Monday, December 15, 2008

Archbishop Chaput

“Christmas under Siege around the World” Religious Freedom Panel Remarks

December 14, 2005
Washington, DC
Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

I want to begin by thanking Senator Santorum for inviting me here today. This is a very important forum. Three things distinguish anti-Christian persecution and discrimination around the world. First, it’s ugly. Second, it’s growing. And third, the mass media generally ignore or downplay its gravity.

I also need to add that I’m here today simply as a Christian believer and as the archbishop of Denver. My comments are my own. I speak neither for the American Catholic bishops as a body, nor for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, of which I’m a member.

Since the close of the Second Vatican Council 40 years ago this month, the world Catholic community has placed a big emphasis on building mutual respect with all persons of good will, including those in non-Christian religions. Catholics and other Christians have worked especially hard to create a deeper dialogue with Jews and Muslims, who share our common religious ancestor in Abraham. A great deal of good has been accomplished.

Despite this, it’s also true that anti-Christian discrimination and violence seem to be growing throughout the Islamic world. In the past several years, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and even Muslim-controlled areas of the heavily Catholic Philippines have all seen extraordinary acts of bloodshed against Christians.

In late October, Muslim extremists beheaded three Christian teen-age girls and badly wounded a fourth on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia. These murders were not isolated or random incidents. They were part of a brutal, on-going war by Islamic militants against the country’s Christian minority. Three more Christian girls and a Christian couple were reported shot in separate attacks in November.

Christians make up between 9 percent and 16 percent of Indonesia’s population. Indonesia is a democracy with a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion. It also has the largest Muslim population of any nation in the world, and violence against the Christian minority has steadily continued over the past decade.

In general, Western news media have done an inadequate job of covering this story. News reports tend to describe Indonesia’s violence as generically “sectarian,” as if Muslim and Christian extremists were mutually responsible. This is troubling and flatly false. The bloodshed is overwhelmingly provoked and carried out by Islamic militants against the Christian minority. Over the past decade, hundreds of thousands of persons have been displaced and thousands killed in this anti-Christian campaign of violence.

To his credit, Indonesia’s president has condemned these attacks, and some arrests have been made. Polls show that most Indonesians are concerned by the violence and disapprove of it. But the government has not been able to address the growing pattern of Islamic radicalism.

Christians see Christmas as the birthday of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. As Christmas approaches this year, I would call on all persons of good will – not just American Christians, but also American Muslims -- to demand from our government and our ally Indonesia an immediate increase of efforts to end the violence against Christians in Indonesia.

Anti-Christian violence in Indonesia poses a threat not just to regional peace but also to mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims worldwide. And that is something neither community of faith can afford.

Before closing, I’d like to add a postscript. Indonesia is by no means the only Asian nation with a growing problem of violence against Christians. The government of Sri Lanka has faced intense pressure for years from militant Buddhists who resent the perceived growth of minority religions in that heavily Buddhist country. Militants have carried out more than 200 reported attacks against religious minorities – mainly Christians -- in the last two years. But Sri Lankan authorities have failed to take adequate measures to prevent the violence or to prosecute those who commit it.

Intended or not, the Sri Lankan government’s tolerance of violence against Christians and other religious minorities has encouraged the country’s radical elements. Militant Buddhists have backed a number of parliamentary bills which would punish religious minorities with up to seven years in prison for the so-called crime of “attempted conversion.” They’ve also pushed for other discriminatory measures, including but not limited to making Buddhism the official state religion.

People of good will instinctively understand that any kind of religious bigotry and violence is wrong. The U.S. government must continue to press for genuine religious freedom in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and throughout Asia.

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