cardinal timothy dolanThe Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is meeting Nov. 11-13 for their General Assembly.  Out-going USCCB President, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, gave the opening address today, focusing on religious freedom.

He began on a somber note, stating that Christians are killed for their faith at the rate of 17 an hour, every day around the globe, and that more than a billion people live under governments that actively suppress their religious beliefs and expressions. Calling the Middle East the “epicenter” of violence against Christians, Dolan noted persecution is not restricted to that region.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reports that in Vietnam last year “there were marked increases in arrests, detentions, and harassment of groups and individuals viewed as hostile to the Communist Party, including violence aimed at peaceful ethnic minority gatherings and Catholics protesting land confiscations and harassment. … Father Nguyes Van Ly [a Catholic priest engaged in human rights work] was returned to prison after being given a one-year medical parole.”

Although there has been no large-scale violence since 2008, in India “intimidation, harassment, and occasional small-scale violence against members of religious minority groups continue[s], particularly against Christians in states with anti-conversion laws,” prejudice I saw personally in my CRS sponsored visit to Orissa, India.  In China, “[r]eligious freedom conditions for Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims remain particularly acute, as the government broaden[s] its efforts to discredit and imprison religious leaders, control the selection of clergy, ban certain religious gatherings, and control the distribution of religious literature…. The [Chinese] government [has] also detained hundreds of unregistered Protestants in the past year and stepped up efforts to shutter illegal meeting points and public worship activities. Dozens of unregistered Catholic clergy remain in detention or have disappeared….”

Dolan goes on to say that religious persecution is an “equal opportunity” crime within the human family, and that this crime threatens the common good, and all humanity suffers.

He ended his address with this reminder of our “first freedom:”

Our nation and world are not where we need to be in terms of protecting and promoting religious freedom in the many places where it is threatened.  U.S. policy makers need to place greater priority on religious freedom in foreign policy discussions and decisions, an observation cogently made to us bishops at our summer meeting by Dr. Thomas Farr.   Americans generally, and our Catholic people especially, need to become better informed of the systematic challenges to the fundamental right of religious freedom in far too many countries.  The first freedom, which we too often take for granted in our own nation, even as we are vigilant in its defense, is under often violent attack in other nations with terrible human consequences.

Read Cardinal Dolan’s Opening Address at the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies.