By BosNewsLife News Center with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
LONDON/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– Britain’s Prince Charles says it is of an “indescribable tragedy” that “Christianity is now under such threat in the Middle East” and he urged Muslims and other religious leaders to respect other faiths.
The heir to the throne made the appeal in an unusual strongly worded message at the launch of a report by Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which warned that religious freedom had deteriorated in 55 of the 196 countries studied in recent months.
“It is an indescribable tragedy that Christianity is now under such threat in the Middle East – an area where Christians have lived for 2,000 years, and across which Islam spread in 700 AD, with people of different faiths living together peaceably for centuries,” Prince Charles said.
He called for humility among all faiths and urged religious leaders to start a dialogue to end the bloodshed. “My own Christian faith has enabled me to speak to, and listen to, people from other traditions including Islam,” he said.
“Rather than remaining silent, faith leaders have, it seems to me, a responsibility to ensure that people within their own tradition respect people from other faith traditions. We have yet to see the full potential of faith communities working together.”
The prince raised the plight of several other religious groups. “The horrendous and heart-breaking events in Iraq and Syria have brought the subject of religious freedom and persecution to the forefront of the world’s news,” he added.
“We have learnt with mounting despair of the expulsion of Christians, Muslims and Yezidis from towns and cities that their ancestors have occupied for centuries.”
“Sadly” he added, “incidents of violence in Iraq and Syria are not isolated.They are found throughout some, though not all, of the Middle East; in some African nations; and in many countries across Asia.”
His video recorded comments reflected findings by ACN. Its report said that of 196 countries in the world studied from October 2012 until June this year, 81 have religious freedom impaired (classified as “high” or “medium”) or it is in decline.
There have been “large population displacements due to religious persecution, especially in the Middle East,”ACN explained.
About 35 countries had some religious freedom issues “of concern”, but with no eterioration in their status. The remaining 80 countries indicated no concerns.
Where there has been a change concerning religious freedom, it has almost always been for the worse, ACN noted.
In total, 20 countries are designated as “high” with regard to lack of religious freedom. Of these, 14 experience religious persecution linked to extremist Islam, including Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Maldives, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
In the remaining six countries, religious persecution is linked to authoritarian regimes in Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, North Korea, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, the group said.
ACN’s report also warned as Western Europe becomes more diverse, political and social tensions are rising between different faiths and cultural groups. It said there is a “rise of religious intolerance and “aggressive atheism” in Western Europe. And, it noted, a growing “religious illiteracy” among Western policy makes, “leading to misunderstandings in foreign policy areas.”
Besides, a “worrying growth of anti-Semitic incidents” has been reported in Europe, ACN said.
“In the period under review, global religious freedom entered a period of serious decline and the report confirms media perceptions of a rising tide of persecution aimed at marginalised religious communities,” explained John Pontifex, the London-based editor-in-chief of the report.
He said the report showed that “governments and religious leaders – have continually failed to stand up for religious freedom” and that “serial human rights abuses – from the threat of massacres in the Middle East and discrimination in the workplace in Western countries – are the direct result of religious freedom violations.”
The document includes a foreword by Paul Bhatti, the brother of Shahbaz, a murdered Pakistan Federal Minister for Minorities, and 10 case studies describing “serious religious freedom abuses” as well as cooperation between faith communities.
“As a Catholic organisation, it is our duty not simply to stand up for Christians suffering religious freedom violations, but for people of all faiths,” Pontifex added.