The Catholic Church and the Persecution of Christians in the Middle East: Can the Vatican help?

Source: http://nationalinterest.org/ feature/the-catholic-church- the-persecution-christians- the-middle-10371?page=show

Cheryl Benard,  May 6, 2014

“……In Iraq, Syria and Egypt, Christians face a relentless campaign of murder, kidnapping, arson, bombings and persecution. In Turkey, Lebanon and Palestine, the anti-Christian violence is less overt, but there, too, intimidation and discrimination have fueled a huge exodus. Islamic extremists and fundamentalists are determined to drive Christianity out of its birthplace in the Middle East—and they are succeeding. A few decades ago, 20 percent of the Middle East was Christian; today that is down to 4 percent. Iraq alone has lost 80 percent of its Christians during just the last ten years. By any standard, this is ethnic cleansing.

But the numbers, however dramatic, can’t express the human cost. The sectarian war and the random violence in Iraq and Syria are bad enough, but Christians face special targeting. Their churches are regularly mortared and firebombed, congregants killed by suicide bombers or assassins just for attending mass. In Iraq, I met priests who had been kidnapped, tortured and beaten. Their teeth had been knocked out with revolver handles and their spines broken with hammer blows, until finally, a ransom was scraped together and they were dumped on the street half-dead.

And what is Rome doing about all of this? Not very much. One almost gets the impression that religious persecution is too messy for today’s modern, ecumenical church……”

With great fanfare, before a crowd of 800,000, with 1,000 bishops and 150 cardinals in attendance and a TV audience of several millions, the Vatican recently added two new saints to its pantheon. Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II were canonized for having effected medical miracles that saved the lives of three women who had begged their intercession for, respectively, Parkinson’s, internal hemorrhages, and a brain disease.

Those were, obviously, marvelous outcomes for these three individuals. But pull back the lens just a bit and the mood of jubilation appears ill placed. In light of what is happening to Catholics in the Middle East, the crowd should have been praying for miracles on an entirely different scale.

In Iraq, Syria and Egypt, Christians face a relentless campaign of murder, kidnapping, arson, bombings and persecution. In Turkey, Lebanon and Palestine, the anti-Christian violence is less overt, but there, too, intimidation and discrimination have fueled a huge exodus. Islamic extremists and fundamentalists are determined to drive Christianity out of its birthplace in the Middle East—and they are succeeding. A few decades ago, 20 percent of the Middle East was Christian; today that is down to 4 percent. Iraq alone has lost 80 percent of its Christians during just the last ten years. By any standard, this is ethnic cleansing.

But the numbers, however dramatic, can’t express the human cost. The sectarian war and the random violence in Iraq and Syria are bad enough, but Christians face special targeting. Their churches are regularly mortared and firebombed, congregants killed by suicide bombers or assassins just for attending mass. In Iraq, I met priests who had been kidnapped, tortured and beaten. Their teeth had been knocked out with revolver handles and their spines broken with hammer blows, until finally, a ransom was scraped together and they were dumped on the street half-dead.

And what is Rome doing about all of this? Not very much. One almost gets the impression that religious persecution is too messy for today’s modern, ecumenical church. Consider how it has sanitized sainthood. Formerly, the path to sainthood was martyrdom—you became a saint by enduring agonizing trials and torments before being killed in horrific ways, all the while holding firm to your faith. Today you can live out your life in comfort, die a natural death, then heal an ailing person from beyond the grave, and be declared a saint. That’s much more civilized, but it obscures the harsh fact that Christians are still being hunted, tormented and killed in horrific ways, yet are heroically holding steadfast to the faith. Instead of being an inspiration, one feels that they are seen as a sort of embarrassing blemish on the pretty contemporary face of interfaith dialogue.

Consider, for instance, the statement by the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries, in which they finally ventured to address the issue at all. Well yes, they acknowledge therein, Christians are being persecuted…although maybe the word persecuted is too strong…True, they are being murdered and driven from their homes…but they can take comfort from the words of Jesus, “happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”…which is not to say, of course, that Christians are necessarily righteous! …waffle, waffle, waffle.

‘Persecuted’ is too strong a term? Tell that to the parents who lost their children when a convoy of school buses, ferrying students from the Christian area of Nineveh to their classes in Mosul, was ambushed. Tell that to the survivors of the massacre at Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad, who—with the words “you are all infidels”—were taken hostage by armed gunmen who went on to execute fifty-eight of the worshipers, including small children. Tell that to the hospital director in Mosul who was told that her position is too high for a Christian and she and her family would be killed if she did not voluntarily resign. Tell that to the Christians in the rebel-held Syrian city of Raqqa, who have been informed that they are now “dhimmis” and must pay a special tax for the privilege of staying alive in “Muslim lands”, though they may not maintain churches or give any public sign of Christian observance.

The situation in Syria and Iraq is volatile, explosive and tragic, and remedies are not readily at hand. Still, there is much that Rome could and must do for its own.

