‘Silent War’ on religious minorities discussed at the European Parliament

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ACN-01By John Pontifex
THE Religious Freedom in the World Report 2014, published by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), has been presented to the European Parliament in Brussels.
Speaking to an audience of 110 invited MEPs and NGO representatives, the report’s Chairman of the Editorial Committee, Peter Sefton-Williams, invited the European policy-makers “to call on religious leaders to speak together against religiously-inspired violence”.
As well as giving the key-note speech for this two-day seminar, hosted by the European People’s Party, ACN arranged for four witnesses to take part in the event.
Bishop Stephen Dami Mamza of Yola, Nigeria, Sister Hanan Youssef of Lebanon, Mrs Dina Raouf Khalil of Egypt and Dr Paul Bhatti of Pakistan, each described their own experiences of persecution.
Some of the speakers went on to detail the care they have provided for the victims of persecution.
Bishop Mamza’s diocese supplies food for 60,000 refugees in eastern Nigeria and gives shelter to 10,000 victims of terrorist aggression.
He said: “Boko Haram is only looking for power. They say it is like ancient Islam but even local imams say Islam has never been such a heartless religion.”
Pakistan’s Dr Paul Bhatti added: “The Taliban inspires the hate speech of many imams in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India and the lack of education makes it difficult to protect the young from this kind of fundamentalism.”
The speakers highlighted the fact that religious persecution is generating unprecedented waves of migration and displacement, often affecting the most vulnerable – women and children.
Sister Hanan Youssef of the Good Shepherd Sisters, who works with Iraqi and Syrian refugees on the outskirts of Beirut, said that so far this year her small dispensary had served 18,000 patients.
Illnesses such as polio, long eradicated from Lebanon, have returned with the refugees.
Most of the 120 new patients she treats every day cannot pay for the medication, having arrived in the refugee camps with nothing.
Mrs Khalil, from the Association of Upper Egypt for Education and Development, who coordinates the development of 35 schools with 12,000 students, explained how the country had been spared the tragedy tearing apart societies in neighbouring countries.
She said that, although Egypt faces a number of challenges, there are small signs of hope.
ACN-02Mrs Khalil spoke of “a young population that is beginning to renew an educational interest in the arts, which is also indicative of a move away from violence.”
European Parliament members said that governments needed to focus on swift action – as well as words – to halt religious extremism and protect persecuted minorities.
They also said that the West needed to take steps to tackle religious illiteracy, which they said was to blame for radicalisation – as reflected by the number of young Europeans and Americans joining jihadists.
Among the proposals, Father Patrick Daly, Secretary General of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe to the European Union, said that improving religious literacy should be a priority throughout the education sector.
He said such initiatives should include historically accurate and factual information about religion and beliefs and their role in society’s cultural, historical and artistic development.
Fr Daly called for officers in public services and diplomatic and external services to be trained in religious affairs to improve their understanding of the role of faith in society.
He said: “Churches and religious communities are ready to cooperate in this important task to help people understand the cultural background and the religious environment that surrounds us.”