December 21, 2023

Verbatim: Statement on the persecution of Christians from the CCCB


A statement on the persecution of Christians from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace.

Persecution is defined as “a program or campaign to exterminate, drive away or subjugate people based on their membership in a religious, ethnic, social or racial group.” It would be tempting to imagine that such actions no longer occur today. However, sometimes a particular idea can push persons or groups to fanaticism, leading to campaigns to “exterminate, drive away or subjugate” those who do not share these ideals. This fanaticism can take on religious, political or ethnic expressions....

Faced with this exclusivist way of thinking, religious freedom is suppressed. This statement is addressed to the Catholic faithful in Canada who, owing to the relative lack of religious persecution in our country, may not be concerned with this phenomenon…. Despite what we may be tempted to think, the subject of the persecution of Christians is more relevant than ever.

The idea may conjure up in our minds images of Christians being thrown to the lions, and it is true that there have been persecutions from the very beginning of Christianity. Yet the pace of persecution has accelerated such that the 20th century saw more persecuted Christians and martyrs than the 19 preceding centuries combined. Today, no fewer than 327 million Christians live in countries marked by religious persecution. 75 per cent of religious violence is against Christians, making them the most persecuted group.

The least severe form of persecution can be described as intolerance. This can be manifested in negative portrayals in media or in social circles. Next we have discrimination, where Christians are treated differently from everyone else, particularly with respect to accessing employment or obtaining a permit to build a church or other religious building while other religious groups have no such problems. Finally, there is persecution itself. We see this when Christians are singled out for arrest or detention, sent to work camps, tortured and even killed. In its most extreme form — where it is directed toward completely eradicating Christians from a region — we can even speak of genocide. According to Aid to the Church in Need, what took place in Iraq in 2014 was a genocide against Christians as well as Yazidis.

It is impossible to discuss persecution without considering those who carry it out. In this regard, we can consider three groups: governments (communist or authoritarian); other religious groups (e.g., radical Islam); and ultranationalist movements which demand that their country be of only one religion. Even today, millions of people suffer simply because of their faith in Christ.

Yet where there is persecution, there is often a strong and vigorous faith. We are reminded of the inherent and inviolable rights to freedom when these are threatened by different forms of persecution.

As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church teaches, freedom is the highest sign in man of his being made in the divine image and, consequently, is a sign of the sublime dignity of every human person...

The meaning of freedom must not be restricted, considering it from a purely individualistic perspective and reducing it to the arbitrary and uncontrolled exercise of one’s own personal autonomy... The understanding of freedom becomes deeper and broader when it is defended, even at the social level, in all of its various dimensions.

We can learn something about persecution from Jesus, who was Himself persecuted. He tells us that we are not of the world because He has chosen us and set us apart. Living the values of the Gospel often places Christians in a delicate situation. Under certain totalitarian political regimes, helping the poor and denouncing injustice are viewed as political opposition, bringing with it dramatic consequences for Christians involved in these activities. To be not of the world means going against the flow; it means taking the risk of offending people by our desire for justice and love. This is the prophetic role of every believer….

Ottawa, 2019.

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