s vineyard together, with love, hope, freedom, the firmness of the convictions of our faith, and the help that God so willingly extends to us,” he urged.

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