Before we begin that discussion, though, we must remember that the Vatican is not just a prayerful, spiritual place—it is a political powerhouse of the first order. It commands an army of top-notch analysts and diplomats. Its diplomatic corps officially goes back to the year 1500, but its experience at navigating even the most Machiavellian corridors of worldly power predates that by centuries. Popes were not just moral authorities and observers of secular happenings, they were weighty players, shaping events in Europe, the colonies, and the world. Certainly, this formidable institution could come up with some effective strategies if it wanted to and hardly needs our advice. But here goes, anyway:

First, and beyond a doubt, Catholics are currently the victims of ethnic cleansing and religious persecution in the core historic region of the faith, and it is essential that Rome raise awareness about the issue. If nothing else, this would boost the morale of the afflicted, whose sense of abandonment and isolation is extreme. Visit Christian enclaves in these places, and you will constantly be asked: don’t other Christians know? Don’t they care? Why isn’t anyone helping us?

Secondly, this elevated attention would likely produce some helpful action, over time. It took years for the international community to take steps against the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, but without consistent media attention and moral outrage, the Bosnians would have had no chance at all.

Third, the Vatican maintains powerful networks of influence. Its humanitarian organizations and NGOs are among the most effective in the world. Its legates are respected mediators. Though—by its own choice—it restricted itself to observer status at the United Nations, still its influence there is significant. Its emissaries could act on multiple levels to protect, resettle, and otherwise assist and advise the flock.

Fourth, Rome should reach out to moderate Muslim opinion leaders and political figures, who generally take pride in their region’s long history of religious and ethnic diversity and tolerance. Most Muslims regret the loss of their Jewish communities, and do not wish the Christian minority to experience the same fate. They will forcefully tell you that Christians and Christianity are part of the fabric of their societies, which they do not want replaced with some radical Islamist vision of a Caliphate. These are natural allies and should be consulted for tactical, strategic and moral counsel and help.

Indeed, some Muslim leaders have stepped forward to push back against the ethnic cleansing of Christians. This is most dramatically the case in Iraqi Kurdistan, which has become a safe haven for that country’s Christians. In Erbil, the local Christian community—one of the oldest Christian settlements in the world and a bishop’s seat since the year AD 100—can count on the protection of the Kurdish Regional Government, but more than that, the government has welcomed Arab Christians fleeing from Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk. The Kurdistan Regional Government funded a beautiful, modern Catholic primary and secondary school and has given land for a Catholic University. They provided a new home for the Baghdad Seminary after that facility was destroyed. They have stood up, armed, trained and are paying the salaries of a Christian volunteer self-defense force in embattled neighboring Nineveh. They are hosting an order of Indian nuns, come to set up a nursing program. They have refurbished villages for displaced Arab Christian farmers. Bashar Warda, formerly Archbishop of Baghdad and now Archbishop of Erbil, is free to build as many churches and erect as many crosses and statues of the Virgin Mary as he likes; it is his decision to build apartments for refugees and young families instead and make do with the large, splendid, highly visible St. Joseph Cathedral, smack in the middle of Erbil. And why are the Kurds doing this? Not for good PR, apparently, as their efforts are going unremarked and unheralded, and they do not boast of them. Prime Minister Nichervan Barzani says tersely, of course he protects Kurdish Christians. “They are our citizens like everyone else.” OK, and the non-Kurdish Arab refugees? His Minister Ashti Hawrami has a simple, compelling answer. “As Kurds we know what it means to be persecuted,” he says, apparently having less trouble reaching a diagnosis of persecution than the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries.

Fifth, the Church should appreciate and encourage remarkable—and courageous—policies like the one in Kurdistan. With advice from moderate Muslim leaders, it should identify other potential Middle Eastern footholds for displaced Catholics, and support their efforts to take root there. It should assist the Erbil School of Nursing and the planned Catholic University and similar institutions that are useful to the public, regardless of faith, and thus help solidify positive social bonds.

Sixth and finally, the emphasis on interfaith dialogue is important but that does not negate the Church’s first obligation to its own faith and faithful. It should speak out consistently and with clarity against the abuse and persecution of its followers wherever that occurs.

It is not to the benefit of the Catholic Church to show itself indifferent, or powerless, in the face of the mortal peril of entire communities of its followers, or to stand idly by while Christianity is erased from whole geographic regions. In addition to its two new saints, it might invoke Saint Thomas More, patron of statesmen, or Saint Qardagh, the fourth century martyr and patron saint of Erbil. Or better still, it might bring its massive intellectual, spiritual and material resources to bear on behalf of its flock.

Cheryl Benard is the Director of Metis Analytics and the author of Civil Democratic Islam. She is currently researching the situation of Christians in Iraq.

Indonesia shrugs at rising religious violence: report Michael Bachelard

Indonesia has experienced a “sharp uptick” in religiously motivated violence, with Islamic gangs regularly attacking Christian churches as well as “deviant sects” of their own faith, a strongly worded new report has warned.

The report by Human Rights Watch warns that the Indonesian Government, police and military are “passively, and sometimes actively” condoning these new extremists, in contrast to the way they “wrestled to the ground” the terrorists of Jemaah Islamiah in the past decade.

