Listen: Bernard Totounji in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty.
A report on religious persecution finds many faiths are under threat around the globe. Even in a country like Australia the right to Religious Freedom can no longer be taken for granted.
Catholic agency, Aid to the Church In Need (ACN) produced the biennial report and supports 5,000 projects worldwide. The issue of religious persecution is highlighted by Red Wednesday when significant religious and public buildings are floodlit red. Australia participated for the first time this year. Australian Director of ACN, Bernard Totounji, explained the findings on Open House.
Report on every country
61% of the world’s population live in countries where religious freedom is not respected; in other words, 6 out of every 10 people around the world cannot express their faith with total freedom. This is one of the key conclusions of the report “Religious Freedom in the World 2018”, prepared by the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need – ACN International.
The report looks at all 196 countries of the world, examining the degree to which the basic right to religious freedom, as defined in Article 18 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is respected with regard to all the world’s major religious faiths.
Persecution and death
Grave violations of religious freedom were found to occur in a total of 38 countries. In 17 of these, serious discrimination on grounds of religious faith prevails, whereas in the remaining 21 countries, there is outright persecution of religious minorities, in some cases to the point of death.
“327 million Christians live in countries where they face religious persecution.”
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Low respect for religious freedom
As the Report reveals, in some countries with the worst record on religious freedom, the situation has only deteriorated over the past two years. And on the global level in general, overall respect for religious freedom has worsened.
Religious freedom and dignity of man
In reaction to this development Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, Executive President of ACN recalls that “Pope Francis, as well as his immediate predecessors, have all stressed that religious freedom is a fundamental human right rooted in the dignity of man” and therefore, “as a papal foundation, we see it as our duty to draw worldwide attention to this intrinsic link between religious freedom and human dignity through proper information.”
“Extreme nationalist states include China, India, North Korea and Burma (Myanmar).”
“Islamic jihadism and Hindu ultra-nationalism”
According to the report, in Africa’s Middle Belt, (the central area of Nigeria) religious freedom is threatened by the advance of jihadist Islamism, whereas in countries such as India there is real concern at the growth of Hindu “ultra-nationalism”, which has resulted in a marked decline in religious freedom in this country over the past two years.
As the study shows, in 22 countries the reason for the attacks on religious freedom are rooted in radical Islamism, while in other countries the dominant causes are rooted elsewhere, notably in the authoritarianism of States or governments which pursue policy of extreme nationalism.
178 million Christians face religious discrimination
Three billion people
Such authoritarian or extreme nationalist states number 16 in total, though at the same time they account for a very large population of over 3 billion people, since they include such countries as China, India, North Korea, Burma (Myanmar) Vietnam and Kyrgyzstan among others.
Some good news
On a more positive note, the level of religious freedom appears to have improved both in Syria and Iraq. Following the military defeat of Isis/ Daesh, the religious minorities have begun to return to their former homes, most notably in the case of Christians from the towns and villages of the Niniveh Plains in Iraq.
Improvement still far off
On the basis of the information gathered in this report it is estimated that some 327 million Christians live in countries where they face religious persecution and 178 million in countries where there is discrimination on religious grounds. As a result, one in every five Christians around the world lives in a country where there is religious persecution or discrimination.
“Unfortunately, a perceptible improvement in religious freedom is still far off,” concludes Thomas Heine-Geldern. “Therefore, even this 14th report on religious freedom will not be the last one that our ACN Foundation will have to prepare in fulfilling its mission of information.”
Founded after WWII
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) was founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and recognized as a papal foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, through information, prayer and action, wherever they are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need. ACN supports every year an average of 6000 projects in close to 150 countries, thanks to private donations, as the foundation receives no public funding.
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