Blessed are the persecutedIn his speech to the Diplomatic Corps on January 9th, Pope Benedict XVI returned to the crucial issue of religious freedom: an issue that was at the core of his address last year and that has continued to be of pressing concern in many parts of the world. Perhaps nowhere has the importance of religious freedom been set in relief with such tragic spectacle as in Pakistan, where in March of last year, the country’s Minister for Minorities – a Catholic – Shabaz Bhatti, was assassinated. The recent annual report of the international evangelical non-governmental organisation Open Doors on the persecution of Christians in the world contains a world index of persecution according to which the first ten places are occupied by the following countries in descending order: North Korea, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Iran, Maldives, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Iraq and Pakistan. Among the most serious concerns, the increase in Islamic extremism merits special attention. Persons and organizations dedicated to extremist Islamic ideology perpetrate terrible acts of violence in many places throughout the world: the Boko Haram sect in Nigeria is but one example. Then there is the climate of insecurity that unfortunately in some countries accompanies the so-called “Arab spring” – a climate that drives many Christians to flee and even to emigrate. The Fides Agency has released its usual list of Catholic workers killed in the world last year. It names 26 people: 18 priests, 4 women religious and 4 lay people. The 13 priests killed in Latin America attest the climate of violence present in not a few countries in the region, Colombia and Mexico in the first. Christ’s disciples will always suffer persecution for His name, and some of these will pay with their very lives for their service to the Faith and in the cause of justice. Such sufferings are a part of the Christian journey. Nor ought we be amazed. Jesus said so in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” is the last of the Beatitudes; its promise is reward in Heaven.