The organisation accuses Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of responding “weakly” to the threat, with “lofty but empty rhetoric”.

“With JI they saw a clear and present danger,” said Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, Phelim Kine.

“Now, the government is failing to recognise this less spectacular but equally corrosive and dangerous strain of religious intolerance.” Mr Kine said there were “worrying echoes” of Pakistan’s state of siege against minority Islamic sects, and if intolerance and violence continued to increase in Indonesia, “the confidence of investors in the country . . . might not hold”.

The report, In Religion’s Name, says there were 264 violent attacks on religious minorities in 2012, a 20 per cent increase on 2010. It documents violence against the Ahmadiya, a minority sect of Islam which Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Ministry has declared “heretical”, and Shiite Muslims, as well as atheists and moderate Muslims. Since 2005, more than 430 churches have been forced to close.

But Wahyu, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Religious Affairs minister, Suryadharma Ali, denied the thrust of the report, saying Indonesia was “the example, or the laboratory of religious harmony”.

“It has the best religious harmony in the world. We can judge that because . . . we make all big days of the recognised religions in Indonesian holidays,” Wahyu said.

Neither Mr Yudhoyono’s office nor the police would comment before the report was released.

Many acts of violence were committed by a number of hardline groups such as the aggressive Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which emerged from the Sunni Islam majority after the fall of former president Suharto in 1998, the report says.

FPI recruits among the poor and disenfranchised and might be able to field 100,000 supporters. It was allegedly set up by police during unrest in 1998 to attack protesting students. Its official events have since been attended by the former governor of Jakarta, the national police chief and the religious affairs minister.

The country guarantees religious freedom in the constitution, but 156 statutes, regulations, decrees and by-laws subject “minority religions to official discrimination”, They include the 1965 blasphemy law, the 2006 ministerial decree on building houses of worship and the 2008 anti-Ahmadiyah decree.

In recent years the judicial system has often taken a harder line against minorities who are the victims of religious violence than against the perpetrators.

In 2011, when five Ahmadiyah followers were injured and three killed by an Islamist mob, police stood by, smoking and watching. The killers were not charged with murder, but “assault causing death” and were given sentences of six months or less. An Ahmadiya survivor and witness in their prosecution was later charged with provoking the attack and also given a six-month jail sentence.

A professed atheist, Alexander Aan, was last year sentenced to prison after being attacked by a mob, none of whom was punished.

But Wahyu, the spokesman from the Religious Affairs Ministry, one of the best-funded and most powerful ministries in the government, denied that recent controversies signalled a problem.

A Christian church barred by local officials from opening despite a Supreme Court ruling was “not about religious tolerance, it’s a land dispute”; violence against Ahmadiyah was not a religious problem because, “it’s not a religion, it’s a sect”; and a violent attack on a Shiite group in East Java was simply “a personal problem, it’s not about religion”, Wahyu said.

(“The Sydney Morning Herald,” February 28, 2013)

Jakarta Archbishop complains about church permits

The Archbishop of Jakarta Mgr. Ignatius Suharyo has complained about the difficulties faced by Christians in Indonesia in gaining building permits when they want to construct churches.
During Christmas celebrations in Jakarta Cathedral on Tuesday, Suharyo expressed his hopes that the government would soon resolve problems related to church-building permits.
“We are not allowed to build our own places of worship. Then we pray wherever we can, in often far from ideal circumstances. But we are not even allowed to do this either,” he said as quoted by kompas.com on Tuesday. “We don’t know what else to do.”
Suharyo referred to the ongoing disputes in the construction of the Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) in Bekasi and Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) in Bogor, West Java. The two churches have spent years struggling to obtain permits to build churches but have faced adamant rejection from several hardliner groups.
Suharyo mentioned another case of a church in Karawaci, Banten, which had to wait for 24 years before its building permit was issued.
Suharyo urged the government to take significant steps to resolve the problems, as he believed that every religion should have the same opportunities to build places of worship.
(Thejakartapost.com)

Churches destroyed after blasphemy sentence handed down

Three Christian churches in Indonesia were destroyed by an angry mob during clashes with police Tuesday that erupted after a local court handed down a verdict against a Christian man accused of blasphemy against Islam, authorities said. The man was given a five-year sentence, said national police spokesman Col. Boy Rafli Amar, but the protesters wanted him to face a stiffer penalty.

The destroyed churches were in Temanggung, Central Java, Amar said. “The scene is now under police control,” he said. “It’s calm but security is high.” Security personnel are searching for those responsible for the attack on the churches, and authorities are “asking local religious leaders to stay calm and find diplomatic ways to solve the problem.”

The attacks were the second violent incident against minority religious groups in Indonesia in the past three days. On Sunday, a mob of about 1,000 people, wielding knives and stones, attacked about 25 members of the Muslim minority sect, Ahmadiyah, in Cikeusik village in West Java’s Banten province.

