Courtesy of British Embassy to the Holy See

FEATURE: Vatican & Diplomats Decry 'Alarming Reality' of Persecuted Christians

British Ambassador to Holy See, Sally Axworthy, Presents Rome Launch of the UK Independent Review on Persecution of Christians

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The Vatican has decried the ‘alarming reality’ of persecuted Christians.
Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, Vatican Under-Secretary for Relations with States, did so yesterday, July 15, at the Basilica of San Bartolomeo all’Isola in Rome, on the occasion of the launch of the Bishop of Truro’s Independent Review for the UK Foreign Secretary of Foreign and Commonwealth Office Support for Persecuted Christians.
The event–organized by the British Ambassador to the Holy See, Sally Axworthy, and the embassy–coincided with the launch of the Review in London. In December 2018, the British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, asked the Anglican Bishop of Truro, Rt. Revd. Philip Mountstephen, to conduct an independent review into the global persecution of Christians.
Moreover, he was requested to map the extent and nature of the phenomenon, to assess the quality of the response of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and to make recommendations for changes in both policy and practice. The Interim Report was published at Easter and the full report was published in the week ahead of the Rome launch.
Ambassador Axworthy told those present how, according to the independent review, «eighty percent of persecuted believers are Christians.» During the encounter, the diplomat introduced the review and presented it to Monsignor Camilleri.
Moreover, there was a panel followed by a Q&A session, in which Cardinal Louis Raphaël I Sako, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon, Iraq, participated along with Fr. Dr. Boniface Mendes, Diocese of Faisalabad, Pakistan, a Representative from Niger.
Expressing gratitude for being invited to speak, Monsignor Camilleri underscored the «alarming reality of the persecution of Christians, an issue that, as the Interim Report prepared by The Right Reverend Philip Mountstephen indicates, is becoming ever more widespread and urgent.»
«Today’s initiative,» he highlighted, «is a tangible example of the growing concern over the problem of discrimination and persecution because of religious belief and of the determination to help bring greater awareness in particular to the tragic situations of Christians in many parts of the world, and to strive to overcome what Pope Francis has described as a “sort of genocide caused by general and collective indifference.’”
He pointed out that it is fitting that the Rome launch takes place in a basilica named for the Apostle Bartholomew who «was himself a victim of religious persecution, suffering martyrdom on account of his Christian faith by, according to legend, being flayed and then beheaded.»
Discrimination, Violence & Persecution, Reprehensible
«At the outset,» the Vatican official stressed, «I would like to underscore that unjust discrimination, violence and persecution of any innocent human being, and especially on the basis of religion and belief, is morally unacceptable and reprehensible.»
«Over the past several years,» he continued, «we have witnessed attacks upon individuals and groups of various religious backgrounds by terrorists, extremist groups and religious fanatics who have no respect for the lives of those who have beliefs different from their own.»
The prelate acknowledged that religious persecution in the broader context is experienced by a variety of religious communities, groups and individuals in many parts of the world, and lamented that «sadly, most of these crimes seem to continue with impunity and with little more than a shameful blush from the international community» and scarce attention.
Religious Leaders Must Promote Peaceful Coexistence
«Naturally, for the Holy See, the disturbing reality of religious persecution is of grave concern not only for those Christians that suffer, but also for members of any religious conviction. Such persecution is an assault on the most fundamental freedom of the human person, namely, the ability to adhere freely, and without fear of persecution, to a religion.
«To be sure, the plight of Christians suffering torture and death is particularly distressing for those of us who also share with them a deep spiritual bond.»
Although international law stipulates that States bear the primary duty for protecting their own citizens, it is also crucial to recognize the important responsibility of religious leaders to promote peaceful coexistence through mutual dialogue and understanding, so that their communities and their followers respect those of different religious backgrounds rather than foment aggression and violence.
He noted that a good example of such an active and vocal collaboration among religious leaders could be found in the Joint Declaration on Human Fraternity  signed on Feb. 4 in Abu Dhabi, by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb:

Together, Pope Francis and the Grand Imam “resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood. These tragic realities are the consequence of a deviation from religious teachings. They result from a political manipulation of religions and from interpretations made by religious groups who, in the course of history, have taken advantage of the power of religious sentiment in the hearts of men and women in order to make them act in a way that has nothing to do with the truth of religion. This is done for the purpose of achieving objectives that are political, economic, worldly and short-sighted”.[2]
ZENIT Senior Vatican Correspondent, Deborah Castellano Lubov, followed Pope Francis’ Feb. 3-5, 2019, Apostolic Trip to the United Arab Emirates, marking the first travel of a Roman Pontiff to the Arabian Peninsula.
Monsignor Camilleri recommended that special consideration be given to the “political manipulation of religions,” since «such a subversion should not be understood only as referring to non-State actors, namely religious extremists or terrorists, who exploit or “politicize” religion in order to further their ideologies.»
He called on governments to ask themselves to what extent are they really committed to defending religious freedom and to combating persecution based on religion and belief.
«How many refrain from condoning such acts, or even condemn them, yet still “collaborate” politically, economically, commercially, militarily or otherwise, or simply by turning a blind eye, with some of the most egregious violators of this fundamental freedom?»
The Vatican’s Under-Secretary for Relations With States noted «it would be remiss of me to fail to mention» that there are forms of religious discrimination and persecution that, «while perhaps less radical on the level of physical persecution, are nevertheless detrimental to the full enjoyment of the freedom of religion and the practice or the expression of that conviction whether in private or in public.»
«Here,» he clarified, «I am referring to a growing tendency, even in established democracies, to criminalize or penalize religious leaders for presenting the basic tenets of their faith, especially regarding the areas of life, marriage and the family.»
The right to religious freedom, the Vatican official stressed, is rooted in the very dignity of the human person, «and it is not only an achievement of a sound political and juridical culture but also a condition for the pursuit of truth that does not impose itself by force.» In this context, he reminded, the Abu Dhabi Document on Human Fraternity underscored the basic dimension of respecting the equal citizenship of all members in a given society, in any particular state.
Full Citizenship
Noting the concept of citizenship is based on the equality of rights and duties, under which all enjoy justice, he underscored: «It is therefore crucial to establish in our societies the concept of full citizenship and reject the discriminatory use of the term minorities which engenders feelings of isolation and inferiority.»
«Its misuse paves the way for hostility and discord,» he decried, stressing: «it undoes any successes and takes away the religious and civil rights of some citizens who are thus discriminated against.»
Decrying religious fundamentalism, Maintaining the presence of Christian communities, particularly in those areas where they are not part of the majority group, is much more than symbolic; it is a strong testimony of faith and a witness that peaceful coexistence among a plurality of religions is possible when the dignity of every person is respected.
The event, held in English, was live streamed.
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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': or

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