Icon of the Martyrdom of St. Stephen. (source: holy-icons.com)
by Nathaniel Torrey
On the eve of the election, Notre Dame University hosted a conference highlighting the rise of Christian persecution and martyrdom in the 21st century entitled, “Seed of the Church: Telling the Story of Today’s Christian Martyrs.” The conference had two keynote addresses, one given by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, and John L. Allen, senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and a Senior Analyst at CNN.
Archbishop Viganò’s lecture focused on the treatment of Christians in the United States, mainly in regards to the Health and Human Services Mandate (HHS) and the increasing number of states that have legalized gay marriage. He cautioned us that religious freedom, as described in such encyclicals as Dignitatus Humanae, is at risk even in a liberal democratic country such as the United States. Echoing the teachings of Pope John Paul II, he implored Catholics and other Christians to guard against “the totalitarianism of a democracy-without-values, values that must be based on the timeless and universal moral principles adhered to and taught by our Church because these principles are founded on the Truth of Christ which came to set us free!”
Allen’s address focused on the persecution of Christians abroad, what he called “the most compelling narrative of our time.” It is also the most under reported narrative despite the alarming death toll that persecution in countries like Iraq, Syria, and India has accumulated. The International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) claims that the intolerance of Christians accounts for nearly 80 percent of all violations of religious freedom in the world. Though such numbers are staggering, Christian persecution has the unfortunate place of what the French intellectual Regis Debray, whom Allen quoted, calls, “the ideological blind spot of the West. The victims are too Christian to excite the left, too foreign to interest the right.”
In addition to humanitarian efforts, such as directing aid and helping refugees, we need to be praying for those Christians abroad. Allen recalls that before Vatican II there were prayers for the Christians being persecuted in Soviet Russia said in Mass. “It had the effect of lifting up the church of the catacombs behind the Iron Curtain in our imagination and prayer on behalf of persecuted Christians can have that effect as well.” By doing this, we can remind ourselves that there are many Christians in the world who do not have it nearly as easy as we do in America. We also have to guard ourselves against the eroding of religious liberty in our own country as well.
Transcripts and video from the conference can be found here.
The Institute on Religion & Democracy is a donor-supported 501(c)3. Your tax-deductible gift to the IRD will ensure continued coverage of the Church’s social witness. Please donate here.