Three people were killed and six others injured. The crowd opposed the presence of the Ahmadiyah in the village and demanded the group stop its activities. Amateur video of the incident obtained by Human Rights Watch showed people pummeling what looked like lifeless bodies with sticks and rocks. The video has been posted on the internet, fueling public outrage.

In a televised statement Monday, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the violence against Ahmadiyah and ordered a thorough investigation. Human rights activists, however, are calling for the government to revoke a ministerial decree issued in 2008 that bans the community’s religious activities.

“How many Ahmadiyah have to die at the hands of mobs before the police step in?” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Indonesian government should end this wave of hate crimes and immediately revoke the 2008 anti-Ahmadiyah decree, which encourages these vicious attacks.”

The Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, a local think tank, noted in a recent report a marked increase in the number of attacks against Ahmadiyah and other minority religions in Indonesia in recent years.

The most populous Muslim country in the world, Indonesia has previously been touted as an example of tolerance and democracy in the Islamic world. But a 2009 study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in Washington suggested it was actually among the most restrictive countries when it comes to religion.

(CNN.com)

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, THE PATH TO PEACE (Benedict XVI)

MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS
POPE BENEDICT XVI
FOR THE CELEBRATION OF THE
WORLD DAY OF PEACE

1 JANUARY 2011

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, THE PATH TO PEACE

1. At the beginning of the new year I offer good wishes to each and all for serenity and prosperity, but especially for peace. Sadly, the year now ending has again been marked by persecution, discrimination, terrible acts of violence and religious intolerance.

My thoughts turn in a special way to the beloved country of Iraq, which continues to be a theatre of violence and strife as it makes its way towards a future of stability and reconciliation. I think of the recent sufferings of the Christian community, and in particular the reprehensible attack on the Syro-Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baghdad, where on 31 October two priests and over fifty faithful were killed as they gathered for the celebration of Holy Mass. In the days that followed, other attacks ensued, even on private homes, spreading fear within the Christian community and a desire on the part of many to emigrate in search of a better life. I assure them of my own closeness and that of the entire Church, a closeness which found concrete expression in the recent Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. The Synod encouraged the Catholic communities in Iraq and throughout the Middle East to live in communion and to continue to offer a courageous witness of faith in those lands.

I offer heartfelt thanks to those Governments which are working to alleviate the sufferings of these, our brothers and sisters in the human family, and I ask all Catholics for their prayers and support for their brethren in the faith who are victims of violence and intolerance. In this context, I have felt it particularly appropriate to share some reflections on religious freedom as the path to peace. It is painful to think that in some areas of the world it is impossible to profess one’s religion freely except at the risk of life and personal liberty. In other areas we see more subtle and sophisticated forms of prejudice and hostility towards believers and religious symbols. At present, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith. Many Christians experience daily affronts and often live in fear because of their pursuit of truth, their faith in Jesus Christ and their heartfelt plea for respect for religious freedom. This situation is unacceptable, since it represents an insult to God and to human dignity; furthermore, it is a threat to security and peace, and an obstacle to the achievement of authentic and integral human development.[1]

Religious freedom expresses what is unique about the human person, for it allows us to direct our personal and social life to God, in whose light the identity, meaning and purpose of the person are fully understood. To deny or arbitrarily restrict this freedom is to foster a reductive vision of the human person; to eclipse the public role of religion is to create a society which is unjust, inasmuch as it fails to take account of the true nature of the human person; it is to stifle the growth of the authentic and lasting peace of the whole human family.

For this reason, I implore all men and women of good will to renew their commitment to building a world where all are free to profess their religion or faith, and to express their love of God with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their mind (cf. Mt 22:37). This is the sentiment which inspires and directs this Message for the XLIV World Day of Peace, devoted to the theme: Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace.

A sacred right to life and to a spiritual life

2. The right to religious freedom is rooted in the very dignity of the human person,[2] whose transcendent nature must not be ignored or overlooked. God created man and woman in his own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:27). For this reason each person is endowed with the sacred right to a full life, also from a spiritual standpoint. Without the acknowledgement of his spiritual being, without openness to the transcendent, the human person withdraws within himself, fails to find answers to the heart’s deepest questions about life’s meaning, fails to appropriate lasting ethical values and principles, and fails even to experience authentic freedom and to build a just society.[3]

Sacred Scripture, in harmony with our own experience, reveals the profound value of human dignity: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have established, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man, that you care for him? Yet you have made him little less than God, and crowned him with glory and honour. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet” (Ps 8:3-6).

Contemplating the sublime reality of human nature, we can experience the same amazement felt by the Psalmist. Our nature appears as openness to the Mystery, a capacity to ask deep questions about ourselves and the origin of the universe, and a profound echo of the supreme Love of God, the beginning and end of all things, of every person and people.[4] The transcendent dignity of the person is an essential value of Judeo-Christian wisdom, yet thanks to the use of reason, it can be recognized by all. This dignity, understood as a capacity to transcend one’s own materiality and to seek truth, must be acknowledged as a universal good, indispensable for the building of a society directed to human fulfilment. Respect for essential elements of human dignity, such as the right to life and the right to religious freedom, is a condition for the moral legitimacy of every social and legal norm.

