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Faith Under Attack

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Assaults Multiply in Post-Christian Society

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JULY 3, 2007 (Zenit) - Hostility toward Christianity is increasingly becoming a fact of life in many countries. Even in the most Catholic countries, religion has always encountered opposition, but as recent events demonstrate, believers are facing frequent episodes of animosity, both by individuals and institutions.

Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, archbishop of the central Italian city of Bologna, strongly protested a blasphemous depiction of the Virgin Mary, part of a local art exhibition. On June 19 the cardinal presided over a Mass of reparation for the offense, celebrated in the Marian shrine of San Luca, reported the Catholic daily newspaper Avvenire the following day.

Although city authorities distanced themselves from the exhibition following the Church's protests, the artworks had been patronized by Bologna's local government.

Just a few days later came news from Spain, where the daily newspaper La Razón reported June 23 that legal investigations were under way concerning pornographic images of saints. Francisco Muńoz, a Socialist Party official in charge of cultural affairs in the western Spanish region of Extremadura, was denounced for his role in giving official patronage to books by photographer José Antonio M. Montoya.

The books contained blasphemous photos of a pornographic nature not only of a number of saints, but also of Jesus and Mary. The books were published by the local government authorities and one of them even contained a preface written by Montoya.

When the books were published earlier this year, Church authorities had made strong protests. A note issued March 15 by a committee of the Spanish episcopal conference demanded greater respect for the Catholic faith. The images contained in the books are not only an offense against believers, but disturb the conscience of every upright person, the statement argued.


Meanwhile, in France authorities have arrested three young men accused of being responsible for a series of profanations of churches in May, including one 16th-century chapel that was burned to the ground. According to a June 26 report published by the daily newspaper Le Monde, the men were arrested June 21 by police from the town of Quimper, in the Brittany region located in the northwest of the country.

The men inscribed the initials TABM in the places where they carried out their attacks, and at first it was thought to be a Satanic group. It later turned out the men belonged to the neo-pagan group of Celtic nature called "True Armorik Black Metal."

An offense of a different nature confronted the Church of England recently. Media company Sony included images of a violent gunfight in Manchester Cathedral as part of one its new games for PlayStation 3, reported the Times newspaper June 13. The dean of the cathedral, Rogers Govender, described the game as a "virtual desecration."

Following protests from the Anglican Church, supported in Parliament by then prime minister, Tony Blair, Sony apologized, reported the Times two days later. The company said they had not intended to cause offense, but at the same time gave no indication that they would either withdraw the game or accede to the request that they make a donation to the cathedral's work on educating young people against gun crime.

Paganism is also making a comeback in Greece, reported the British newspaper the Guardian on Feb. 1. The article recounted a recent pagan ceremony carried out by a self-styled priestess, Doreta Peppa, in the ruins of the Athenian temple dedicated to the ancient Greek god Zeus. According to the Guardian it was the first such ceremony since the Roman Empire outlawed pagan worship in the late fourth century.

According to the article last year the group Ellinais, of which Peppa is a member, obtained legal recognition as a cultural association. This was a notable achievement as in Greece all non-Christian religions, excepting Islam and Judaism, are prohibited. Members of the group hope to obtain official approval to carry out pagan ceremonies for baptism, marriage and funerals.

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Pagans are also making progress in the United States, where Wiccans recently won a battle with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, reported the Associated Press on April 23. The Wiccan pentacle will now form part of the list of emblems allowed in national cemeteries and on government-issued headstones of fallen soldiers. The government agreed to add the symbol to its list to settle a lawsuit initiated by a group of families.

Christian discrimination

A further victory for pagans came in Scotland, where the University of Edinburgh gave permission to the Pagan Society to hold its annual conference on campus, reported the newspaper Scotland on Sunday on May 27.

The decision drew protests from the university's Christian Union, which had earlier seen one of its events banned by campus authorities because it warned of the dangers of homosexuality.

"It's OK for other religions, such as the pagans, to have their say at the university, but there appears to be a reluctance to allow Christians to do the same," commented Matthew Tindale, a Christian Union staff worker.

The article also cited Simon Dames, a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland, who declared he felt that allowing the pagan festival to go ahead while barring the union meeting was an example of "Christianphobia."

Christians are also alleging unfair discrimination in an English case now before the High Court, reported the BBC on June 22. Lydia Playfoot, a 16-year-old schoolgirl has accused Millais School in Horsham, West Sussex, of discriminating against Christians by banning the wearing of purity rings.

She was told by school officials to remove her ring, which symbolizes chastity, or face expulsion. According to the BBC a group of girls at the school were wearing the rings as part of a movement that originated in the United States, called the "Silver Ring Thing."

The school argued that wearing the ring infringed rules governing what pupils can wear. Playfoot protested, pointing out that Sikh and Muslim pupils can wear bangles and head scarves in class. She also argued that other pupils regularly broke the rules with nose rings, tongue studs, badges and dyed hair.

When Playfoot refused to remove the ring she was taken out of lessons and made to study on her own. The only reason for banning the rings was because the school refused to "give respect to aspects of the Christian faith they are not familiar with," she told the BBC

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European Union

On a wider level any hopes that the European Union would soften its opposition to Christianity were finally killed off recently. Germany took over the rotating European Union presidency in the first semester of this year and Chancellor Angela Merkel had declared she wanted to reopen the debate over whether the prologue to the proposed new constitution should mention the continent's Christian heritage, reported Deutsche Welle on March 24.

"I believe this treaty should be linked to Christianity and God because Christianity was decisive in the formation of Europe," she had said following a meeting with Benedict XVI last year.

Nevertheless, Merkel admitted afterward that there was no real hope of having any such mention in the new constitution, according to Deutsche Welle on May 15.

In Germany the Church is concerned about the future of Christianity, as evidenced in recent comments by Cardinal Karl Lehmann, president of the German episcopal conference. According to a June 22 report by Deutsche Welle, the cardinal warned that an overly zealous religious neutrality by the state could lead to all faiths being treated equally, regardless of the size of their flock and their history.

"The deep cultural connection between Christianity and our legal state, which goes back to the Middle Ages and before, cannot simply be ignored," Lehmann said in a speech given in the city of Karlsruhe. A connection increasingly under attack from growing anti-Christian forces.


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