Let us ‘confront’ religious persecution with dialogue Archbishop’s plea as report highlights religious freedom decline

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1106Scotland_speakersBy Michael J Robinson
THE head of Nigeria’s Catholic bishops has told senior politicians and representatives from faith groups in Scotland that for the cycle of religious violence to be overcome leaders must meet and “confront” issues openly and honestly.
Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, addressed an audience at Edinburgh’s Gillis Centre yesterday (Wednesday, 5th November 2014) for the Scottish launch of Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need’s report on religious freedom.
Hosting the event was Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews and Edinburgh, who was joined by Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Minister for Communities and Legal Affairs, Rabbi Rose of the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation, Janice Oliver, Administrator of Edinburgh Mosque and members of other Scottish faith groups.
Archbishop Kaigama, whose diocese of Jos in northern Nigeria has been racked by inter-faith violence, spoke about the price paid by his community at the hands of religious extremists, who in the nearby Borno State have driven out entire Christian communities.
The Archbishop insisted that the path to justice could only be found through frank and sincere engagement with the causes of grievances on both sides of the religious and ethnic divide.
Underlining that the root causes of the violence were economic and political factors rather than religion, Archbishop Kaigama said: “For faith to flourish, for freedom to be upheld, we must be able to overcome prejudices and have the audacity, the courage to sit down and confront one another, not violently but with respect and dignity.
“Please we need to do this.”
Archbishop Kaigama said: “The Muslim needs to feel that he can turn and say to us I feel hurt about things, and for our part we need to feel that we can say to the Muslim that we also feel hurt about things that have been done to us but never should this lead to violence.”
The Archbishop called on the Scottish Government and politicians across the political divide to recognise the extent of religious intolerance today and take action to address the causes.
Describing the violence perpetrated in particular by extremist group Boko Haram in north-east Nigeria, he spoke of how in former times inter-faith relations in his part of Nigeria were good but that “now there is so much mistrust and suspicion and so on”.
Before the launch event, Minister Cunningham gave a statement to Aid to the Church in Need: “The Scottish Government strongly condemns the horrifying, escalating persecution of Christians at this time and all religious persecution of faith minorities globally.
“We urge all governments and their communities to develop and strengthen inter-faith relations as a vital way to challenge human rights abuses and recognise what we can achieve together for a better world.”
Ms Cunningham also praised and welcomed the Religious Freedom in the World Report – 2014 which was launched in the Gillis Centre by its Editor-in-Chief John Pontifex, who gave an overview of the findings and conclusions.
The report found that in nearly 60 percent of countries worldwide religious freedom was “compromised”.
It also found that there were 55 countries where the situation of religious freedom had deteriorated during the period under review – October 2012 to June 2014.
Commenting on the report, Archbishop Cushley said: “I found [the report] objective, well researched and impressive… I found it quite chilling that in today’s world it is still possible to be maltreated and persecuted and even put to death on the scale that we found in this report.”