Christians most oppressed group, says pope


NO RELIGIOUS group is more persecuted because of its faith than Christians, according to Pope Benedict XVI in his message for the 44th World Day of Peace on January 1st, 2011, released in the Vatican yesterday.

In a lengthy teaching, Pope Benedict argues that Christians are the victims of hostility and prejudice not only in the developing world and non-European countries but in the affluent Christian west.

The theme of the pontiff’s message is “Religious Freedom, The Path To Peace”. In that context, he begins his reflections by recalling the plight of Christians in Iraq, highlighting the “reprehensible” attack on the Syro-Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baghdad on October 31st, in which two priests and 50 faithful were killed at Mass.

Moreover, the pope adds: “At present, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith . . . this situation is unacceptable since it represents an insult to God and to human dignity.”

Pope Benedict goes on to suggest that religious minorities in Asia and Africa often suffer from “intimidation and the violation of their rights, basic freedoms and essential goods, including the loss of personal freedom and life itself”.

However, he also highlights “more sophisticated forms of hostility” in western countries which deny their history and which reject religious symbols reflecting “the identity and the culture of the majority of citizens”.

In this instance the pope would appear to be referring to issues such as the European Union’s failure to emphasise Europe’s Christian roots in the formulation of its constitution.

Furthermore, presenting the pontiff’s message, Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, recalled last year’s “Lautsi case” in Italy which concluded with a European Court of Human Rights ruling to the effect that the display of crucifixes on school classroom walls contravened “educational pluralism”, beaching Articles 2 and 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. “I express my hope that in the West, and especially in Europe, there will be an end to hostility and prejudice against Christians because they are resolved to orient their lives in a way consistent with the values and principles expressed in the Gospel.”

The pope also suggests that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike in that “both absolutise a reductive and partial vision of the human person”. Christians, he says, are called on to become involved in “civic, economic and political life . . . and the right ordering of human affairs”.

To exclude religion from public life makes it difficult to “guide societies towards universal ethical principles” such as the fundamental rights set forth in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The pope ends by saying: “The world needs God. It needs universal . . . spiritual values, and religion can offer a precious contribution to their pursuit, for the building of a just and peaceful social order at the national and international levels.”