For us, Christians, in the beginning it was the Word – en archê ên ho logos – and in this beginning, when you look at the Greek “archê”, it means more than temporal beginning, it means the principle, the organizing principle of reality and of our faith. So, for us, above all it is important to speak. And this is how this is so important for us to start speaking of the situation of persecuted Christians and to speak about ways of addressing that problem. No more silencing is available to us, as Péter was saying, we need to address this and we need to start by talking and analyzing, and gathering here is a very important step in that direction.
President Jair Bolsonaro, in his speech at the opening of the General Assembly, spoke about this issue – he spoke about many issues – and he spoke about what Brazilians think and about what he thinks; it was a speech from the heart, a speech that was criticized because he talked too directly, and I think that this is exactly what is needed: to talk directly and to go head on to the issues. And the issue of persecution of Christians is one of those. Brazil is very much committed to this very essential endeavor. We are also part of the launching of the Alliance for Religious Freedom, last Monday, under the leadership of President Trump and Secretary Mike Pompeo, another very important initiative. And all that because Brazilians care deeply about this issue. Brazilians are, in their majority, a Christian nation and a religious nation, and we care about this issue. And we are trying to bring this new concept of democracy: democracy like doing things that the people care for. That should be the thing, the original concept of democracy but it has been too often forgotten. Also, not only out of a political consideration, but also because of our faith, and our faith that also de voice of the people is the voice of God.
We are extremely happy to see leaders like President Jair Bolsonaro, like President Orbán, like Péter here, speaking about this problem. I was in Hungary recently, and I was deeply moved by the way that Hungarians take at heart their Christian heritage, and their Christian faith, and we commend immensely this effort.
So, religions exist and they are part of Mankind, that is too often forgotten. Nowadays it looks like religion is something accidental to Mankind, but we don’t think that is the case: if you read all Anthropology texts, you see that no human community, as primitive as it may be, was ever found that doesn’t have three elements – some sort of family structure, language, and faith in something higher. So religious faith has accompanied Mankind since the beginning, just like family and just like language, and we should not treat that as primitive, because, otherwise, we would also renounce language, because language is what make us human, and since you find language among primitive peoples, it doesn’t mean that you should give up language. The same way, you should not give up religion just because it comes from the dawn of Mankind.
The threat that we face is, of course, in a way what we call intolerance and ignorance in our societies. But we have to first begin by thinking what happens in countries of Christian majority, because there is – amazingly and sadly – intolerance against the Christian faith in countries of Christian heritage and Christian majority. In our countries, Christianity is too often hostilized and persecuted, perhaps not by violence, but by ignorance and by silence. So we have to begin by understanding ourselves, by looking at the roots of our society, and to the extent that they are rooted in Christian values and in the Christian faith.
I believe, when you look to the world we see, for some decades now (but today very intensely), a crisis of our spirituality, a crisis of people who no longer are provided with their age-old faith and look at something else. There is this famous saying of Chesterton, who said that “when you don’t believe in God, you believe in anything”. I believe that, for example, the extreme climate alarmism is part of that phenomenon: you have the concrete issues of climate change that must be addressed, but sometimes you have the impression of this turning into some sort of substitute religion for some people, because of that spiritual void that needs to be filled.
So, we need to act. We need to act in our societies and we need to act across the world. Christians are persecuted because of age-old hatred and rivalries, and of which Christians themselves are not exempt, we are also part of the problem and we need to recognize that. But Christians are also persecuted because of this cultural atmosphere, especially in the West, that doesn’t care about Christianity. That sometimes even thinks that Christians deserve to suffer and to be persecuted. So that’s the first thing we have to break. We have to change that. Persecuted Christians, in my view, are the beating heart of all the Christian churches – Catholic Church, evangelical churches. This beating heart is the center of our faith. We cannot forget that. Us, we that can freely decide about going to church or not going to church, that can decide about reading the Bible or not reading the Bible, we should pay a lot of attention to people who cannot freely decide that. We should not take for granted those freedoms that we enjoy. And this is also a big part of our work.
Just to finish and to come back to the question of the environment that is so present: it has been said that the Amazon, of which Brazil has a huge portion, is “the lungs of the world” because of the oxygen it produces… actually, scientifically this has been challenged, this metaphor, but it stays there and it’s okay. But I think here we should take into account that religion – and, for Christians, Christianity – is the lungs of our spiritual world. Thank you very much.
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Thank you very much! It was really a privilege to be here. I’d like to make two points that occurred to me after hearing all the remarkable remarks and contributions: first, there is the issue of religious freedom, and the question of persecuted Christians is part of that, and I think it’s very important because sometimes you have the sense that some people who talk about religious freedom talk about that in a generic way. There’s no generic religion! Religion is Christianity, or Islam, or Buddhism or whatever… some people seem to be comfortable to talk about religious freedom, but they are not comfortable when you go into the real issues of individual religions – so, when you talk about religious freedom, you have to talk about specific questions of persecuted Christians, like what gathers us today, also persecuted Muslims, persecuted Buddhists, persecuted Jews, etc. But you have to go into the specificity. Some people like to defend religious freedom as long as there is no religion involved, sometimes. And we have to address that, not go towards that sort of common denominator. Also, for Christians I think too often the world accepts Christianity as long as it sees Christianity as a set of social values and things like that. Of course, for us, it’s more than that, and it’s the rights to celebrate the mysteries that are at the core of our faith.
And, second, President Bolsonaro in his speech at the opening of the General Assembly talked about an ideology that tried to drive God away from the human soul, and we see that the same ideology that tried to drive God away from the human soul also tried to drive nations away from the international system and from the multilateral system, and now I see here that it’s basic nations that are taking ownership of this issue of religious freedom and the fight against the persecution of Christians, so I see that – maybe not by coincidence, certainly not by coincidence – you have a reversal of that tendency and you see that God is coming back to our discussions, and nations are coming back to the center of the multilateral system. Thank you!
[O video completo do evento está disponível em: http://webtv.un.org/watch/protection/6090064557001]