American Catholics are aware of Christian persecution but need leadership from clerics

American Catholics are aware of Christian persecution but need leadership from clerics
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A poll of American Catholics shows many in the pews are aware of worldwide persecution of Christians, but need more leadership to make it a priority for the church in United States.

The Aid to the Church in Need-USA (ACNUSA) survey reveals the extent to which American Catholics are aware of Christian persecution throughout the world, and to what extent they feel the pope, their bishops and their parish priests make the issue a priority. While 40 percent of U.S. Catholics believe persecution is “severe,” and almost half think Pope Francis is “very engaged” on the issue, only 27 percent say the same of their local bishops. Even fewer, 24 percent, feel their parishes are “very involved.” Only half of American Catholics have donated in the past year to an organization that comes to the aid of persecuted Christians.

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“What the survey reveals quite clearly,” said George Marlin, chairman of ACNUSA, “is that there is a need to increase the engagement level of the U.S. Catholic Church when it comes to global Christian persecution — both at the grassroots and leadership levels. The issue has to become a priority.”

 

The World Watch 2018 report by Open Doors USA on Christian persecution says more than 215 million Christians face high levels of persecution, including discrimination, loss of property, torture, rape, slavery, banishment and murder — because of their religious belief. It further reports 255 Christians are killed worldwide each month. Every month, 104 Christians are abducted, 180 Christian women are raped, sexually assaulted or forced into marriage. Another 160 Christians are detained or imprisoned without trial, and 66 churches are attacked.

Leaders of Save the Persecuted Christians (STPC) Coalition, a newly-formed national coalition of groups and individuals reporting on and serving the persecuted, agree that many Catholics could do more at the local level to educate, inform and help in a significant and enduring way.

At a recent Heritage Foundation event marking the second anniversary of U.S. recognition of genocide in the Middle East, Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom and a Catholic sworn in this year, said: “It is more dangerous now than at anytime in history to be a person of faith.” Brownback called for alliances between the political left and right and advocated for religious freedom to be advanced in national security policy, assistance programs, and economic strategies.

In terms of possible U.S. and other western government policies to deter Christian persecution, U.S. Catholics say diplomatic pressure is most important, followed by economic sanctions, granting emergency asylum to victims of persecution, supporting persecuted Christian communities financially, and military intervention.

These diplomatic and policy responses require the support of the people in the pews, so coalition members sponsored a national awareness banner campaign modeled after a grassroots effort in the 1970s using signs outside places of worship to “Save Soviet Jewry.” That campaign turned into a powerful political movement and catalyst for policy changes that saved lives and contributed to the end of what President Reagan described as the “Evil Empire.”

The coalition’s banner features the Arabic “nun” letter, which is the first letter for “Nazarene,” the Arabic word for Christian. It came to symbolize oppression of Christians after ISIS used the letter to mark the doorposts of those targeted for annihilation. Educational materials, awareness resources, links to aid organizations, news updates and free banner kits can be found at the  website, SaveThePersecutedChristians.org.

The Rev. Andre Mahanna, a leading member of Save the Persecuted Christian Coalition and founder of St. Rafka Mission of Hope and Mercy — a nonprofit based in Lebanon and the United States working directly with Christian victims of ISIS — is also the U.S. president of the Apostolic Union of Clergy, a Vatican-associated office. He is working to assist U.S. Catholic clerics on strategies to address the historic levels of persecution.

Mahanna, himself a survivor of persecution, meets nationwide with priests and bishops to share stories and discuss threats to religious freedom at home and abroad. He plans to meet with Vatican officials in Rome this month. “Pope Francis is informed and engaged on the issue of persecution,” Mahanna said. “However, the Holy Father, bishops, priests and the faithful can all do more, must do more, to address the violence, help the victims and engage the powerful influence of the West.”

Given the poll findings, the Save the Persecuted Christians’ national banner campaign is perfectly timed to engage more Catholics in the United States on the issue of global Christian persecution. As the chairman of the ACNUSA has said, the goal is to show bishops and their priests that the laity need more education and leadership to give them a stronger sense of the seriousness and pervasiveness of Christian persecution around the world.  

Denise “Dede” Laugesen is community awareness director of St. Rafka Mission of Hope and Mercy and a founding member of Save the Persecuted Christians.