Consequences of the Arab Spring
Christians Increasingly Under Pressure
By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, April 26, 2013 (Zenit.org) - The conflict in Syria continues and in other countries that underwent regime changes, such as Egypt, the fate of Christians remains a matter of great concern.
This week two Christian archbishops, the Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox archbishops of Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, were kidnapped by what Reuters, in an April 22 report, termed “a terrorist group" in the village of Kfar Dael.
In September last year Archbishop Ibrahim told Reuters that “Christians have been attacked and kidnapped in monstrous ways and their relatives have paid big sums for their release."
Initially reports came that the two archbishops had been released. Later, however, Jean-Clement Jeanbart, the Greek-Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo, denied they had been released, Asia News reported April 24.
The very day of the kidnapping, April 22, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) published a special report titled “Protecting and Promoting Religious Freedom in Syria.”
Syria has traditionally been a religiously diverse country of some 22 million people, the report observed. Sunni Muslims account for around 75% of the population, but there are substantial minorities of Alawites, Christians and Druzes.
The ongoing conflict “threatens Syria’s religious diversity, as members of the smallest minority communities are either fleeing the country or face an uncertain future in a post al-Assad Syria,” the report commented.
The commission’s report called upon both the United States and other countries to implement programs that support minority rights and religious freedom.
The U.S. agency admitted that conditions were certainly not ideal prior to the current uprising, commenting that “Syria offered a modicum of freedom of religion, including worship, particularly for Syria’s smallest religious minority communities, including Christians.”
“However, the government controlled the selection of Sunni Muslim imams and limited their religious freedoms,” the report noted.
The report also blamed the regime for a decades-long policy of repressing the Sunni majority and for deepening hostilities among the religious minorities.
At the same time religious communities that have remained neutral during the violent uprisings are being seen by opposition forces as being supportive of the government.
“As these sectarian fissures deepen, it is increasingly likely that religious communities will be targeted not for their political allegiances, but solely for their religious affiliation,” USCIRF warned.
It is clear, USCIRF’s report stated, that “that sectarianism is increasing and religiously-motivated attacks are being perpetrated by the al-Assad regime and its proxies, as well as at times by opposition forces seeking his overthrow, resulting in severe violations of religious freedom.”
“These violations also threaten Syria’s religious diversity by increasing the likelihood of religiously-motivated violence and retaliation continuing in a post-al-Assad Syria, where religious minorities will be particularly vulnerable,” it warned.
Egypt is another country where Christians are under threat. There are fears that the newly approved constitution fails to protect the rights of Christians, the BBC reported on January 3.
An Egyptian mother and her seven children were given lengthy jail sentences for illegally changing their names on official documents, the news service Russia Today reported January 16.
The family wanted to revert to their Christian names following the death of their Muslim father.
Nadia Ali Mohamed was born Christian but converted to Islam when she married her husband Mustafa Mohamed Abdel-Wahab, the report explained. When he died in 1991, she wanted to go back to being a Christian.
In 2004, after the family became Christians once more and replaced their Muslim names on their identity cards with Christian names. The family was sentenced to 15 years in prison for violating the laws regarding name changes.
Meanwhile Islamic groups continue to attack Christian buildings with little action by the police or security forces. On January 16 the Assyrian International News Agency reported that hundreds of Muslims destroyed a social services building belonging to the Coptic Church while chanting Islamic slogans. The building was located in the village of Fanous, in the Tamia district of Fayoum province, 130 KM south west of Cairo.
Earlier this month a mob attacked Cairo’s St Mark’s Coptic cathedral, throwing rocks and fire bombs, the New York Times reported on April 8.
“The police are not trying to protect us or do anything to stop the violence,” said Wael Eskandar, a Coptic Christian activist. “On the contrary, they are actively aiding the people in civilian clothes” attacking the Christians, he said according to the article in the New York Times.
The attack followed several days of conflict, which included a gunfight in which four Christians and one Muslim died.
The Coptic Pope Tawadros II accused President Mohammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, of failing to protect the cathedral in what a report published April 18 in the Washington Post said was “an unprecedented direct criticism.”
Tensions continue, with the Aljazeera news agency reporting on April 22 that 10 people have now died in recent weeks during the clashes between Muslims and Coptic Christians in Egypt.
In many Middle Eastern countries the outlook for Christians continues to be very troubling, but neither Western governments nor international institutions seem to consider it to be worth much attention.
England, Wales Bishops
Host Scripture Conference
Bishop Brignoll: Giving People Confidence in the Word So As to Proclaim It
By Ann Schneible
ROME, April 29, 2013 (Zenit.org) - A conference aiming to promote a deeper understanding of sacred Scripture among the Catholic community in England and Wales concluded last week in Durham, England.
"The Word of the Lord" sponsored by the Bishops' Conference for England and Wales, focused around three key areas of scriptural engagement: Catholic Biblical Theology; the Scriptures in the Church's pastoral ministry; and the Bible in mission and dialogue.
Tied to the conference is a seven-day initiative still under way. From April 25 (the feast of Saint Mark) to May 1, the bishops' conference Web site is posting a selection of the bishops' favorite passages, and Twitter users throughout the country are invited to do the same.
The keynote speakers of the conference were Fr. Timothy Radcliffe OP, Michelle Moran, and Fr. Henry Wansbrough OSB. They spoke about the foundation and inspiration that Scripture provides for Catholic beliefs, identity and practice.
Bishop Peter Brignoll of the Wrexham Diocese is a member of the bishops' national Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis, which organized the "Word of the Lord" conference.
The primary aim of the conference, he told ZENIT, was to "give our existing communities a greater confidence in their own reception of the Word."
He noted how the aim of this year's conference, which is an initiative for the Year of Faith, is significant in light of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Second Vatican Council. He noted how the Council spoke about the participation in the life and mission of the Church."That begins with our own people having the confidence to listen to the Word, be able to receive that Word, and then in due time to proclaim that word through their own lives."
It is important, Bishop Brignoll continued, to form people in a correct interpretation, "to begin to theologize themselves, and to have that confidence to enter into dialogue with other people. First of all, that dialogue may well be with fellow Catholics, and then they will develop strength, that confidence, that understanding, to be able to speak to others of the Word made Flesh."
"Part of it must begin with attending to the Scripture, listening to its proclamation, or reading it," he said. "And part of it is proclamation. But also, then, again the document on the Liturgy speaks about sacred silence within the Liturgy. There must be a silence in people's lives for them to reflect upon."
Catholic Midwives Win Appeal
Court Says They Shouldn't Have to Participate in Scheduling Abortions
LONDON, April 29, 2013 (Zenit.org) - A court in Scotland has ruled that two Catholic midwives have a right to refuse to help in any way with abortions or scheduling abortions.
The Edinburgh court upheld last Wednesday the right to conscientious objection for Mary Doogan and Concepta Wood.
They had lost an early case, when a judge found that scheduling staff for abortions was not protected by the conscience clauses in the Abortion Act 1967.
The midwives appealed that ruling, citing their right to be exempt from participation in any way in abortions..