David Cameron has given his support to a new report into the persecution of Christians around the world.
In a statement read out at the launch of Aid to the Church in Need’s ‘Persecuted and Forgotten? A report on Christians oppressed for their faith 2013-15’ at the House of Lords today, the Prime Minister said that, “Every day in countries across the world, Christians are systematically discriminated against, exploited and even driven from their homes because of their faith.”
“No believer should have to live in fear, and this is why (the British) Government is committed to promoting religious freedom and tolerance at home and around the world,” he added.
“It is also why the work of organisations such as Aid to the Church in Need is so crucial. This report serves as a voice for the voiceless, from their prison cells and the places far from home where they have sought refuge. Now is not the time for silence. We must stand together and fight for a world where no one is persecuted because of what they believe.”
According to the report, Christianity is on course to disappear from Iraq “possibly within five years” unless the international community offer substantial assistance to the persecuted faithful there.
The report, which aims to assess the persecution that Christians are facing around the world, also warns that the Church is being driven out of its biblical heartland.
“The fear of genocide – in many cases well founded – has prompted an exodus of Christians, notably from the Middle East and parts of Africa,” the report said.
It also warned of militant Islamist groups in “Nigeria, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and other parts of Africa”, as well as Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist nationalist-religious movements which see Christianity as “colonial”.
In a letter, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, conveyed the Pope’s support for Aid to the Church in Need’s report.
“(Pope Francis) deeply appreciates the efforts of all involved in producing this report and in keeping before the world the plight and suffering of Christians,” wrote Cardinal Parolin.
He added: “In this way, he prays that those in positions of authority will diligently strive not only to eradicate religious discrimination and persecution in their own nations, but also to seek ever more effective ways to promote international co-operation in order to overcome these offences against human dignity and religious freedom.”
The report features a foreword by Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria, whose city has been destroyed by fighting.
In it he wrote: “My own cathedral has been bombed six times and is now unusable. My home has also been hit more than 10 times. We are facing the rage of an extremist jihad; we may disappear soon. In both Syria and Iraq, Christian communities – along with other vulnerable minorities – are defenceless against assaults by Daesh (ISIS). We are the prime target of the so-called caliphate’s religious cleansing campaign.”
The report looks at 22 countries where persecution against Christians is an issue of concern, and relies on the help of local agencies, both religious and secular, to monitor attacks on churches and Christians’ homes and businesses, political developments that threaten Christians, blasphemy cases against them and other social changes that might damage their wellbeing.
Among the events it recounts is the murder of Dutch Jesuit Fr Frans van der Lugt, killed in Homs, Syria, by an unknown sniper; the continual imprisonment of the Christian Asia Bibi in Pakistan; and the kidnapping of various Christians by ISIS in northern Iraq.
Responding to the report Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, said: “This report provides welcome evidence-based analysis of the sustained persecution of Christian minorities. Only by publishing reports such as this and identifying the extent and scale of the problem can we hope to take steps to address the persecution of minorities that sadly still exists across the world.”