Religious freedom is delicate like a web, yet it spans the globe. It involves Christians, but also Buddhists who cannot practice their beliefs in Tibet, with the current Dalai Llama living in permanent exile. In Egypt and Pakistan, blasphemy laws affect Sunni, Shiite, and Sufi Muslims, as well as Christians, according to a recent report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
In China, CNS reports that recently ordained Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin of Shanghai was led away by “a group of unidentified people” after his July 7 ordination and failed to show up for his first Mass. He had said at his ordination that he would step down from the Catholic Patriotic Association. UCA News reported that Bishop Ma is the first government-approved bishop in recent years to announce publicly that he would give up his duties with the Catholic Patriotic Association.
Church bombings continue in Kenya and Nigeria, with dozens dead and hundreds injured. In Vietnam, on July 1, AsiaNews reported that Catholics, gathered at a house of prayer in the Vinh Diocese, were attacked by a group linked to the Vietnam Patriotic Front. Similar attacks since November reportedly net attackers $25 for each priest or lay person beaten during a church service.
In Lebanon, the patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church told CNS that he fears religious unrest in Syria.”Remember Iraq,” Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan said, “where Christians were abused, killed in their churches and houses and forced to exile.” As a result, “they have been reduced to less than one-third of their previous numbers.”
In our own country, assaults on religious freedom are less visible and violent, but just as real. When religious beliefs are subjugated to economic expedience or religious banners used for political agenda, the supporting web of our personal faith twists. The United States has always been a country with strong religious ties — not the same religion, but a shared belief in something divine. Last year, a Gallup poll showed that 9 out of 10 Americans believe in God.
Belief in God implies belief in a religious and/or moral system that is beyond our own personal ideas of right and wrong. For that, many Americans turn to religious traditions and practices that are protected by our Constitution.
But like the spider continually mending its web, we must be ever vigilant of religious freedom. Vietnam has constitutional protection of religious freedom, but that does not stop the bounty hunters. In Pakistan — technically a democracy since 1970 —Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minority affairs and a religious freedom advocate was assassinated on March 2, 2011. The local Taliban claimed responsibility because Bhatti, a Catholic, had blasphemed against Mohammed.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, in his July 4 homily at the closing Mass of the Fortnight for Freedom in Washington, said, “We live in a time that calls for sentinels and public witness. Every Christian in every era faces the same task. But you and I are responsible for this moment. Today. Now.”
We must commit ourselves to protecting this supporting web of our society, the small but strong threads of religious freedom. One way to do this is to follow the U.S. bishops ongoing events. These include a text campaign. You can text the word “Freedom” — or Libertad” in Spanish — to 377377 to receive regular updates on the bishops’ efforts to promote and protect religious freedom.