Almost 1,700 years after the Edict of Constantine granted freedom of worship to Christians, persecution of the followers of Christ continues unabated. Speaking before an international conference on religious freedom in Rome, Pope Francis observed that “persecution of Christians is stronger than it was in the first centuries of the Church, and there are more Christian martyrs than in that time.”
Coptic Christians in Egypt are under siege. The Nigerian terrorist group known as Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds of school girls in an effort to close Christian schools. Christian families in Pakistan have recently been freed from two decades of slavery in a Muslim-run brick kiln. Meanwhile, Christians in areas of Iraq overrun by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syrian fighters are in fear for their lives. And, China continues to harass and suppress Christians.
Last January, a Pew Report on Religious Hostility showed that Christians continue to be the world’s most oppressed religious group with persecution against them reported in 110 countries.
“Religious freedom,” the Holy Father emphasized, “is not simply freedom of thought or private worship. It is the freedom to live according to ethical principles, both privately and publicly.”
“Reason,” Pope Francis said, “recognizes that religious freedom is a fundamental right of man, reflecting his highest dignity, that of seeking the truth and adhering to it, and recognizing it as an indispensable condition for realizing all his potential.”
We must never take our religious freedom for granted, but be constantly vigilant lest it be taken from us bit by bit.
A Coptic Orthodox bishop surveys a damaged church in late August in Minya, Egypt.(CNS photo/Louaf i Larbi, Reuters) (Dec. 9, 2013)