Assyrian Christians, who had fled Syria and Iraq, carry placards and wave Assyrian flags during a gathering in late May in front of U.N. headquarters in Beirut. CNS photo/Nabil Mounzer, EPA

European leaders gather to discuss Christian persecution and its effect on the continent

  • December 1, 2016

VIENNA, Austria – European leaders gathered this week at a conference in Vienna to discuss Christian persecution and its resounding effect on Europe, particularly emphasizing the need to seriously address religious discrimination and genocide around the world.

“The persecution faced by Christians around the world must be recognized and treated by the international community with the seriousness it deserves,” Ellen Fantini, executive director of the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians, stated Nov. 29.

“The pressure faced by Christians in Europe is much more subtle – what Pope Francis has called ‘polite persecution.’”

The conference, entitled “Embattled: Christians Under Pressure in Europe and Beyond,” drew more than 100 attendees. It was held at the archbishop’s palace in Vienna, with the hope of informing the public, lawmakers and officials of the ongoing threats of religious persecution.

The event was organized by the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in partnership with ADF International, Open Doors, Aid to the Church in Need, and Christian Solidarity International, which additional support from the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies.

In the spotlight at the conference was a North Korean native, Timothy C., who was forced to leave his country or face imminent death because of his religion. Other similar stories surfaced throughout the event, including those of Nigerian Christians killed by Boko Haram.

According to Jan Figel, the EU Special Envoy for Religious Freedom, over 100,000 Christians are killed every year due to religious persecution. Figel underscored the importance of not remaining silent during times of persecution, and pointed to the example of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

“Those who do not understand religion and misuse religion cannot understand what is happening in the world,” Figel stated during his opening keynote address.

Figel’s statements were echoed by Swedish MEP Lars Adaktusson, who called the current persecution and killings of religious groups in the Middle East “genocide.”

“We must never hesitate in the defence of religious freedom. In the end, it is about standing up for a value-based foreign policy based on human dignity and human rights,” Adaktusson stated.

The Swedish MEP also spoke of his time in Northern Iraq, saying the evidence of persecution was significant. In the Middle East, Adaktusson noted that he saw “the signs of deliberate destruction and contempt for the beliefs of others,” pointing to destroyed churches, books, and crosses at the hands of the Islamic State.

In addition, Auxiliary Bishop Stephan Turnovszky of Vienna highlighted the marginalization of refugees in Europe, who are “often subjected here to violence, threats, and discrimination on the basis of their Christian faith.”

The conference additionally called into question European governments' role with regard to conscience, freedom of speech, and parental rights, which have been increasingly restrictive and invasive. While the government has enhanced its control, Bishop Turnovszky believes that Europe is failing to protect people because of their religious convictions.

Moving forward, Gudrun Kugler, member of the Vienna Regional Parliament, encouraged individuals to contact public officials in order to raise awareness of religious discrimination, and to start making strides to prevent persecution.

Kugler believes both individuals and organizations should work to “create space for Christians in Europe and to address the atrocities committed against Christians around the world.”

(Story from the Catholic News Agency)

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