Religious freedom and mutual respect

3. Religious freedom is at the origin of moral freedom. Openness to truth and perfect goodness, openness to God, is rooted in human nature; it confers full dignity on each individual and is the guarantee of full mutual respect between persons. Religious freedom should be understood, then, not merely as immunity from coercion, but even more fundamentally as an ability to order one’s own choices in accordance with truth.

Freedom and respect are inseparable; indeed, “in exercising their rights, individuals and social groups are bound by the moral law to have regard for the rights of others, their own duties to others and the common good of all”.[5]

A freedom which is hostile or indifferent to God becomes self-negating and does not guarantee full respect for others. A will which believes itself radically incapable of seeking truth and goodness has no objective reasons or motives for acting save those imposed by its fleeting and contingent interests; it does not have an “identity” to safeguard and build up through truly free and conscious decisions. As a result, it cannot demand respect from other “wills”, which are themselves detached from their own deepest being and thus capable of imposing other “reasons” or, for that matter, no “reason” at all. The illusion that moral relativism provides the key for peaceful coexistence is actually the origin of divisions and the denial of the dignity of human beings. Hence we can see the need for recognition of a twofold dimension within the unity of the human person: a religious dimension and a social dimension. In this regard, “it is inconceivable that believers should have to suppress a part of themselves – their faith – in order to be active citizens. It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one’s rights”.[6]

The family, the school of freedom and peace

4. If religious freedom is the path to peace, religious education is the highway which leads new generations to see others as their brothers and sisters, with whom they are called to journey and work together so that all will feel that they are living members of the one human family, from which no one is to be excluded.

The family founded on marriage, as the expression of the close union and complementarity between a man and a woman, finds its place here as the first school for the social, cultural, moral and spiritual formation and growth of children, who should always be able to see in their father and mother the first witnesses of a life directed to the pursuit of truth and the love of God. Parents must be always free to transmit to their children, responsibly and without constraints, their heritage of faith, values and culture. The family, the first cell of human society, remains the primary training ground for harmonious relations at every level of coexistence, human, national and international. Wisdom suggests that this is the road to building a strong and fraternal social fabric, in which young people can be prepared to assume their proper responsibilities in life, in a free society, and in a spirit of understanding and peace.

A common patrimony

5. It could be said that among the fundamental rights and freedoms rooted in the dignity of the person, religious freedom enjoys a special status. When religious freedom is acknowledged, the dignity of the human person is respected at its root, and the ethos and institutions of peoples are strengthened. On the other hand, whenever religious freedom is denied, and attempts are made to hinder people from professing their religion or faith and living accordingly, human dignity is offended, with a resulting threat to justice and peace, which are grounded in that right social order established in the light of Supreme Truth and Supreme Goodness.

Religious freedom is, in this sense, also an achievement of a sound political and juridical culture. It is an essential good: each person must be able freely to exercise the right to profess and manifest, individually or in community, his or her own religion or faith, in public and in private, in teaching, in practice, in publications, in worship and in ritual observances. There should be no obstacles should he or she eventually wish to belong to another religion or profess none at all. In this context, international law is a model and an essential point of reference for states, insofar as it allows no derogation from religious freedom, as long as the just requirements of public order are observed.[7] The international order thus recognizes that rights of a religious nature have the same status as the right to life and to personal freedom, as proof of the fact that they belong to the essential core of human rights, to those universal and natural rights which human law can never deny.

Religious freedom is not the exclusive patrimony of believers, but of the whole family of the earth’s peoples. It is an essential element of a constitutional state; it cannot be denied without at the same time encroaching on all fundamental rights and freedoms, since it is their synthesis and keystone. It is “the litmus test for the respect of all the other human rights”.[8] While it favours the exercise of our most specifically human faculties, it creates the necessary premises for the attainment of an integral development which concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension.[9]

The public dimension of religion

6. Religious freedom, like every freedom, proceeds from the personal sphere and is achieved in relationship with others. Freedom without relationship is not full freedom. Religious freedom is not limited to the individual dimension alone, but is attained within one’s community and in society, in a way consistent with the relational being of the person and the public nature of religion.

Relationship is a decisive component in religious freedom, which impels the community of believers to practise solidarity for the common good. In this communitarian dimension, each person remains unique and unrepeatable, while at the same time finding completion and full realization.

The contribution of religious communities to society is undeniable. Numerous charitable and cultural institutions testify to the constructive role played by believers in the life of society. More important still is religion’s ethical contribution in the political sphere. Religion should not be marginalized or prohibited, but seen as making an effective contribution to the promotion of the common good. In this context mention should be made of the religious dimension of culture, built up over centuries thanks to the social and especially ethical contributions of religion. This dimension is in no way discriminatory towards those who do not share its beliefs, but instead reinforces social cohesion, integration and solidarity.

