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“Christmas under Siege around the World” Religious Freedom Panel Remarks

December 14, 2005
Washington, DC
Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

I want to begin by thanking Senator Santorum for inviting me here today. This is a very important forum. Three things distinguish ant-Christian persecution and discrimination around the world. First, it’s ugly. Second, it’s growing. And third, the mass media generally ignore or downplay its gravity.

I also need to add that I’m here today purely as a Christian believer and as the archbishop of Denver. My comments are my own. I speak neither for the American Catholic bishops as a body, nor for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, of which I’m a member.

Since the close of the Second Vatican Council 40 years ago this month, the world Catholic community has placed a big emphasis on building mutual respect with all persons of good will, including those in non-Christian religions. Catholics and other Christians have worked especially hard to create a deeper dialogue with Jews and Muslims, who share our common religious ancestor in Abraham. A great deal of good has been accomplished.

Despite this, it’s also true that anti-Christian discrimination and violence seem to be growing throughout the Islamic world. In the past several years, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and even Muslim-controlled areas of the heavily Catholic Philippines have all seen extraordinary acts of bloodshed against Christians.

In late October, Muslim extremists beheaded three Christian teen-age girls and badly wounded a fourth on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia. These murders were not isolated or random incidents. They were part of a brutal, on-going war by Islamic militants against the country’s Christian minority. Three more Christian girls and a Christian couple were reported shot in separate attacks in November.

Christians make up between 9 percent and 16 percent of Indonesia’s population. Indonesia is a democracy with a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion. It also has the largest Muslim population of any nation in the world, and violence against the Christian minority has steadily continued over the past decade.

In general, Western news media have done an inadequate job of covering this story. News reports tend to describe Indonesia’s violence as generically “sectarian,” as if Muslim and Christian extremists were mutually responsible. This is troubling and flatly false. The bloodshed is overwhelmingly provoked and carried out by Islamic militants against the Christian minority. Over the past decade, hundreds of thousands of persons have been displaced and thousands killed in this anti-Christian campaign of violence.

Christians see Christmas as the birthday of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. As Christmas approaches this year, I would call on all persons of good will – not just American Christians, but also American Muslims -- to demand from our government and our ally Indonesia an immediate effort to end to the violence against Christians in Indonesia.

Anti-Christian violence in Indonesia poses a threat not just to regional peace but also to mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims worldwide. And that is something neither community of faith can afford.



Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved