Kirkuk: Christians in prayer for release of Chinese bishops and priests

cina_f_1230_-_vescoviok1.jpgby Louis Sako *
Msgr. Sako, AsiaNews joins the campaign and calls on the local community to show “sincere and fraternal” sympathy and closeness. In the persecutions and looking to the martyrs, the prelate explains, the force of change emerges. A plea for human rights and religious freedom around the world.

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) – On the occasion of Chinese New Year, celebrated on 23 January, which marks the beginning of the year of Dragon AsiaNews sent a letter to President Hu Jintao and Chinese Ambassador in Italy to demand the release of three bishops and six priests, whohave disappeared in police custody or are detained without trial in a country that today is the second largest world economy, is a member of the UN Security Council and has signed the Charter of Human Rights. Among the disappeared prelates are Msgr. James Su Zhimin and Msgr. Cosmas Shi Enxiang, to whom our agency has decided to dedicate the symbolic award “illustrious unknown” 2011 (see AsiaNews 30/12/2011 Two Chinese bishop martyrs recognised as ‘Illustrious Unknown’ for 2011″), for their decades long struggle for the truth, dignity and justice.

The Archbishop Emeritus of Lahore, Lawrence John Saldanha has enthusiastically joined the campaign launched by AsiaNews, stating that the struggle for their liberation is a “matter of religious freedom and basic human rights for free people” (see AsiaNews 31/01/2012 Pakistan bishop joins AsiaNews to demand the release of Chinese bishops and priests). Mgr. Savio Hon Tai-fai, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, has also recently intervened urging the Beijing government to free the bishops and priests, “because it would be good for China’s international image.”

Here is the intervention of Mgr. Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk, who has given his full support to the AsiaNews initiative. Yesterday the bishop prayed with the whole community for “our brothers” priests and bishops, testifying the solidarity of the Iraqi Christian community, which is also a victim of violence and persecution.

I have learned with great pain, thanks to the AsiaNews campaign, of the arrest of some bishops and priests in China. It is an unthinkable fact that a government or a religious group should persecute a person because he or she has a different religion! A medieval concept that has no place in the 21st century! It is difficult to understand the nature of these initiatives against the human person. These acts are an offense to God the Creator and human beings in general. Freedom is an absolute value that everyone must respect, especially and particularly the freedom of conscience [in faith]. Freedom is strictly inherent to the human stature, because, otherwise, man would only be a robot without value.

We, the Iraqi Christians, know what it means to be persecuted, kidnapped, killed and – at the same time – what it feels like to feel helpless! We have a number of martyrs in which we find the strength to endure and persevere, to nourish our hope for change. Let us pray to the Lord that man can mature the Divine seed, in particular in the heart of Chinese leaders and officials so that they can release these innocent people, respecting the plan of God

Today [Monday, January 31] we prayed for them in the cathedral, for the Chinese bishops and priests arrested, on behalf of the Christian community of Kirkuk, I offer our sympathy and our sincere and fraternal closeness to the religious community in China. We follow the news about their fate with concern: their suffering must be a reminder for all Christians around the world and all people of good will and an opportunity for closeness and solidarity. Again, I appeal for everyone to work together to see human rights respected throughout the world. I extend thanks to AsiaNews and those who wish to support the campaign for the release of these our brothers!

I would like to tell them: courage! Despite everything, evil has no future; good is sometimes slow to be fulfilled, but in the end it always wins. The light will come, there will be change. We are praying for your deliverance, as the first Christian community in Jerusalem prayed for the release of Peter and John. Your suffering will not be in vain, I’m sure they will contribute to the understanding of the only possible meaning of life: love.

* Archbishop of Kirkuk