The global head of Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need has warned the persecution of Christians around the world is getting worse.
On a recent flying visit to Australia, ACN’s Secretary-General, Philippe Ozores, told The Catholic Weekly that in many countries the plight of Christians has become severe, mostly due to fundamentalism or anti-religion regimes.
“Unfortunately it’s getting worse in many countries,” Mr Ozores said. “Most of the Christians in the world are allowed to practice their faith freely but we have more and more countries where persecution is getting stronger.”
For some, the situation is so dangerous he said he was unable to talk about some ACN projects.
He urged Christians who live in freedom in Western countries to pray for their “brothers and sisters in faith” in countries where Christianity is completely suppressed.
“We still have regimes where governments systematically repress Christians only for the fact that they believe in Jesus Christ and so I think we should remember them in our prayers,” he said.
“We should be informed about what is going on and I think also that we have an obligation to give practical help as far as we can.”
A major factor in the persecution of Christians around the world is Islamic fundamentalism, he said, particularly in Middle Eastern countries such as Syria, Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
“These are very bad places for Christians.” In China, Sinicisation—forcing religions to adapt to Chinese socialism—is “strengthening its hold on religion in general,” he said.
Meanwhile, in India, nationalist Hinduism is “reducing the liberty” of other religions including Christianity, with people forbidden to convert from Hinduism to another faith.
“A general culture is created which motivates people to exert violence.”
Terrorist groups are also pushing fundamentalist Islam in Africa.
“Islam has been in Africa for many centuries through the Arab traders … but more and more we see how terrorist groups are being funded and radical preachers are being brought in who teach the people not to accept these forms of collaboration … this is a very worrying trend.”
When Islamist fundamentalists detonated explosives in several churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing 253 and injuring hundreds, ACN was on the phone to local bishops the very same day, asking what they could do to help.
“Every year we have dozens of projects for the Church in Sri Lanka so we have strong, tight links with the bishops there. We just called to show that we’re thinking of them and to hear how we could help them.” Mr Ozores said. ACN has approved a special package of about A$200,000 to support the Church in Sri Lanka.
“The Church there needs on-going support to strengthen its presence and also to be a factor of peace-building in this multi-national, multi-religious country which is still recovering from its years-long civil war,” Mr Ozores said.
ACN is keen to help ensure that the terror attacks do not destabilise the Church or the region.
Based in Germany where ACN has its headquarters, Mr Ozores, was in Australia as part of his tour of ACN’s Pacific offices.
The pontifical charity has 23 offices around the world and receives 8,000 applications for funding each year from 150 countries. Thanks to the generosity of more than 400,000 people who donate to ACN, they are able to fund 5,000 projects each year.
“Faith is the motivation for what we do … It’s what inspires us but it’s also what we directly support through projects,” he said.
“We are in close touch with Christians on the ground and we fund projects with very specific help to allow the practice of faith. We really strive to keep the faith alive wherever the Church is threatened.
“We work in about 150 countries every year… the most necessary projects unfortunately happen in countries where we can’t mention [the work we’re doing]… that’s where our brothers and sisters need most help.”