The situation in Iran and the challenge issued by this courageous Chaldean Bishop should cause us to pause and think as we enter into these Holy Days. This Bishop is correct; a culture without God has no future. He also asks us the right question, what are we doing with our freedoms? Pope Benedict reminds us that "A missionary Church known for proclaiming her message to all peoples must necessarily work for the freedom of the faith. She desires to transmit the gift of the truth that exists for one and all."
CHESAPEAKE,VA (Catholic Online) - I recently read a report from Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic Charity under the guidance of the Holy Father with a special mission to "help suffering and persecuted faithful worldwide. It was an interview with the Chaldean Catholic Bishop of Tehran, Ramzi Garmou. He gave the charity a message for Christians of the West, "Be aware of the value of the freedom that you enjoy."
Here is another excerpt from the report.It can be read in full here.
"He then challenged Western Christians to "make good use of their freedom," asking, "How do you use it in your countries?" He emphasized that they must not become "the slaves of a culture that seeks to drive God out of people's hearts," but rather that they should use their freedom to "propagate respect for human life." A culture without God leads to "death" and has "no future," he said.
"Christians in Iran only represent a small minority, yet "their vitality does not depend on their numbers but on the quality of their faith and their living witness." In their "day-to-day dialogue" with the Muslims, the Christians in Iran "give authentic witness to the values of the Gospels," he continued.
"The substantial emigration of Christians from Iran for political, economic and religious reasons represents a challenge, but Bishop Garmou emphasized that the Christian community in Iran does not let itself become discouraged. "Although we are our mothers' children, in truth we were sent to this country by God."
"He continued by saying that it is often forgotten today that the suffering endured for the Church is the "source of the life of the Church." He went on to say that such trials lead to the renewal and strengthening of the Church. Up to 99 percent of the population of the Islamic Republic of Iran is Muslim. Conversions from Islam are forbidden and punishable by death."
"Christians represent a minority of some 80,000, three-quarters of whom are Armenian Orthodox. The 20,000 Catholics living in Iran belong to three different Rites. They are permitted to practice their religion within their congregations at their places of worship, but they are not allowed to profess their faith openly, and missionary activity is forbidden."
Under the heroic leadership of the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, we are standing against the growing encroachments against the fundamental right to Religious Liberty in our own country.
The most recent example is the HHS mandate which seeks to compel our institutions, through the use of the Police Power of the State, to offer contraception, abortion inducing drugs and pay for sterilization.
There is a silver lining in the cloud. This HHS Edict has given rise to a tide of resistance.We have found one another and we are standing together in a movement of solidarity and citizen action. Every single Catholic Bishop in the United States is in opposition to this egregious mandate.
We are also properly using the Courts.The Becket Fund and other good lawyers and law firms have filed numerous lawsuits on behalf of numerous Catholic apostolates. On Thursday, February 23, 2012, the attorneys general from Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Florida and Texas filed lawsuits opposing the unconstitutional mandate and the numbers are increasing almost daily.
There is a legislative response underway. The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act was introduced in Congress (H.R. 1179, S. 1467). It would ensure that all who participate in the health care system "retain the right to provide, purchase, or enroll in health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions." It has not yet been passed - but the efforts continue.
The situation in Iran and the challenge issued by this courageous Chaldean Bishop should cause us to pause and think as we enter into these Holy Days. This Bishop is correct; a culture without God has no future. He also asks us the right question, what are we doing with our freedoms?
In May of 2011, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences gathered in Rome for its 17th annual plenary session. Its theme was "Universal Rights in a World of Diversity - The Case of Religious Freedom". The gathering reflected the deep concerns the Holy See has over growing threats to the fundamental human right to Religious Freedom. Pope Benedict XVI is a Champion of Religious Liberty.
Pope Benedict XVI told the Pontifical Academy, "Since man enjoys the capacity for a free personal choice in truth, and since God expects of man a free response to his call, the right to religious freedom should be viewed as innate to the fundamental dignity of every human person, in keeping with the innate openness of the human heart to God. In fact, authentic freedom of religion will permit the human person to attain fulfillment and will thus contribute to the common good of society."
"Aware of the developments in culture and society, the Second Vatican Council proposed a renewed anthropological foundation to religious freedom. The Council Fathers stated that all people are "impelled by nature and also bound by our moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth"
Only months into his pontificate the Pope told the Roman Curia: "The Second Vatican Council, recognizing and making its own an essential principle of the modern State with the Decree on Religious Freedom, has recovered the deepest patrimony of the Church. By so doing she can be conscious of being in full harmony with the teaching of Jesus himself (cf. Mt 22: 21), as well as with the Church of the martyrs of all time."
"The ancient Church naturally prayed for the emperors and political leaders out of duty (cf. I Tm 2: 2); but while she prayed for the emperors, she refused to worship them and thereby clearly rejected the religion of the State. The martyrs of the early Church died for their faith in that God who was revealed in Jesus Christ, and for this very reason they also died for freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess one's own faith - a profession that no State can impose but which, instead, can only be claimed with God's grace in freedom of conscience."
"A missionary Church known for proclaiming her message to all peoples must necessarily work for the freedom of the faith. She desires to transmit the gift of the truth that exists for one and all. At the same time, she assures peoples and their Governments that she does not wish to destroy their identity and culture by doing so, but to give them, on the contrary, a response which, in their innermost depths, they are waiting for - a response with which the multiplicity of cultures is not lost but instead unity between men and women increases and thus also peace between peoples."
On Thursday, January 19, 2012, when he addressed the Bishops of Region IV in the United States (Baltimore, Washington and the archdiocese for the Military Services) who had gathered for their ad limina visit, he warned them of a "radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres".
He told these successors of the Apostles entrusted with the Church in the United States, that the "seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms - the freedom of religion."
There is a trend emerging in the rhetoric of the current US Administration. It involves the use of the term "freedom of worship" rather than the constituional phrase, the "Free Exercise of Religion". Some say any concern over this verbal change is overblown, a matter of semantics. I passionately disagree. "Freedom of Worship" will, in effect, keep us in our church buildings.
Our worship leads us into a world which God stll loves so much that He sends his only Son - through His Body, the Church - of which we are members.The concern is real. We must act upon it before we lose more of our fundamental right to religious freedom and are impeded from our mission.
Catholics believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ demands a response which goes beyond the walls of our Church buildings. We are our brother and sister's keeper. We do not reach out to people in need because they are Catholic. We reach out to people in need because we are Catholic.
The Edict issued by Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Health and Human Services, which requires all employers, including Catholic and other religious employers, to cover sterilization, abortion inducing drugs, and contraception in their health care plans is an example of the danger we face if we do not oppose the effort to narrow the definition of religious freedom.
This Iranian Chaldean Catholic Bishop has asked Western Christians the proper question: Are we making Good Use of Our Freedom? The West is mission territory now - and we are the missionaries.
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