- EU Ambassador announces new European Union initiative aimed at reducing religious ignorance or “illiteracy” worldwide
- Cardinal Parolin: Governments should avoid “ideological or cultural colonization”
- 20th anniversary of the ACN Religious Freedom Report
Mark von Riedemann, Director of Public Affairs and Religious Freedom for the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, was invited to moderate a panel on humanitarian aid at a recent USA – Holy See symposium titled: “Pathways to Achieving Human Dignity: Partnering with Faith-Based Organizations”. Maria Lozano interviews him about his impressions.
ACN: The U.S. Embassy in Rome and the Holy See co-sponsored recently a symposium featuring presentations from the U.S. Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo, the Holy See Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, as well as Pietro Cardinal Parolin, Secretary of State of the Vatican, about how governments can partner with faith-based organizations to better defend religious freedom. What prompted this symposium?
Mark von Riedemann: The symposium marked 35 years of positive cooperation between the US government and the Holy See, reflecting on the work of St. Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan and their combined efforts to bring about the end of Communism in the former Soviet Union.
The intent was to communicate new initiatives taken by the US government to work directly with Faith Based Organisations (FBOs) on the ground. As Ambassador Gingrinch observed in her opening speech governments alone can only do so much. Even if the United States is one of the main providers of humanitarian aid worldwide, she noted, delivering that support efficiently requires partnerships with organizations on the ground. Catholic agencies and other FBO’s can help to make an impact in places where governments have neither the experience nor the network to do so.
The large diplomatic participation in this occasion also prompted the representative of the European Union to the Holy See, Ambassador Jan Tombinski, to announce the creation of an EU initiative called the “Global Exchange on Religion in Society”, supporting projects aimed at reducing religious ignorance or “illiteracy” in the EU and worldwide. The objective of such initiative is to acknowledge the importance of faith in everyday life. This is an absolute first for Europe, which to date prided itself of being “religion-blind”.
Cardinal Parolin praised the new initiatives. In his speech, however, he cautioned against the temptation by donor nations to impose certain cultural values or worldviews as a precondition for recipient nations to receive aid.
Yes, he requested firmly that governments avoid, when sponsoring faith-based organizations, what Pope Francis has called an “ideological or cultural colonization”, which consists in “imposing a different worldview or set of values on poorer societies, often by making the adoption of those values a prerequisite to receiving humanitarian or development aid”. Although Aid to the Church in Need has never been impacted by this as we rely solely on support from private donors, I was glad that he made mention of this as, through our project partners, we have heard time and again testimony of this kind of abuse. And it is abuse. Making food aid contingent upon the acceptance programs promoting contraception and abortion is well documented.
This symposium marks a string of actions over the last months with regard to religious freedom and attention to the issue of Christian persecution. What trend have you noted?
Increasingly religious freedom is being recognized as a foundational right, that two thirds of the world’s population reside in countries with restrictions on religious freedom, and that Christians represent the largest faith group experiencing religious persecution.
This conference follows closely on the heels of a September 23, 2019 “Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom”, the first-ever UN event on religious freedom hosted by a US president, and the May 28, 2019 UN resolution marking August 22 as an “International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence based on Religion or Belief’. Over the last two years there has been a flurry of initiatives including the creation of a State Secretariat for Christian Persecution in Hungary, the US initiated International Religious Freedom Alliance and perhaps of greatest note, the growing number of nations instituting or reactivating Ambassadors for Religious Freedom and Belief in countries like Denmark, the Netherlands, the USA, Norway, Finland, Germany and the United Kingdom among others.
2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the ACN Religious Freedom Report. Has ACN been like a prophetic voice in the wilderness calling for religious freedom and an end to Christian persecution?
The report has indeed been prophetic. In 1999 religious freedom was not a major topic on most government radars, yet ACN, from our project partners on the ground, received increasing testimonies of Christian persecution. For example, religious tensions in Nigeria developed with the imposition of Shari’ah law in a dozen Muslim-majority states in 1999 resulting in significant sectarian violence still ongoing today.
Since that time we have witnessed dramatic world events in the Middle East, in Africa and Asia, and the consequent suffering of untold millions have demanded greater attention and response. A pivotal moment was in 2016 when the European Union and the US passed resolutions labelling the ISIS atrocities against Christians in Syria and Iraq a Genocide. Is Christian persecution a surprise? No, it has grown over the centuries from the roots of intolerance, to discrimination, to persecution, and finally the world awakens to the genocide of Christians in Iraq and Syria. Symptomatic of this is the reduction of the Christian presence in the Middle East: in 1910, Christians represented 13.6% of the population, by 2010 that number had declined to 4.2%. The call from the US government for a new partnership between government and FBO’s is a further sign of Western countries waking up to these realities and as such are important steps in the right direction.