By Edward Pentin
ROME, JULY 19, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Fervent calls for governments to condemn acts of persecution against Christians; a plea to open the beatification process of the assassinated Christian Pakistani minister Shahbaz Bhatti; and demands that Christians suffering persecution be granted full refugee status.
Just some of the appeals passionately delivered at a rally on behalf of persecuted Christians, which appropriately took place in Piazza dei Santi Apostoli in the center of Rome on Wednesday.
Called “Salviamo i Cristiani” — Save the Christians — and organized by an association of Italian Catholic and pro-life groups, the demonstration was held to raise awareness, express solidarity, and call for action on behalf of the many Christians suffering persecution in the world today.
The association highlighted that, globally, no other group is more persecuted: Out of every 100 people who suffer violations to their right to religious freedom, 75 are Christians. It added that during the course of history, an estimated 70 million Christians have been martyred for their faith, including 40 million in the 20th century alone. Each year, it said there are 105,000 new Christian martyrs killed by Islamic terrorists, Hindu extremists in India, or Communists in China, North Korea and Vietnam.
“We’re told about a triumph of democracy and peace,” said historian Roberto de Mattei of the Lepanto Foundation, a non-profit organization defending the principles and institutions of Western Christian civilization. “After Sept. 11, they said don’t worry, because the politics of dialogue and interreligious peace will prevail. Today, we’re told about the health of the Magreb, that it is a model of the Arab Spring, showing hope and promise.”
“But the reality of what is before our eyes is tragically different,” De Mattei said. “Today, we are here to cry out our indignation, and launch our appeal for persecuted Christians.”
The Italian historian recalled that last month, the Church announced it would beatify Don Pino Piglisi, a priest killed by the Mafia in 1993, as a martyr — as someone who had died “in hated of the faith.”
“Everyone rightly condemns the Mafia as radically evil, but no one, or few people, attributes such evil to the fanatics of Allah who kill Christians in hatred of the faith,” he said. The professor then called on the Church to officially open the process of beatification for Shahbaz Bhatti, the Catholic Pakistani minister for minorities, who was killed by an Islamic extremist March 2, 2011.
“If we recognize Don Pino Puglisi, it is much more important to announce the beatification process of Shahbaz Bhatti, killed by a Muslim terrorist,” De Mattei told ZENIT, noting that the killers were the Taliban “who said they killed in name of the Koran.” By opening the process, he said Bhatti could become “a model and patron for all Christians persecuted in Muslim countries.”
The well-known Italian-Egyptian convert from Islam, Magdi Cristiano Allam, called on governments, and the Italian authorities in particular to propose that Christians persecuted for their religious belief be awarded refugee status. Current Italian law, Allam and others argue, is insufficient in assisting Christians fleeing violent persecution, notably those living in some Muslim-majority states, or nations where Sharia law is practiced.
Speaking to ZENIT, Allam said the rally was important as a “testimony of our support for persecuted, discriminated and massacred Christians,” adding that “we want to defend the non-negotiable values of life, the dignity of the person, religious freedom.”
Why so silent?
Asked why governments tend to ignore the plight of persecuted Christians worldwide, he answered: “Because they are afraid, because of economic interests, because this is a West that puts money, material things, at the center.” He also said they are “afraid to show any rigor towards Islam when it comes to the fundamental respect for the rights of the person” — an approach that “can have a negative impact on Christians that live in those countries.”
Allam, who was received into the Catholic Church by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 and is now a Member of the European Parliament, noted that around the end of the 7th century, 95% of the populations on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean were Christian; today there are just 12 million, representing 6% of the population. That figure is expected to halve by 2020. “Only if we are strong and certain of our roots, faith, and values can we be respected,” he said.
The journalist and politician also had some harsh criticism for U.S. President Barack Obama and his approach to Islam. “Obama has played a fundamental role in the legitimization of radical Islam,” he said.
Asked about the Obama administration’s threats to religious liberty of U.S. Catholics, Allam said: “Obama is undoubtedly an expression of relativism, as we have seen recently in his support for same-sex ‘marriage,’ his support for abortion,” he said. “Obama is a person who puts money at the center, who wants to support the great financial organizations. He is a person who wants nothing to do with anyone who puts the person at the center — the natural family, local communities, values, rules for the common good. Obama represents a danger for our civilization.”
Benjamin Harnwell, founder of the Rome-based Dignitatis Humanae Institute, stressed that what makes persecution against Christians unique is the supernatural basis of the persecution — adding that Jesus warned that Christians should expect to be persecuted as a counter-cultural sign to the world.
“Jesus said no servant is greater than his master, if they persecuted me they’ll persecute you,” he said. “There’s a warning in that injunction to his followers to expect to be persecuted — it’s the light that is Jesus Christ that shines through those who bear witness to him — the light that the darkness did not comprehend, and still does not comprehend to this day.”
De Mattei agreed that persecution is the natural environment for Christians, but also that it should be confronted. “The Church has lived with persecution since its origins, also during communism, but the persecutors are bad,” he said. “We have to resist, to fight.”
Ignorance is bliss
Remarkably, in a city that’s home to Catholicism and with many monuments to martyrs who died in hatred of the faith over the centuries, the rally only drew about 300 people. Praising the Holy Father’s enthusiasm toward a New Evangelization in the West, Harnwell said he hopes it “will in practice mean something more than constructing monuments to the prophets whom our forefathers stoned.” The saints, he added, “are great when they’re dead because we can say nice things about them, but when they’re being persecuted in our time, we don’t want to know.” Furthermore, he said saints and martyrs of today provoke an “unforced solidarity,” and show “the flame of faith that we need back.”
Rome’s mayor, Gianni Alemanno, gave a spirited speech in which he said the rally was of “extraordinary importance.” He lamented that religious freedom is too often placed on the second tier of priorities, behind civil and political rights, and that the world must be made aware of the persecution of Christians. He also stressed the importance of reciprocity as the basis of relations, and called for “respect for our Christian identity and our integrity as Christians throughout the world.”
De Mattei described Wednesday’s event as of “symbolic importance.” If there were no such protests, he said “it would be a scandal.”