Monsignor Michael Nazir-Ali, a Pakistani-born British Roman Catholic priest and former Anglican bishop spoke about his many years working to increase understanding and dialogue. He explained, “Intolerance of other faiths is not a historical norm.”
Monsignor Michael described four types of persecution faced by Christians: simple tyranny as in Eritrea; ideological persecution as in China; extremism as in the Holy Land and the ideology of supremacy as in India.
John Pontifex, from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in the UK highlighted the countless numbers of Christians throughout the world who are kidnapped, attacked or killed – and all because of their faithfulness to Christ. A current ACN appeal seeks to support Christians in Ondo, Nigeria to obtain justice after at least 41 people – many of them children – were killed by gunmen during last year’s Pentecost Sunday Mass at St Francis Xavier Catholic Church.
While the terror that many Christians face is hard to comprehend in the UK, Monsignor Michael warned that persecution of faith in the West is not a ‘polite persecution’. The loss of freedoms of speech, worship and conscience are issues affecting Catholics in this country.
The charity ADF UK (Alliance Defending Freedom UK) defends fundamental freedoms nationally and internationally in three ways: advocacy in court; targeting the root causes by engaging with legislators and policy makers; and by supporting the lawyers and leaders of the future to influence change. Ryan Christopher, director of ADF UK, explained that the space to exercise freedom of conscience in the work place is narrowing. Teachers, medical professionals and others are increasingly experiencing difficulties while university students are ‘being cancelled’ for sharing their views.
Examples of ADF’s work include supporting a Catholic priest, Canon Tom White, who had challenged the proportionality of the ban on opening churches in Scotland during the recent pandemic lockdowns, while ‘essential services’ such as bicycle shops remained open. As a result of his legal action, in March 2021 Lord Braid ruled that the Scottish Government’s treatment of churches during the pandemic was unlawful.
ADF have supported the defence of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce and Fr Sean Gough who were charged with breaching a Public Space Protection Order by praying silently in the street. (Since the conference both have been found not guilty in court).
The speakers gave practical ideas to stop persecution:
1) Pray: as individuals and in parish worship for specific persecuted groups. Monsignor Michael advised, “Lift up particular groups of Christians to God, especially in your bidding prayers at Mass. This will place their suffering in the hearts of your people and give strength to the oppressed”.
2) Advocacy: find out about the issues; sign petitions; write to your MP; and support campaigns such as Aid to the Church in Need’s annual Red Wednesday event (November 22).
3) Give money or volunteer your time to charities such as Aid to the Church in Need or ADF.
4) Go and visit persecuted communities to show solidarity.
Pictured above is a refugee camp in Nigeria. © Patience Ibile/ACN.