Defending Christians’ Rights

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The participants in the international conference, “Freedom of Religion: the problem of discrimination and persecution of Christians” recently held in Moscow, reached agreements concerning mutual cooperation, which “should be expressed by an exchange of information on the circumstances and facts surrounding discrimination against Christians, in the organization of material, legal, and political support for the persecuted.” They also made the decision to “aid in the creation of an international organ for monitoring discrimination against Christians and providing help to them.”

Gathered to discuss the problem of Christianophobia, which has become especially apparent during recent years, were representatives of the Russian, Alexandrian, Antiochian, Jerusalem, Serbian, Cypriot, and Greek Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Eastern Church, the Coptic, Armenian, Roman Catholic and Marionite Churches, Protestant denominations, social organizations for the struggle against Christianophobia, as well as Muslim and Jewish communities.

Data gathered over the past few years were presented at the forum, upon which the Chairman of Department of External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk based the conclusion stated in his report: “It is necessary to accept an obvious fact: Christians are the most persecuted religious community on the planet.” “At the present time in various countries of the world, around 100 million Christians are subjected to persecution. The commission of episcopal conferences of the European Union last October admitted that at least 75 percent of all persecution for religious reasons is carried out against Christians,” added Metropolitan Hilarion.

“The so-called ‘Arab Spring’, the series of revolutions in a number of Arab countries, has seriously affected the situation of local Christians. Most covered in the media are the events taking place in Egypt. After the events of January and February of 2011, a distinct tendency appeared in Egypt to make Sharia law the only legal system in the country,” said His Eminence, proceeding on to events and facts.

“After the downfall of Kaddafi’s regime and the coming to power of a transitional national council, Libya became a place where Christians are actively forced out. Before foreign intervention began in that country, Christians—Copts, Orthodox, Catholics, and a number of other Christian denominations—made up 3 percent of the population. According to information from human rights organization “Open Doors”, 75 percent of the Christians in Libya have left the country over the course of the armed conflict,” noted Met. Hilarion.

“In the Tunisian population of over ten million, there are around 20,000 Christians of various confessions. In the first country of “Arab Spring”, the prevailing party at the October 24 elections was one that the previous regime had banned for religious extremism. Before the revolution, Tunis was famous for its government’s propagation of principles of religious tolerance. Right after the revolution of last January, religious minorities were subjected to attacks, and the process began of taking over Christian churches to turn them into mosques”, he added.

“Unfortunately, intentional silence with regard to the persecution of Christians in a number of countries in the Arab world has become an inseparable part of the politics of Western nations in that region. The information we receive in the media gives a false impression, to prevent any chance of interference in the politics of the powerful of this world, for whom economic interests are weightier than human ones, including in the area of human rights,” Met. Hilarion stressed.

Describing in detail the trials endured by the Christian minority in Muslim countries were participants and eyewitnesses of these events, including clergymen from Iraq, Lebanon, North Cypress, Egypt, and Pakistan.

Metropolitan of Bagdad Mar Givargis (the Assyrian Church of the East, Iraq) called for the cessation of the flood of refugees who have left that country because of the religious persecutions. “Now many conferences and international meetings are taking place, but no practical measures are being taken at all. If everyone condemns the violence, then why is it continuing against Christians nearly every day? Could the criminals really be stronger than the entire international community?” he wondered.

Clergy from the Coptic Church showed the conference participants documentary film footage of the destruction of churches, the beating of Christians, and arson of their homes by religious extremists. According to various estimations, from eight to nine million Egyptian Christians are being forced to emigrate.

Archimandrite Seraphim (Gavrikov) (Orthodox Church of Cyprus) talked about the catastrophic situation of Christians in north Cyprus. According to information cited by Fr. Seraphim, out of the 20,000 Christians who lived in this part of Cyprus before the Turkish occupation, only 456 remain. Orthodox cemeteries, churches and monasteries have been destroyed and desecrated: out of 520 church buildings, 125 were turned into mosques, many others were turned into stables, animal yards, museums and restaurants, twenty-five were destroyed entirely, and 229 are left empty and desolate.

Evaluating the situation as a whole, Met. Hilarion noted, “At the present time, we are experiencing a new epoch of persecution against Christians that some experts compare with the times of the Roman emperors in the first three centuries. Ordinary inhabitants of prosperous countries know nothing about this, or they do not want to know, and belong so far to the silent majority. Meanwhile, every five minutes a Christian dies for his faith. Every year, 105,000 Christians die a violent death as a result of inter-religious conflicts.”

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, who met with the conference participants, spoke of the unprecedented rise in violence against Christians all over the world. “One of the more indicative tendencies of our days is the mass exodus of Christians from the Near East and North Africa as a result of the unprecedented rise in violence against the religious minorities of this region. Information regularly appears in the press about attacks on Christian churches, pogroms, murders, and other attempts upon the life, health, and rights of those who believe in Christ. Persecutions against Christians have grown to a particularly wide scale in the course of political transformations in the Near East and North Africa. Our brothers are enduring suffering in Iraq, Algiers, Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, Nigeria, and other countries,” said the Patriarch.

Conference participants also testified that the “silent majority”—people who live in prosperous European countries—nevertheless also continually run into Christianophobia, which is increasingly becoming an inseparable part of modern mass culture. Values characteristic of a Christian perception of the world are being pushed ever further out of life in society; they are declared “intolerant” and a “violation of the rights of minorities” on the governmental level as well. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill addressed the conference participants, saying, “In the European context, we are not talking about physical violence or the destruction of churches; nevertheless, militant secularism often shows such intolerance of anything having to do with Christian culture that it seems somewhat analogous to our soviet past. In Europe, concepts of moral norms that have been preserved for centuries in spiritual tradition are subject to the harshest attacks. The absolutism of personal freedom to the detriment of moral responsibility makes Christians the enemies of political correctness, which views sin as equal to virtue.”

The traditional eastern societies, seeing how basic, common human values are distorted and trampled upon in the Christian West, are becoming increasingly apt to equate Christianity with the destructive influence of American/European civilization. In the Patriarch’s opinion, the expulsion of Christians from the Near East and North Africa that is taking place today “opens the way for preachers of extremism, who will successfully create the image of an unknown enemy.”

The primate of the Russian Church reminded the participants that “Sinful pride can disguise itself as religiosity, when a person measures himself as a believer by his deep and fanatical hatred of those who have different views. The growth of religious extremism is the flip-side of radical secularism—they are the same in their approach to people who think differently, and in their attempts to change their surrounding reality according to the primitive scheme of “us and them.”

Anton Leontev

9 декабря 2011 г.

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