Religious freedom, a force for freedom and civilization:
dangers arising from its exploitation

7. The exploitation of religious freedom to disguise hidden interests, such as the subversion of the established order, the hoarding of resources or the grip on power of a single group, can cause enormous harm to societies. Fanaticism, fundamentalism and practices contrary to human dignity can never be justified, even less so in the name of religion. The profession of a religion cannot be exploited or imposed by force. States and the various human communities must never forget that religious freedom is the condition for the pursuit of truth, and truth does not impose itself by violence but “by the force of its own truth”.[10] In this sense, religion is a positive driving force for the building of civil and political society.

How can anyone deny the contribution of the world’s great religions to the development of civilization? The sincere search for God has led to greater respect for human dignity. Christian communities, with their patrimony of values and principles, have contributed much to making individuals and peoples aware of their identity and their dignity, the establishment of democratic institutions and the recognition of human rights and their corresponding duties.

Today too, in an increasingly globalized society, Christians are called, not only through their responsible involvement in civic, economic and political life but also through the witness of their charity and faith, to offer a valuable contribution to the laborious and stimulating pursuit of justice, integral human development and the right ordering of human affairs. The exclusion of religion from public life deprives the latter of a dimension open to transcendence. Without this fundamental experience it becomes difficult to guide societies towards universal ethical principles and to establish at the national and international level a legal order which fully recognizes and respects fundamental rights and freedoms as these are set forth in the goals – sadly still disregarded or contradicted – of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

An issue of justice and civility:
fundamentalism and hostility to believers
compromise the positive secularity of states

8. The same determination that condemns every form of fanaticism and religious fundamentalism must also oppose every form of hostility to religion that would restrict the public role of believers in civil and political life.

It should be clear that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike in that both represent extreme forms of a rejection of legitimate pluralism and the principle of secularity. Both absolutize a reductive and partial vision of the human person, favouring in the one case forms of religious integralism and, in the other, of rationalism. A society that would violently impose or, on the contrary, reject religion is not only unjust to individuals and to God, but also to itself. God beckons humanity with a loving plan that, while engaging the whole person in his or her natural and spiritual dimensions, calls for a free and responsible answer which engages the whole heart and being, individual and communitarian. Society too, as an expression of the person and of all his or her constitutive dimensions, must live and organize itself in a way that favours openness to transcendence. Precisely for this reason, the laws and institutions of a society cannot be shaped in such a way as to ignore the religious dimension of its citizens or to prescind completely from it. Through the democratic activity of citizens conscious of their lofty calling, those laws and institutions must adequately reflect the authentic nature of the person and support its religious dimension. Since the latter is not a creation of the state, it cannot be manipulated by the state, but must rather be acknowledged and respected by it.

Whenever the legal system at any level, national or international, allows or tolerates religious or antireligious fanaticism, it fails in its mission, which is to protect and promote justice and the rights of all. These matters cannot be left to the discretion of the legislator or the majority since, as Cicero once pointed out, justice is something more than a mere act which produces and applies law. It entails acknowledging the dignity of each person[11] which, unless religious freedom is guaranteed and lived in its essence, ends up being curtailed and offended, exposed to the risk of falling under the sway of idols, of relative goods which then become absolute. All this exposes society to the risk of forms of political and ideological totalitarianism which emphasize public power while demeaning and restricting freedom of conscience, thought and religion as potential competitors.

Dialogue between civil and religious institutions

9. The patrimony of principles and values expressed by an authentic religiosity is a source of enrichment for peoples and their ethos. It speaks directly to the conscience and mind of men and women, it recalls the need for moral conversion, and it encourages the practice of the virtues and a loving approach to others as brothers and sisters, as members of the larger human family.[12]

With due respect for the positive secularity of state institutions, the public dimension of religion must always be acknowledged. A healthy dialogue between civil and religious institutions is fundamental for the integral development of the human person and social harmony.

Living in love and in truth

10. In a globalized world marked by increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies, the great religions can serve as an important factor of unity and peace for the human family. On the basis of their religious convictions and their reasoned pursuit of the common good, their followers are called to give responsible expression to their commitment within a context of religious freedom. Amid the variety of religious cultures, there is a need to value those elements which foster civil coexistence, while rejecting whatever is contrary to the dignity of men and women.

The public space which the international community makes available for the religions and their proposal of what constitutes a “good life” helps to create a measure of agreement about truth and goodness, and a moral consensus; both of these are fundamental to a just and peaceful coexistence. The leaders of the great religions, thanks to their position, their influence and their authority in their respective communities, are the first ones called to mutual respect and dialogue.

Christians, for their part, are spurred by their faith in God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, to live as brothers and sisters who encounter one another in the Church and work together in building a world where individuals and peoples “shall not hurt or destroy … for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Is 11:9).

