Not The Last Word

by Juan L. Mercado

Half a world and almost six centuries separate the  two men: Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin of  Shanghai in 2012 and  Lord Chancellor of England Thomas More in 1535. Yet, they resemble each other in what matters.

Both rose thru dedicated service. More served  as King Henry VIII’s most trusted counselor.  Father Da Quin towered in the Patriotic Catholic Association, Communist China’s agency to leash Catholics.

More refused assent to Henry VIII’s divorce from the barren Catherine of Aragon to  marry Ann Boleyn.  For spurning the First Succession Act which “anointed” Henry VIII as the Church of England’s head, More was imprisoned.

“To defy the king means death ” a messenger warned. “Is that all, my Lord?”, More replied. “All that mean sis I will die today and you will die tomorrow”. His last words on the scaffold in 1535 were:  “I die the King’s good servant —  but God’s first.”

At St. Ignatius Cathedral in Shanghai, Da Quin said after his ordination as bishop. “Once you assume your pastoral job, your body and heart should be completely focused on pastoral things.” He quit PCA.

“The congregation broke out in loud applause,” Washington Post reported.  “Beijing’s attitude toward all faiths has been hardening, particularly as the once-in-a-decade  transition  of the ruling Politburo  approaches. The bishop disappeared.  Caesar demanded for itself what should be rendered to God.

Fast forward to “International Religious Freedom Report 2011”, just released by the US State Department.  Today,  more than a billion live under governments that systematically repress liberty to worship. “New technologies have given repressive governments additional tools”. They range from,  use of anti-blasphemy laws or terrorism as excuse to curb religious groups.

There was marked deterioration in China where only five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” may legally hold  worship services in state approved sites:  Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant. But  Catholics professing loyalty to the Vatican, are not permitted to register. Shut out too are Baptists, etc. Catechizing or preaching in “unregistered”  places of worship is proscribed.  Spiritual groups, like Fa Long Gong,  are outlawed.  Crackdowns on Christian house churches, such as the Shouwang church in Beijing, continue. Communist Party members must be atheists.

Muslims living in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. encounter severe interference. Similarly suppressed was the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Intrusion into Buddhist monasteries and nunneries sparked at least 12 self-immolations by Tibetans.

“Religious freedom does not exist in any form,” in North Korea. Pyongyang has four state-controlled churches. One is designated Catholic.  The government-established Korean Catholic Association (KCA) supposedly  serves Changchun Church. “It has no ties with the Vatican.  Nor are there  Catholic priests residing in the country Missionaries are arrested. scarcity of information makes it difficult to confirm reports on imprisonment of believers.

In contrast, religious freedom is “generally respected in law and practice” by Buddhist Thailand, Catholic Philippines Confucian Singapore and Muslim Indonesia. But Jakarta recently. detained and imprisoned individuals under its blasphemy law.

Burma released Buddhist monks, arrested in 2007 “Saffron Revolt “  But others continued to serve long prison sentences. Government  refused to recognize the Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority as citizens and imposed restrictions on movement and marriage.

Christians faced challenges in Vietnam. Government held religious prisoners.  Hundreds of churches await registration by local authorities in the Northwest Highlands. Hanoi has not allowed publication of the Bible in the modern H’mong language, despite pledging to do so.

Governments increasingly used blasphemy, apostasy, and defamation of religion laws to suppress liberties. In Pakistan, individuals who called for reform of  blasphemy laws continued to be killed. , Aasia Bibi, A Christian woman  Aasia Bibi awaiting an appeal of her 2010 death sentence  for blasphemy handed down against a woman. The verdict touched off a debate within the country.

Russia generally respected religious freedom. But violent extremism in the North Caucasus region led to use the “Law on Combating Extremist Activity” to justify raids on religious organizations, detain and restrict the freedom to worship of minority group members,  This pattern is reflected in Bahrain, Iraq and Nigeria. “Authorities often failed to distinguish between peaceful religious practice and criminal or terrorist activities”.

Specially affected are minorities, caught in the swirl of political and demographic transitions Egypt took greater  measure greater inclusiveness. But it faltered curb rising violence against Coptic Christians. The Libyan Supreme Court overturned a law that criminalized insults against Islam. But Qadhafi-era laws, remained on the books.

Countries in Europe are becoming more diverse. These demographic changes are sometimes accompanied by growing xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and intolerance toward people considered “the other.” Belgium and France have laws restricting dress adversely affected Muslims and others. In Zamboanga, Muslim communities were upset when Pilar College banned students from wearing the hajib,

Despite abuses of religious freedom, “change is possible,”  the report asserts. Countries whose constitution, laws, and practices protect religious freedom and human rights (are) the most vibrant and stable. ‘Intolerance does not have the last word.’

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