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On Religious Freedom in the World

Interview with Aid to the Church in Need

ROME, JULY 25, 2005 (Zenit.org).- To follow Christ continues to entail suffering discrimination and even martyrdom, states the 2005 Report on Religious Freedom in the World, compiled by Aid to the Church in Need.

In this interview with ZENIT, Attilio Tamburrini, director of the Italian section of the international charity, explains the advances of challenges of religious freedom for this year.

Q: This year the report was presented by the president of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, Pier Ferdinando Casini, at the Chamber’s headquarters, in the presence of Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. What does this gesture mean?

Tamburrini: It is something objectively important, as the denunciation of violations of religious freedom, which we have documented for seven years, has produced little by little greater interest, both on the part of United States as well as of the Church. It is a sign of hope for the future.

Q: Why?

Tamburrini: Because in the whole of the free world, the only country that has an organization which is concerned with religious freedom at the institutional level is the United States.

It is a commission already instituted by President Bill Clinton which gathers information, examines situations, meets with the president, the Senate and the House, and gives indications on countries that violate religious freedom, with practical consequences from the point of view of economic and diplomatic relations.

In Europe the idea that a state should address violations of religious freedom does not even exist; at most we have commissions or groups which are concerned in general with respect for human rights.

The presentation of the report in Italy might be a first step to open a new perspective on violations of religious freedom. At least it shows that there is concern about this topic.

Q: What’s new in this report?

Tamburrini: Hindu fundamentalism, which we had already denounced in the other reports, is manifesting itself now with particular force. It is worrying to see that in Indian states in which the Hindu Party has a large majority, there is a tendency to identify religious identity with statehood. In this way, whoever is not Hindu becomes a foreign body in that country.

We witness ever more intense attacks on churches and mosques, and, as Father Bernardo Cervellera, director of AsiaNews, has denounced, attacks on Christian education centers.

These attacks occur because the Christian centers are open to all, without any discrimination, so that even pariahs who go to a Christian university can become doctors, whereas for the Indian caste structure, this is inadmissible.

A recent news item was alarming, which elicited the protest of the Indian bishops.

In the Indian state of Kerala, where more than 20% of the population is Christian, the first case occurred in which the College of Lawyers rejected the professional accreditation of a religious of the Mother of Carmel congregation, as she engages in religious activities.

The religious, Sister Teena Joseph, has a law degree from Mahatma Gandhi University and, like other religious, uses her training to defend the poorest people.

The College of Lawyers’ motivation introduces a principle of discrimination, in open opposition to the Constitution. Moreover, it establishes a precedent to prohibit professional activities of individuals engaged in Christian religious endeavors.

Q: What is the case in the world of the Muslim majority?

Tamburrini: It is a very complicated situation, with lights and shadows. After the war in Iraq, some countries with moderate governments, even though a considerable part of the population was attracted by the fundamentalists, began to support for terrorists less and less, and have become more open to the West.

In Morocco, for example, there has been a reform of family law, establishing greater equality in the area of respect for women.

Egypt has introduced the feast of Christmas into the calendar, and has authorized an hour of Christian education in schools. This means that, although there are still acts of violence, the presence of Christians in Egypt is recognized.

Qatar has established diplomatic relations with the Holy See and allowed the building of a Catholic church.

Although there is an ongoing conflict between moderates and fundamentalists, as well as instances of radicalization, as is the case in Iran, there are symptoms of a change in the Muslim population, which sees the necessity of coexisting with Christians.

Q: In China there is both persecution and more openness. How do you see the situation?

Tamburrini: China’s problem is that of controlling development. They will not be able to continue to earn enormous profits by exploiting their people. Economic liberalization means that China will have to be open to issues they prevented with repression. To counter unsuppressed religious demands, they are re-launching Taoism, on which the whole of the imperial power was based.

Q: Are Christians accepted in the post-modern secularized culture?

Tamburrini: Aggressive secularism against Christians is clearly seen in secular cultures. There is a phrase of John Paul II which has not been sufficiently understood: “The democratic system which loses sight of referenced values is transformed into a dictatorship.” Benedict XVI has called this the dictatorship of relativism.

It is a question of exaggerated attention to supposed values of the so-called minorities that are in detriment of the majority.

In France, for example, in the name of the homosexual minority, there is a draft law that punishes with a year of imprisonment and considerable fines anyone who criticizes homosexuals, even if only verbally.

In this connection, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the retired archbishop of Paris, said that in virtue of this legislation the punishments would be applied to any person who expresses the opinion of the Bible or of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on matters of the family or sexual orientation.

Also in France, for example, a law has been enforced on religious freedom that, in the name of a clear separation between Church and state, has caused paradoxical and disagreeable situations. According to this law, for example, Catholic chaplains of public schools are not allowed to wear their cassock or other religious symbols in school buildings.

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