Dialogue as a shared pursuit

11. For the Church, dialogue between the followers of the different religions represents an important means of cooperating with all religious communities for the common good. The Church herself rejects nothing of what is true and holy in the various religions. “She has a high regard for those ways of life and conduct, precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women”.[13]

The path to take is not the way of relativism or religious syncretism. The Church, in fact, “proclaims, and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6); in Christ, in whom God reconciled all things to himself, people find the fullness of the religious life”.[14] Yet this in no way excludes dialogue and the common pursuit of truth in different areas of life, since, as Saint Thomas Aquinas would say, “every truth, whoever utters it, comes from the Holy Spirit”.[15]

The year 2011 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace convened in Assisi in 1986 by Pope John Paul II. On that occasion the leaders of the great world religions testified to the fact that religion is a factor of union and peace, and not of division and conflict. The memory of that experience gives reason to hope for a future in which all believers will see themselves, and will actually be, agents of justice and peace.

Moral truth in politics and diplomacy

12. Politics and diplomacy should look to the moral and spiritual patrimony offered by the great religions of the world in order to acknowledge and affirm universal truths, principles and values which cannot be denied without denying the dignity of the human person. But what does it mean, in practical terms, to promote moral truth in the world of politics and diplomacy? It means acting in a responsible way on the basis of an objective and integral knowledge of the facts; it means deconstructing political ideologies which end up supplanting truth and human dignity in order to promote pseudo-values under the pretext of peace, development and human rights; it means fostering an unswerving commitment to base positive law on the principles of the natural law.[16] All this is necessary and consistent with the respect for the dignity and worth of the human person enshrined by the world’s peoples in the 1945 Charter of the United Nations, which presents universal values and moral principles as a point of reference for the norms, institutions and systems governing coexistence on the national and international levels.

Beyond hatred and prejudice

13. Despite the lessons of history and the efforts of states, international and regional organizations, non-governmental organizations and the many men and women of good will who daily work to protect fundamental rights and freedoms, today’s world also witnesses cases of persecution, discrimination, acts of violence and intolerance based on religion. In a particular way, in Asia and in Africa, the chief victims are the members of religious minorities, who are prevented from freely professing or changing their religion by forms of intimidation and the violation of their rights, basic freedoms and essential goods, including the loss of personal freedom and life itself.

There also exist – as I have said – more sophisticated forms of hostility to religion which, in Western countries, occasionally find expression in a denial of history and the rejection of religious symbols which reflect the identity and the culture of the majority of citizens. Often these forms of hostility also foster hatred and prejudice; they are inconsistent with a serene and balanced vision of pluralism and the secularity of institutions, to say nothing of the fact that coming generations risk losing contact with the priceless spiritual heritage of their countries.

Religion is defended by defending the rights and freedoms of religious communities. The leaders of the great world religions and the leaders of nations should therefore renew their commitment to promoting and protecting religious freedom, and in particular to defending religious minorities; these do not represent a threat to the identity of the majority but rather an opportunity for dialogue and mutual cultural enrichment. Defending them is the ideal way to consolidate the spirit of good will, openness and reciprocity which can ensure the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms in all areas and regions of the world.

Religious freedom in the world

14. Finally I wish to say a word to the Christian communities suffering from persecution, discrimination, violence and intolerance, particularly in Asia, in Africa, in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land, a place chosen and blessed by God. I assure them once more of my paternal affection and prayers, and I ask all those in authority to act promptly to end every injustice against the Christians living in those lands. In the face of present difficulties, may Christ’s followers not lose heart, for witnessing to the Gospel is, and always will be, a sign of contradiction.

Let us take to heart the words of the Lord Jesus: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted … Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied … Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Mt 5:4-12). Then let us renew “the pledge we give to be forgiving and to pardon when we invoke God’s forgiveness in the Our Father. We ourselves lay down the condition and the extent of the mercy we ask for when we say: `And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us’ (Mt 6:12)”.[17] Violence is not overcome by violence. May our cries of pain always be accompanied by faith, by hope and by the witness of our love of God. I also 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. May Europe rather be reconciled to its own Christian roots, which are fundamental for understanding its past, present and future role in history; in this way it will come to experience justice, concord and peace by cultivating a sincere dialogue with all peoples.

Religious freedom, the path to peace

15. The world needs God. It needs universal, shared ethical and 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.

Peace is a gift of God and at the same time a task which is never fully completed. A society reconciled with God is closer to peace, which is not the mere absence of war or the result of military or economic supremacy, much less deceptive ploys or clever manipulation. Rather, peace is the result of a process of purification and of cultural, moral and spiritual elevation involving each individual and people, a process in which human dignity is fully respected. I invite all those who wish to be peacemakers, especially the young, to heed the voice speaking within their hearts and thus to find in God the stable point of reference for attaining authentic freedom, the inexhaustible force which can give the world a new direction and spirit, and overcome the mistakes of the past. In the words of Pope Paul VI, to whose wisdom and farsightedness we owe the institution of the World Day of Peace: “It is necessary before all else to provide peace with other weapons – different from those destined to kill and exterminate mankind. What are needed above all are moral weapons, those which give strength and prestige to international law – the weapon, in the first place, of the observance of pacts”.[18] Religious freedom is an authentic weapon of peace, with an historical and prophetic mission. Peace brings to full fruition the deepest qualities and potentials of the human person, the qualities which can change the world and make it better. It gives hope for a future of justice and peace, even in the face of grave injustice and material and moral poverty. May all men and women, and societies at every level and in every part of the earth, soon be able to experience religious freedom, the path to peace!

