Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Persecuted Christians Then and Now

October 25 is the Feast day of Ss Crispin and Crispinian.  We know little about them, other than that these two young Roman twins went on an expedition to Gaul, where they were successful in their dayjob as missionaries, bringing people to the Faith.  We know also that by night they worked as shoemakers in order to have enough money to fund their daytime activities of evangelism and almsgiving.  All very typical, an ancient story of worthy people: nothing spectacular, the modern reader might think, nothing that relates to our lives now.  Well, we also know that they were subject to torture for their efforts (stories vary as to precisely what kind of torture, but none of it was pleasant) and ultimately beheaded.  This may not relate to our existence as members of the Catholic Church in England today, but very sadly it is still a very modern story.

There has been a very interesting discussion this week, started by Anne Widdecombe, in her capacity as Special Envoy for Religious Freedom for the Aid to the Church in Need ("ACN"). 

Let us be perfectly clear, in case there is any attempt at wilful misinterpretation of either what Ann Widdecombe said, or what is being said here.  We should at all times make efforts to protect those who are being oppressed in any way, persecuted, tortured or killed.  That most certainly includes people affected for reasons of, inter alios, race, gender, sexuality, age, appearance or culture : but surely it also includes people who suffer simply because of their faith.  Neither Ann Widdecombe nor this blog was or is seeking special treatment for those persecuted for their faith, simply that persecution on grounds of faith be seen as being as unacceptable as any other reason for persecution.

An article in the Catholic Herald reports on what Anne Widdecombe said, and a longer, more detailed and more graphic article in The Telegraph does the same.

She makes a call to the UK government to stand up for people discriminated against for their faith.  She agrees with the government for its action in cutting aid to the Malawian government by £19m, where two gay men have quite shockingly been sentenced to 14 years imprisonment with hard labour for having contravened anti-gay laws.  Such treatment of human beings is clearly utterly unacceptable, and should not in any way be condoned or supported by anyone.  The issue is though, that the UK government is seemingly totally unwilling to stand up for Christians who face similar persecution.

Miss Widdecombe cites the recent tragedy in Egypt, where church authorities and eyewitnesses accuse the Egyptian government (which denies the allegations) of sponsoring a "rabble army" to lead an attack that is reported to have led to 25 deaths (mostly of Coptic Christians) and to over 300 people being injured.  She also mentions a case in Pakistan (which receives £350m of UK aid each year), where a Christian labourer is understood to be on death row as a result of prosecution for blasphemy.  The article in the Catholic Herald says :
In her speech in Westminster Cathedral Hall, Miss Widdecombe will accuse the Government of indifference to the rights of Christians.  Ann Widdecombe, who in March became ACN’s special envoy to religious freedom, will say: “You stand a better chance of earnest representation if you are a hedgehog – and I speak as a patron of the Hedgehog Protection Society.  In the last 10 years, how many debates have there been on persecution of Christians, how many Government statements on the subject?”  Her comments come after Aid to the Church in Need gave statistics in its report on Christian persecution showing that 75 per cent of all religious persecution was directed against Christians.  Other research shows that 105,000 Christians are killed every year for faith-related reasons
We absolutely correctly want to protect the oppressed.  No-one is arguing that the government should not have acted against Malawi, for example.  Ghana and Uganda can and should expect similar treatment.  Aid should not end up funding limousines and palaces of course (the government of Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, ordered a private jet for its President in 2009), but no more should it go into the coffers of governments who wish to treat their people in such terrible ways  Yet, it is truly awful that the UK government shows no interest whatsoever in the plight of oppressed Christians.

The Catholic Herald goes on to quote Ann Widdecombe as follows :
Today we should all begin to act. Each of us should pick one country, pray for it, donate to the Church there, write to [UK Foreign Secretary] William Hague and the local MP.  We should make it our business to follow reports about persecuted Christians – especially through the work of Aid to the Church in Need.
For the purposes of clarification, aid being cut is aid to governments, we are not talking about other charitable aid flowing directly into these poorer countries without passing through the local government.  

We often read of and talk of the rights of Christians being infringed in this country, clearly these are valid concerns : but even as you read this, Christians are being tortured and killed for nothing more than believing what you do.

Please take a look at the website of Aid to the Church in Need and consider offering your prayers and, if you can, some financial support.  You can listen to Ann Widdecombe's speech through their website.

Although one can debate the motives of the fictionalised character giving this speech, one of the most moving and motivational speeches in the English language is surely Shakespeare's words for Henry V in his St Crispin's Day Speech.  Let us try to be stirred by this the last section of this famous call to take action, even as others do nothing.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
Ss Crispin and Crispinian, pray for us and for all who are persecuted, including those who suffer for the Faith.

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