Religious freedom under assault worldwide

By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald Commentary

There have been numerous attacks on people of faith, churches and synagogues across the world and even in our archdiocese and state. What do you make of these horrible crimes?

We always talk about religious freedom, but do we really have religious freedom today? There is real persecution of religious people going on, and it is a sign of that the evil one is in our midst.

Your heart had to sink when you saw the reports about the mass killings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.

It’s impossible for anyone not to be devastated by the despicable actions of terrorists, whose only aim is to gain notoriety for whatever their cause is by killing innocent persons. In Sri Lanka, more than 250 people were killed in six coordinated, suicide-bombing attacks – three bombs targeted Christian churches, including two Catholic churches, and the other three bombs targeted hotels. The death toll continues to rise. Of the 250 casualties so far, 45 have been children. That’s nearly one-fifth of the death toll. In a country that has been mired in a 30-year civil war – which has cost the lives of between 40,000 and 100,000 civilians – the deaths of so many children is sobering. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith is the archbishop of Columbo, and he has come out forcefully about the need for the government to give more than lip service to protecting people of faith by finding the perpetrators and bringing them to justice. He also mentioned how vulnerable students in religious schools are to these attacks. The cardinal took the bold step of canceling Masses after the Easter bombings because he could not ensure the safety of worshipers. Cardinal Ranjith is a courageous man of faith. I met him in Rome in the early 2000s when he was the adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and president of the Pontifical Mission Societies. I ask everyone to pray for his diocese and for the victims and their families.

There have been other attacks as well in our own country.

Yes, just recently in Louisiana, a 21-year-old son of a sheriff’s deputy was arrested in St. Landry Parish in connection with setting fire to three African-American churches in and around Opelousas. Each of those churches was more than a century old. We have raised money in our own archdiocese to help defray some of the costs of rebuilding. Just last week, a 19-year-old man in California opened fire on the Chabad of Poway synagogue, killing a woman who saved her rabbi’s life by jumping in front of him when the shooting started. The rabbi’s injuries included losing a finger. Six months ago, 11 people were killed in an attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Last September, anti-Semitic graffiti was spray-painted on the Northshore Jewish Congregation in Mandeville, the only synagogue in St. Tammany Parish. This kind of hatred and bigotry have no place in our world.

What can people in the Archdiocese of New Orleans do in response?

One important thing always is to pray for a conversion of hearts. We pray Our Family Prayer at every Mass, which petitions God to make us a loving and peaceful family. We are also called to ask God to bring an end to the wars and the rumors of wars across the globe. This is one of the most violent moments in our country in the last 100 years. A lot of this violence is rooted in power, greed, hatred and prejudice. Anti-Christian persecution in the early 21st century is one of the world’s foremost human rights challenges. Our Catholic faith has a long history tradition of persecution. The apostles and others died because of Christian persecution. The 21 Coptic Christian martyrs who were beheaded on a beach in Libya in 2015 gave their lives through an act of faith. They are remembered now by their family and friends, in paintings and photographs, with royal crowns on their heads. They have fought the good fight. They have finished the race. They have kept the faith.

Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to clarionherald@clarionherald.org.

 

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