Archbishop Chullikatt: Flagrant and widespread persecution of Christians in Middle East

2014-02-13 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, on Tuesday spoke to a United States Congressional hearing on largely underreported assaults on the religious freedoms of Christians around the globe.
“Flagrant and widespread persecution of Christians rages in the Middle East even as we meet,” the Archbishop said. “No Christian is exempt, whether or not he or she is Arab. Arab Christians, a small but significant community, find themselves the target of constant harassment for no reason other than their religious faith. This tragedy is all the more egregious when one pauses to consider that these men and women of faith are loyal sons and daughters of the countries in which they are full citizens and in which they have been living at peace with their neighbors and fellow citizens for untold generations.”

The full remarks of Archbishop Chullikatt are below


Religious Freedom

The First Freedom on Which Democratic Societies are Built

Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt
Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations

Before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs
Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights,
and International Organizations

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for this opportunity to address you and the Committee today. Your
recognition of the consequential need to consider and respond effectively to existing and
emerging threats to religious freedom in the world today is commendable. Such threats
manifest not solely under authoritarian regimes or in traditional societies but even, I regret
to say, in the great democracies of the world.

The Constitution of the United States apprehends well what the Holy See
consistently affirms, namely: that religious freedom is also the “first freedom”, a
fundamental human right from which other rights necessarily flow, and which must always
be protected, defended, and promoted. Pope Benedict XVI identified religious freedom as:
the pinnacle of all other freedoms. It is a sacred and inalienable right. It
includes on the individual and collective levels the freedom to follow one’s
conscience in religious matters and, at the same time, freedom of worship. It
includes the freedom to choose the religion which one judges to be true and
to manifest one’s beliefs in public. It must be possible to profess and freely
manifest one’s religion and its symbols without endangering one’s life and
personal freedom. Religious freedom is rooted in the dignity of the person; it
safeguards moral freedom and fosters mutual respect.

Every government bears the profound responsibility to guarantee in its
Constitution, as your First Amendment and the entire text secure, religious freedom for its
people and must moreover uphold religious liberty both in principle and in fact.
Today, however, religious persecution, be it overt or discrete, is emerging with an
increased frequency worldwide. Even in some of the western democracies, the
longstanding paragons of human rights and freedoms, we find instances of increasingly less
subtle signs of persecution, including the legal prohibition of the display of Christian
symbols and imagery – legitimate expressions of belief that for centuries has enriched
culture – be they on the person or on public property. This suggests a profound identity
crisis at the heart of these great democracies, which owe to their encounter with
Christianity both their origin and culture, including their human rights culture.

I, personally, have witnessed many egregious threats to religious liberty during my
service around the globe. My current posting also makes me familiar with the work of the
United Nations, which your great nation helped establish when the world society was
desperate for an institution whose mission would be to secure and maintain international
peace and security. The founding Charter of the United Nations mandates that it fulfill this
mission through safeguarding the fundamental and inalienable rights and responsibilities
of each member of the human family. The preservation of authentic religious freedom thus
stands at the heart of the UN’s solemn responsibility.

Having said this, allow me to address the following two points in my brief remarks. I
will also be submitting to the committee two more detailed texts for your further
consideration.

The first issue on which I wish to focus today concerns challenges to religious
freedom in the Middle East, particularly for Christians, who since the beginning of
Christianity two thousand years ago have been continuous inhabitants of that important
region of the world. A second issue I will touch upon briefly concerns the responsibility of
the United Nations towards safeguarding this religious freedom. I also wish to highlight the
crucial role the United States of America bears in the work of the UN by virtue of its
significant influence within this organization, as well as its permanent membership in the
Security Council.

Regarding my first point: flagrant and widespread persecution of Christians rages in
the Middle East even as we meet. No Christian is exempt, whether or not he or she is Arab.
Arab Christians, a small but significant community, find themselves the target of constant
harassment for no reason other than their religious faith. This tragedy is all the more
egregious when one pauses to consider that these men and women of faith are loyal sons
and daughters of the countries in which they are full citizens and in which they have been
living at peace with their neighbors and fellow citizens for untold generations.

One of the most graphic illustrations of ongoing brutality confronting Arab
Christians is the emergence of a so-called “tradition” of bombings of Catholic and other
Christian houses of worship every Christmas Eve, which has been going on now for the past
several years. Will there be no end in sight for this senseless slaughter for those whom that
very night proclaim the Prince of Peace in some of the oldest Christian communities in the
world?

