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Love our neighbour

In a recent homily, the priest spoke briefly about the number of Christians in the world under persecution of one kind or another, from the extremely violent in the Middle East to the more subtle forms of social, land and business exclusion witnessed in western countries or motivated by racism, as in the Indonesian province of Papua.
There are many forms of religious persecution and they exist in most places. This has prompted Pope Francis to comment that more people today are suffering for their faith than at any other time in history.
He regards this as such a series matter that in March this year he devoted his monthly prayer intention to the persecuted Christians, who around the world face daily threats of physical violence because of their religious beliefs.
It is estimated that 200 million Christians are believed to be at risk of physical violence, arrest, torture and death.
The Religious Freedom Report compiled by the State Department in the United States of America notes that in seven of the worse countries—Afghanistan, northern Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Syria—Christians are facing a rising level of intolerance and such severe oppression that it can scarcely get worse.
These are big numbers that reflect an extremely serious and sad situation and, as the priest pointed out, it is a holy and wholesome thought that they should be remembered in our prayer.
However, we also need to remember that it is not only Christians who are being persecuted and it is not just Christianity that is being targeted, but religion in general. Although it is commonly accepted that Christians are the most targeted in the world, they are by no means the only ones, nor is religious persecution something new.
The tendency to suppress sub-cultures has a long human history and since people’s worldview, self-image and attitudes towards neighbour to a significant extent determine their morality, religious differences can be personal, cultural and social—even looked upon as a human rights issue.
The shelves of libraries are stuffed with documentation on religious persecution of various groups at every stage of human history.
In the world today this trend has been magnified and within the scenario no one group is completely innocent. In many parts of the world, there are frequent attacks on totally innocent Muslims, supposedly in retaliation for some act of violence committed by someone who claims to be from the Islamic State or some other group.
In the Middle East, numerically, Muslims suffer to a greater degree than Christians, simply because there are more of them and they have been just as much the butt of terrorism as the Christian communities.
The priest’s encouragement to pray for the persecuted is laudable, but as members of an international Church and as part of a much larger world religious community we also need to make our prayer inclusive.
We should also pray consciously for our persecuted Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Taoist and Hindu brothers and sisters, as well as those from smaller religious faiths and of no faith.
Jesus’ commands are inclusive, love your neighbour refers to members of all religions and none, and do not bear false witness pinpoints speaking prejudicial hearsay and spreading ignorance about any group. JiM