In his opening keynote speech, EU Special Envoy for Religious Freedom, Ján Figel’ noted that over 100,000 Christians are killed every year because of their faith. “Those who do not understand religion and misuse religion cannot understand what is happening in the world,” he said. In his speech, Figeľ quoted German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyred during the Third Reich, who criticized silence and inaction in the face of evil, and concluded that much more must be done worldwide against religiously-motivated persecution.
The situation of Christians around the world has never been so precarious as it is today, said Bishop Stephan Turnovszky, in welcome remarks delivered at the start of the conference on behalf of Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna. While there is no organized persecution in Europe, there are frightening trends involving marginalization, as well as political and media reprisals, he said. “There are violent counter-demonstrations at pro-life events in many countries,” he noted as an example. But these are “hardly criticized by the media.”
The Bishop also noted that Europe is increasingly failing to protect people – particularly new refugees – who have been targeted because of their religious convictions. “After risking their lives to get to Europe [refugees] are often subjected here to violence, threats, and discrimination on the basis of their Christian faith,” he said. This is too often overlooked by European authorities, he said.
During the morning sessions, speakers addressed the situation of Christians outside Europe – in countries like Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, and Syria. The programme included the personal testimony of “Timothy C.”, a man who fled North Korea where he faced certain death because of his religious beliefs. Separately, other legal experts spoke about the persecution and killing of Christians in Nigeria at the hands of terrorist group Boko Haram and the little-known Fulani Herdsmen.
Swedish MEP Lars Adaktusson then spoke about his visit to Northern Iraq where he saw “the signs of deliberate destruction and contempt for the beliefs of others” – crushed holy symbols, burned books, Islamic State graffiti on crosses and church walls. Such attacks against Christians motivated him earlier this year to table a resolution, which passed unanimously in the European Parliament, recognizing the systematic killing of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East as a genocide.
“We must never hesitate in the defence of religious freedom,” Adaktusson said in his conclusion. “In the end, it is about standing up for a value-based foreign policy based on human dignity and human rights. Such a policy must include an explicit commitment to the world’s most persecuted religious groups.”
During the afternoon sessions, speakers considered the situation of Christian communities inside Europe – focusing on growing governmental restrictions on conscience, parental rights, freedom of association, and freedom of speech, as well as hate crimes against the faithful, and acts of vandalism against Christian churches and cemeteries.
Regarding the combined European and international themes of the conference, Ellen Fantini, Executive Director of the Observatory, said: “The persecution faced by Christians around the world must be recognized and treated by the international community with the seriousness it deserves. But the pressure faced by Christians in Europe is much more subtle – what Pope Francis has called ‘polite persecution’. If gone unchecked, such incidents can lead to far worse.”
Member of the Vienna Regional Parliament and founder of the Observatory, Gudrun Kugler, encouraged audience members to contact politicians to motivate them to take up initiatives to “create space for Christians in Europe and to address atrocities committed against Christians around the world.”
Entitled, “Embattled: Christians Under Pressure in Europe and Beyond”, the conference sought to inform lawmakers, professionals, clergy, and the general public, as well as media from Austria and neighbouring countries, about the threats Christians face today in Europe and other regions – and what responses are being considered to help them. More than 100 people attended the conference, which was held at the Archbishop’s Palace in Vienna.
Organized by the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians, an NGO based in this city, the conference brought together leading legal and political experts. Speakers included Ján Figeľ, EU Special Envoy for Religious Freedom; Swedish MEP Lars Adaktusson, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Sub-Committee for Human Rights of the European Parliament; and Tamás Török, Hungary’s newly named Under Secretary of State in the Ministry of Human Capacities, who is responsible for persecuted Christians.
The conference was organized in cooperation with local partners ADF International, Open Doors, Aid to the Church in Need, and Christian Solidarity International, and with the support of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies.
Ellen Kryger Fantini, Executive Director
Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe
Vienna 1040, Austria
+43 1 274 9898 (tel.)
+43 660 5 55 0171 (cel.)
About the Observatory:
The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe was founded by Gudrun Kugler, and is a non-governmental and not-for-profit organization registered under Austrian law. Through its website and its annual report, the Observatory provides European Union institutions, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the United Nations, and religious institutions such as the Council of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences in Europe with objective and reliable data on the phenomenon of intolerance and discrimination against Christians in Europe. The overall aim of providing this information is to help officials and policy-makers to take appropriate measures within their respective spheres of competence.
The Observatory is a member of the Fundamental Rights Platform of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. It is funded by private donations.
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