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This Lent, remember those Christians suffering for the Gospel
On March 1 had the privilege of speaking at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center on the theme of religious liberty. In my comments, I noted that:
“In his World Day of Peace message earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI voiced his concern over the worldwide prevalence of ‘persecution, discrimination, terrible acts of violence and religious intolerance.’ In reality, we now face a global crisis in religious liberty. As a Catholic bishop, I have a natural concern that Christian minorities in Africa and Asia bear the brunt of today’s religious discrimination and violence. Benedict noted this same fact in his own remarks.”
Later in the same text, I said:
“What we see today is a repudiation of (religious liberty) by atheist regimes and secular ideologies, and also unfortunately by militant versions of some non-Christian religions. The global situation is made worse by the inaction of our own national leadership in promoting to the world one of America’s greatest qualities: religious freedom.
“This is regrettable because we urgently need an honest discussion on the relationship between Islam and the assumptions of the modern democratic state. In diplomacy and in interreligious dialogue we need to encourage an Islamic public theology that is both faithful to Muslim traditions and also open to liberal norms. Shari’a law is not a solution. Christians living under shari’a uniformly experience it as offensive, discriminatory and a grave violation of their human dignity.”
On March 2, exactly one day after those remarks, the Pakistani Catholic political leader Shahbaz Bhatti was murdered by Muslim extremists. His “crime” was disputing Pakistan’s repressive Islamic blasphemy laws—laws that effectively cripple non-Muslim public expression—and his government’s failure to respect and protect Pakistan’s religious minorities. Bhatti was the only Christian member of Pakistan’s cabinet. He was gunned down leaving his mother’s home on his way to work. The killers left a note describing his murder as “a fitting lesson” for infidels and apostates; a note filled with the kind of religious hatred very few Americans have ever experienced or can even imagine.
Bhatti’s murder was noticed because of his prominence. But his killing was not an isolated event. As human-rights lawyer Nina Shea has warned throughout her distinguished career, violence and discrimination against religious minorities, and especially against Christians, are widespread globally. Worse, they often go unreported. With few exceptions, America’s news media have done a poor job of reporting the issue of religious freedom—when they show any interest in it at all. When our nation’s mainstream media talk about “intolerance” these days, we can be fairly sure that they don’t mean anti-Christian violence in Nigeria or Indonesia, or the prohibition on any non-Muslim religious expression in Saudi Arabia, or the long-standing and systematic attacks on Egypt’s Coptic Christian community, the largest in the Middle East.
Shabaz Bhatti died one week before the beginning of Lent. Bhatti took his faith in Jesus Christ seriously and lived accordingly. He was willing to pay whatever price his faith might cost. The least we can do in our own observance of Lent this year is to remember him—and yes, his murderers—in our own fasting and prayers. Millions of Christians around the world suffer for the Gospel in a way few American Catholics will ever know. Lent is a good time to weigh the burden of their suffering, and to remember the support we owe them as brothers and sisters in baptism.
Nina Shea’s work on issues of religious freedom can be found at www.hudson.org/shea.
Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap. is the Archbishop of Denver. To read more from Archbishop Chaput, click here.