From the Vatican, 8 December 2010

BENEDICTUS PP XVI

 

Muslim radicals colonising the country, Indonesian bishops say

NDONESIA

Muslim radicals colonising the country, Indonesian bishops say

by Mathias Hariyadi

The bishop of Padang warns against the systematic and organised spread of radical Islamic ideology. Political authorities are criticised for failing to stop the wave of violence. In the meantime, police is out in force to prevent anti-Christian violence over the Christmas period.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Mgr Mathinus D Situmorang, president of the Indonesian Bishops of Conference’s (KWI), warned Indonesian political elites on a potentially serious threat to the national interest. The prelate, who is the bishop of Padang (Western Sumatra), delivered his word of caution during the admission ceremony for new members of the Indonesian Catholic University Student Association (PMKRI). In his address, he criticised the state for its powerlessness in the face of dozens of attacks carried out by Islamic fundamentalist groups against churches and Christians. 

“In the past, Indonesia was occupied and colonised by foreign rulers. However, the present situation is not much better even if we are ruled by fellow Indonesian citizens,” the bishop said. Here, he was referring to recent attacks carried out by the Islamic Defender Front (FPI), which stormed two places of worship in Rancaekek, Bandung Regency (West Java), forcing their closure. More broadly, he is deeply concerned that religious intolerance is spreading and taking rook among ordinary people. Muslim extremists, he explained, had no legal right to interfere with the aforementioned places of worship even if they did not have a building permit. What is more, the situation is getting worse because law enforcement is not stopping the Islamists, and it is not clear why.

Nonetheless, for the prelate, “A spirit of intolerance is finding fertile ground because of political interests”. In Parung, Bogor Regency, local authorities issued a ban against the Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church to prevent Christmas celebrations. 

“If some Christian communities in Indonesia hold religious ceremonies in the streets or in the open, it is out of necessity because they have been unable to secure a building permit for their place of worship, and this, for years,” Bishop Situmorang explained.

“If the [central] government and local authorities are stopped by every extremist Muslim group, the situation will get worse and the state’s sovereignty will be given away to illegal groups that will carry out actions against the law,” he lamented.

Still, the 3,000 parishioners who belong to the Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church will be able to celebrate Christmas at a local nuns’ compound. Indonesia’s Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro, who is Catholic, rejected the accusation, saying that any violent act would be punished. Mgr Situmorang is not so sure. For him, the state is powerless and incapable of dealing with the problem. Yet, he is still “proud to belong to a multicultural society, where the spirit of intolerance is restrained”. 

In the meantime, hours before the start of Christmas services, the country has been placed under tight security with thousands of police deployed near churches, 8,000 in Jakarta alone. In Bali, police has secured every strategic site, including churches.

A study by the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace warns that whilst most violent actions are carried out by the infamous FPI, less noticeable actions by other radical Muslim groups are equally worrisome, especially since they are increasingly supported by ordinary people and are attracting even liberal groups and moderate clerics.

There are also rumours that radical elements have infiltrated the moderate Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI), the country’s most important organisation of Muslim clerics, which wields the greatest influence in moral and political terms. According to the Setara report, beside the FPI, other important violent Islamist groups are the Islamic Reform Movement (Garis) and the Islamic People’s Forum (FUI).

The same study noted that in “2005, FUI’s chief Al Khaththath [. . .] made it to the MUI’s board of directors,” and at the organisation’s annual meeting that year, he was among those who “actively lobbied the MUI to issue an edict forbidding the practice of liberal Islam”

Freedom of Religion

Christians and Moslem can not live together in harmony. Altough, uur country accept the principle “freedom of religion”, but the freedom is always limited by the mayority of moslem population.

I think that moslems and christians can not live together in harmony forever except all people become Mohammedan followers.

Is it true that a religion bring peace to the world?

One of story about this disharmony, here it is, I quoted from Kompas.com newspaper.

MUI: Christmas Decor in Indonesia ‘Excessive’

JAKARTA, KOMPAS.com – Indonesia’s top Islamic body said Thursday that Christmas decorations in malls, amusement centers and public places were “excessive and provocative“ in the Muslim-majority country.

Christmas ornamentation had been put up in an “excessive and provocative way,“ said Muhyidin Junaedi, one of the chairmen of the Indonesia Ulema Council, or MUI.

“It should be done in a proportional manner as Muslims are the majority here, otherwise it will hurt their feelings,“ he said.

He said the MUI issued a recommendation urging mall and recreation center managers to act proportionally in decorating their premises.

“We received complaints from a number of malls’ employees who are forced to wear Santa Claus costumes, which are against their faith. Such things should not have happened,“ he said.

“We need to restrain Muslims from joining the festivities,“ Junaedi said.He said the body had no plan to turn the recommendation, made on Tuesday, into an Islamic edict.  Nearly 90% of Indonesia’s 234 million people are Muslims. ​

Editor: Jimmy Hitipeuw ​Source : AFP ​