Sunday, November 6, 2016

Under Caesar's Sword

This weekend reminded me of why Notre Dame is so special to me.  No, I certainly am not talking about their football team, which lost yet another game as part of one of their worst seasons in football history (probably among the worst 5 ever).  This weekend, I spent some time watching a documentary entitled "Under Caesar's Sword", produced by the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture in partnership with the Religious Freedom Institute and the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University. 
The "Under Caesar's Sword" is a research project that looks at how Christian communities respond when their religious freedom is violated or threatened.  Fourteen scholars were involved in a study of 100 Christian communities in over 30 countries, Some of the overall facts of our world's religious persecution problem are sobering:  in 2013, Christians were harassed in over 103 countries; in 2012, 76% of the world's population lived in a religiously oppressive country; Christians are not the only religious group facing oppression (in fact, Christians can be said to be responsible for oppression of other religions), but they are the recipients of 80% of all acts of religious discrimination worldwide; before 2003, there were around 1.2 million Christians in Iraq.  By 2013, that number had shrunk to about 500,000.

Some quotes are particularly illuminating and concerning:
·         Are we seeing the end of Christianity [in Iraq]? We are committed come what may, we will keep going to the end, but it looks as though the end could be very near.
– Louis Raphael I Sako, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon

·         We are witnessing levels of persecution of ancient Christian communities of the Middle East at levels that are something that we have not seen, one could almost say, in millennia. It’s very disturbing and disheartening...
– Katrina Lantos-Swett, Chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

·         [Religious] minorities are threatened with death and executed, they are kidnapped and raped, they are robbed and pillaged. They are denied water and electric service. Women are kidnapped and sold and forced to marry ISIS members. Women are forced to wear veils.
– Pascale Warda, Former Minister of Migration and Displacement in the Iraqi Interim Government

The documentary, and the research that was undertaken on which it relied, was designed to place focus on the kinds of sufferings Christians go through and what they do in response.  It was designed to take an in-depth look at who is persecuting them and why.  It was also designed to look at their responses to persecution and why they chose those alternatives.  Christians have suffered persecution from non-state organizations such as ISIS and Boko Haram, from the actions of individuals such as the Kandhamal riots in India, and some from governments as restrictions enforced in India and Turkey.  Christians have been forced to respond in a variety of ways, generally through courses of action such as fleeing the country (as in Iraq and Syria), trying to protect themselves in their environment and build connections with neighbors such as in Turkey, or by pursuing legal means of protection of human rights such as in India.

The documentary highlighted the basis of religious freedom on a secular, international stage:  "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."  (Article 18, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, 1948).  Too often, these long held rights, protected in international law, are forgotten.  I am proud to be ND this weekend, as I think through the issues raised in "Under Caesar's Sword".  Today is a special day, The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  Our freedom as individuals, to live and worship as we choose, is a cherished right that is not always honored by all people in all places.  I encourage each of you to do your part, to recognize the issues and concerns before us, and to stay informed.

I encourage each of you to find out more about the efforts of those involved in the research of Christian Persecution and to watch their documentary "Under Caesar's Sword".  Their work can be found at the following link:  Under Caesar's SwordAdditional resources can also be found at Voice of the Martyrs as well as at Open Doors USA.

Religious Persecution is not something that is solely about Christians, nor is countering it something that can be done lightly or with an incorrect attitude.  In this regard, I leave you with the following two quotes:
·         We don’t forgive the act because the act is heinous. But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts. Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world.
 – Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom

·         The Bishop of Rome will not rest while there are still men and women of any religion, whose dignity is wounded and who are deprived of their basic needs for survival, robbed of their future, or forced to live as fugitives and refugees. Today, we join the Pastors of the Oriental Churches, in appealing that the right of everyone to a dignified life and to freely profess one’s own faith be respected
– Pope Francis

We need to ensure that all members live up to the standards established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations in 1948, and we need to ensure that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom remains ever vigilant, and that our country ensures that great significance is placed on their efforts.  Moreover, we need to ensure that we ourselves show the kind of religious freedom in our own country, and that our attitudes towards people of all faiths matches the reflections of Pope Francis.  We must also have the heart towards others reflected by Bishop Angaelos lest we be consumed by anger and hatred towards others.