The Vatican’s representative to the United Nations, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, released an alarming report this week. Vatican Radio reports that in his address to the U.N. Human Rights Council, the archbishop said, “Credible research has reached the shocking conclusion that an estimate of more than 100,000 Christians are violently killed because of some relation to their faith every year. Other Christians and other believers are subjected to forced displacement, to the destruction of their places of worship, to rape and to the abduction of their leaders — as it recently happened in the case of Bishops Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji, in [Syria].” (The bishops are still missing, a month after their disappearance.)
In his hard-hitting address, the archbishop also offered a word of warning: “In addition, in some Western countries where historically the Christian presence has been an integral part of society, a trend emerges that tends to marginalize Christianity in public life, ignore historic and social contributions and even restrict the ability of faith communities to carry out social charitable services.”
His description of the Church’s current social contributions worldwide are eye-opening:
“In this connection, it may be useful that the Delegation of the Holy See should recall some pertinent data on the current services to the human family carried out in the world by the Catholic Church without any distinction of religion or race. In the field of education, it runs 70,544 kindergartens with 6,478,627 pupils; 92,847 primary schools with 31,151,170 pupils; 43,591 secondary schools with 17,793,559 pupils. The Church also educates 2,304,171 high school pupils, and 3,338,455 university students. The Church’s worldwide charity and healthcare centres include: 5,305 hospitals; 18,179 dispensaries; 547 Care Homes for people with Leprosy; 17,223 Homes for the elderly, or the chronically ill or people with a disability; 9,882 orphanages; 11,379 creches; 15,327 marriage counseling; 34,331 social rehabilitation centres and 9,391 other kinds of charitable institutions. To such data about social action activity, there should be added the assistance services carried out in refugee camps and to internally displaced people and the accompaniment of these uprooted persons. This service certainly doesn’t call for discrimination against Christians.”
“It may be useful that the Delegation of the Holy See should recall”—I love his dry way of saying “we do more social services than anyone else in the world in—including, arguably, any government on the planet.”
To bring a small part of the lesson home, note that the services in these 300,000-plus listed institutions (probably the largest network in the world) are described as given “without any distinction of religion or race.” In contrast, our current administration is seeking to define any such services religious groups provide without “any distinction of religion” as therefore, by the very fact, not really religious, and therefore subject to close government control.
According to current executive policy, in contrast to every major world religion, actual religious activities are only those that are turned inward to minister solely to the faithful. In other words, if you act out of caritas—in modern terms, charity—then you are no longer religious. That would make the mission of most churches and other religious groups not a religious one.
But, while we should vigorously attend to what is happening in the U.S., let us not focus too much on our comparatively mild problems.
Remember that report of 100,000 dead a year—and that the Pew Forum has reported that “Christians faced governmental and societal harassment in a larger share of the world’s countries than did other religious groups individually,” a total of some 133 countries.
And we need to ask why this is slighted in the State Department’s latest religious-freedom report.
Is the current administration so fixated on not wanting to appear to be a Christian power defending Christians that it overcompensates by avoiding any mention of the most widespread pattern of religious persecution in the world?
I think yes.