As is increasingly obvious, governments are by no means guaranteeing religious
freedom consistently among fundamental human rights and, at worst, violations take the
form of the outright persecution of religious believers by state actors. For its part, the Holy
See regularly urges the world’s attention to serious violations of the right to religious
freedom, in general, as well as to recent and continuing instances of discrimination or
systematic attacks on Christian communities, in particular. In a recent statement to the
United Nations Human Rights Council, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the
United Nations in Geneva said that research has indicated that more than 100,000 Christians are violently killed because of some relation to their faith every year, while other
Christians and believers are subjected to forced displacement, to the
destruction of their places of worship, to rape, and to the abduction of their
leaders. Several of these acts have been perpetrated in parts of the Middle
East, Africa and Asia, and are the result of bigotry, intolerance, terrorism and
some exclusionary laws. In addition, some Western countries, where
historically the Christian presence has been an integral part of society, a
trend emerges that tends to marginalize Christianity in public life, ignore
historic and social contributions and even restrict the ability of faith
communities to carry out social charitable services.

Pope Francis himself, in praying recently for all Christians who experience
discrimination on the basis of their belief stated,
Let us remain close to these brothers and sisters who, like (the first martyr of
the Church) St Stephen, are unjustly accused and made the objects of various
kinds of violence. Unfortunately, I am sure they are more numerous today
than in the early days of the Church. There are so many! This occurs
especially where religious freedom is still not guaranteed or fully realized.
However, it also happens in countries and areas where on paper freedom and
human rights are protected, but where in fact believers, and especially
Christians, face restrictions and discrimination.

His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, similarly pointed out the same problem in his
2012 address to the members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. He
stressed how: In many countries Christians are deprived of fundamental rights and sidelined
from public life; in other countries they endure violent attacks against
their churches and their homes. At times they are forced to leave the countries
they have helped to build because of persistent tensions and policies which
frequently relegate them to being second-class spectators of national life. In
other parts of the world, we see policies aimed at marginalizing the role of
religion in the life of society. It even happens that believers, and Christians in
particular, are prevented from contributing to the common good by their
educational and charitable institutions."

This past autumn, in a Message to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople,
Bartholomew I, Pope Francis called to mind the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan,
which brought about the end to the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, and
drew attention to “…the many Christians of all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities
who in many parts of the world experience discrimination and at times pay with their own
blood the price of their profession of faith.” The Pope also stressed the “…urgent need for
effective and committed cooperation among Christians in order to safeguard everywhere
the right to express publicly one’s faith and to be treated fairly when promoting the
contribution which Christianity continues to offer to contemporary society and culture.”6
Current circumstances make it particularly important that Christians work together
to ensure religious freedom for all, and to this end it is crucial that every government
guarantee religious freedom for each and every person in its country not only in its
legislation but also in praxis. Strictly connected to freedom of religion is respect for
conscientious objection, of which everyone should be able to avail himself or herself.
Conscientious objection is based on religious, ethical and moral reasons, and on the
universal demands of human dignity. As such it is a pillar of every truly democratic society
and, precisely for this reason, civil law must always and everywhere recognize and protect
it. After all, these steps ensure not only human dignity but the dignity of democratic
institutions.

Regarding my second point, which concerns the United Nations: the essential
importance of religious freedom for each and every person, community and society, is
confirmed by the foundational international legal instruments and other documents. The
Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of
thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or
belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to
manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Since the summer of 2010, as the Holy See’s Representative to the UN, I have
labored alongside many people of good will to bring an end to the suffering in the world.
The religious persecution of Christians throughout the Middle East looms large in this
theatre of suffering. The UN General Assembly addresses the question in certain
resolutions, which we have a hand in negotiating.

However, these noble efforts fail to receive the profile they justly deserve on the
world stage. Only Member States, especially those with leadership profiles like the United
States, can take decisive steps to ensure that the non-derogable human right of religious
liberty becomes more robustly protected worldwide. The self-evident truths underlying
healthy democracy – truths upon which both President Jefferson and the Church agree –
require as much. The religious freedom which the law is expected to protect and promote
abides no mere passive toleration but requires, rather, that States guarantee the basic preconditions that permit its free exercise by citizens in both their private and public
endeavours.

Allow me now to express my gratitude for efforts this committee undertakes in
promoting religious liberty and those it will undertake in this issue to bring an end to
further suffering and social exclusion of Christians.

As I mentioned, I also leave for your further consideration two documents of crucial
concern to my testimony, namely: (1) The Lineamenta (or Guidelines) for the 2009 Synod
of Bishops Special Assembly for the Middle East,8 and (2) Pope Benedict XVI’s 2011 World
Day of Peace Message entitled “Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace.” 9
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I express my gratitude to you and to the Committee for
this important opportunity to express solidarity with all Christian believers in the harsh
reality of the persecution of their communities and adherents at this present time. We look
to your country to stand true to its own Constitution and show its leadership in every forum
in working to end the erosion of this most fundamental of human rights.
Thank you for your attention.