09/22/2008, 00.00
ITALY - INDIA

Cardinal Bagnasco: events in India underscore urgency of protecting religious freedom

What is happening in India and the episodes of anti-Christian persecution in Pakistan and Iraq emphasize how religious freedom is the cornerstone of the civilization of human rights, and the guarantee of authentic pluralism and true democracy.

Rome (AsiaNews) - The sorrowful incidents of persecution taking place recently in India, Pakistan, and Iraq are bringing to the attention of political and cultural world the new "Christianophobia", and, through this, the problem of concrete defense of religious freedom. The president of the Italian bishops' conference (CEI), Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, talked at length about the unjust attacks that many Christians are suffering in the world, when he opened the fall session of the permanent council of Italian bishops today in Rome.

In his address, the cardinal recalled how the pogroms began in India on August 23, in the district of Kandhamal in a state of Orissa, "under the pretext that the Christians there were responsible for some violent actions that are still not very clear, responsibility for which has been claimed by others (and later denied). But this was enough to launch a bloody campaign of intimidation that has caused dozens of deaths, not to mention those raped and injured, the assaults on churches (including the cathedral of Jabalpur) and convents, on orphanages and schools, driving tens of thousands of people to flee to the refugee centers or into the forests. In reality, all of this was unleashed - as is now clear - because of the work that Christians do in those areas on behalf of the people at the bottom of the social ladder, an initiative thought to be destabilizing by a certain social and political class".

"This is a scenario from a former time, now revived in a country that is ruled by a parliamentary democracy and cultivates great ambitions on the international stage. One asks oneself how it is possible for people to prevent their fellow citizens from being helped in their poverty, solely out of the fear that an affinity will develop that is mistaken for proselytism. And yet, for weeks the acts of violence have continued in defiance of the law, with the impunity of those who commit them, amid disinformation from the national press, amid the embarrassment of local politicians, and to the near silence of the international community. "Only now", the cardinal continued, "is something beginning to happen, but it is clearly insufficient given the gravity of the situation. Only the pope, beginning on Wednesday, August 27, has spoken out in a timely and clear fashion, and the governing committee of the CEI has thought it necessary to join him by setting Friday, September 5, the liturgical feast of Blessed Maria Teresa of Calcutta, as a day of prayer and penance, in solidarity with a similar initiative launched by our brother bishops in India".

"During the same days as the violence in India", continued the president of the Italian bishops, "and while intolerance and marginalization against Christians has been denounced in neighboring Pakistan, the Calvary to which Christianity in Iraq has been subjected for too long has come back into focus. In Iraq, two more Chaldean Catholics have been killed, the most recent links in a chain of violence underway for more than four years, and which last March saw the death of the archbishop of Mosul himself, in the context of a genuine "religious cleansing" that is leading to the decimation of a community that, five years ago, counted one million faithful, and has now been cut in half, following the emigration to nearby countries".

After recalling these events, Cardinal Bagnasco asserted the urgency of "new, vigorous attention on the part of politicians, intellectuals, and the public to the theme of religious freedom as the cornerstone of the civilization of human rights and as the guarantee of authentic pluralism and true democracy. Could it not be that, in the light of recent events, Alexis de Tocqueville was right in asserting that 'despotism does not need religion, but freedom and democracy do' (Democracy in America, I,9)? Religious freedom, in fact, is not a more or less genteel option granted by the state to its most insistent citizens, nor is it a concession that can be paternalistically traced back to the principle of tolerance. It is, instead, the cornerstone of freedom, and the ultimate criterion of the protection of liberties, in that it is inscribed in the transcendent nature of the person and in the person's freedom from manipulation by any regime or doctrine. With this, we wish to unite ourselves with the anguished appeal recently issued by Archbishop Mamberti (editor's note: Vatican secretary for relations with states), when, highlighting the phenomenon of 'so-called Christianophobia', he intended 'in a constructive spirit' to emphasize the risks setting down roots in our midst, in Europe itself, citing 'the separation of religion from reason, which relegates the former exclusively to the world of the emotions, and the separation of religion from public life' (Protezione e diritto di libertà religiosa, address at the Meeting di Rimini, August 2008). There is, in fact, a conceptual derivation between the careless practice of relativism, anti-religious and anti-Christian excesses, and the cultural and ethical regression of society".

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