Do Catholics Care Enough About Persecuted Christians?

A Chinese Catholic deacon holds a bible at Palm Sunday Mass at an “underground” or unregistered church in China’s Hebei province.

For the first time, American legislation in defense of international religious freedom has reached into the Chinese Politburo.

Last week, President Donald Trump signed into law a bill to authorize sanctions against any officials in China’s top political body responsible for ongoing persecution against the country’s Muslim Uighur minority.

Passed by Congress with only one “no” vote, the action follows on the heels of this month’s release of the State Department’s 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom (IRF).

During the report’s public release, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lauded the United States’s commitment.

“America is not a perfect nation by any means, we always strive towards that more perfect union, trying to improve,” he said.

“[But] there is no other nation that cares so deeply about religious freedom.”

Such commitment was marked this week by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Each day from June 22–29 highlights an issue of concern, whether domestic or international.

Yesterday (June 24) the focus was on China.

Last summer, the government-affiliated Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association—representing about half of China’s estimated 12 million Catholics—condemned US criticism after the State Department’s second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom advocated for the 800,000 to 2 million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities who have been arbitrarily detained in internment camps.

But one month later, the Chinese government permitted the first consecration of a Vatican-ordained bishop—a result of Pope Francis signing a controversial 2018 deal with Chinese authorities in an attempt to unite Rome with the underground Catholic church.

The US bipartisan consensus evident in the Uighur law reflects Pompeo’s assertion. First amendment rights guarantee freedom for all religions, and Americans generally desire for such liberty to extend worldwide.

But is there particular concern over Christian persecution? And is religious liberty eroding at home?

Two new polls suggest declining Catholic attention abroad, while the faithful grow more worried about the US.

Aid to the Church in Need–USA (ACN–USA), an international papal agency that supports suffering and persecuted Christians in more than 140 countries, surveyed 1,000 US Catholics.

First conducted in 2018, the 2020 results were tallied in January and released in March. COVID-19 had not yet overwhelmed American attention.

At the time, more than 9 in 10 found the persecution of Christians to be “very” or “somewhat” severe. This percentage held firm from 2019.

However, the share of “very severe” fell 11 percent year-over-year (41% vs. 46%). And a similar drop marked those who were “very concerned” about global Christian persecution (52% vs. 58%).

While still high levels of concern, the 2020 percentage ranked lowest on the list of five global issues surveyed by ACN–USA.

“Very concerned” Catholics ranked human trafficking first (79%), followed by poverty (70%), climate change (57%), and the refugee crisis (55%), with Christian persecution (52%) last.

But like Christian persecution, most issues also decreased from the year before, while the rankings changed slightly.

Human trafficking remained first, but fell from 82 percent in 2019. Poverty remained second, but fell from 74 percent. The refugee crisis was third, at 60 percent. And though climate change held steady at 57 percent, it ranked fifth—below Christian persecution—in 2019.

“Two years ago, the genocidal campaign waged by ISIS against Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria had only just begun to decline, but memories of that atrocity have faded since then,” said George Marlin, ACN–USA chairman.

“This may well help explain the apparently lesser concern.”

Now the pandemic and resulting economic crisis have distracted Catholics even further, said Edward Clancy, ACN–USA director of operations.

“I was relieved to see the religious freedom report wasn’t delayed and moved to the back burner,” he said. “Whether concern is down or not, it can’t be left to disappear.”

China, however, is not yet on the Catholic radar.

Iran ranked No. 1 on ACN–USA’s surveyed list of nations where the persecution of Christians is perceived to be “most severe.” It was followed by North Korea, Iraq, and Syria. Iran also topped the poll in 2019, followed by Iraq, Afghanistan, and North Korea.

In lamenting the overall yearly decline, Marlin highlighted inadequate media coverage of Islamist terror in Nigeria and Africa’s Sahel region, Hindu nationalism in India, and state repression in China.

Even following the agreement with Pope Francis, the Chinese government has recognized only 3 of an estimated 20 Vatican-consecrated “underground” bishops.

“There’s a great darkness over parts of the world,” Pompeo said in his rollout speech, “where people of faith are persecuted or denied the right to worship.”

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Source: Christianity Today