By Charles Igwe
A recent report from the Pontifical Foundation “Aid to the Church in Need International” sheds light on widespread violations of religious freedom affecting more than half of the world’s population. The foundation, which has long been dedicated to addressing religious freedom issues and aiding victims of faith-based violence, highlights the urgent need to curb such violations. Florian Ripka, Director of Kirche in Not Deutschland, discussed the key reasons behind these persecutions in an interview with Vatican Radio.
The report points to a disturbing trend of increased violations of human rights, including religious freedom, around the world. These violations are often propagated by autocratic leaders and fundamentalist groups who maintain and strengthen their hold on power.
A significant factor contributing to these violations is the situation in Islamist countries. Concern is expressed for the escalating turmoil in sub-Saharan African nations like Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, and Mozambique. Governments in these regions appear to be inadequately addressing threats posed by entities such as Boko Haram and self-proclaimed followers of the Islamic State.
The report also highlights the rise of ultra-nationalistic countries like India, where religious freedom is hindered. Notably, regional disparities exist, with areas like Kerala demonstrating greater religious liberty.
“Aid to the Church in Need International” identifies various forms of persecution, ranging from subtle restrictions to overt violence. Some nations adopt contentious laws limiting religious freedom or targeting specific religious groups, often without facing significant opposition. Conversely, violent attacks against adherents of minority faiths are on the rise and frequently go unpunished, particularly notable in Latin American contexts.
While historically, religious minority groups have borne the brunt of persecution, these violations now extend across a broader spectrum, impacting various religious communities even in countries like Nigeria and Nicaragua.
In developed countries, the misuse of social media platforms has emerged as a tool to marginalize and attack religious groups, undermining core values such as freedom of thought, conscience, expression, and assembly. Despite these challenges, the report highlights a positive trend: post-pandemic, a resurgence in religious observances has been witnessed globally, as communities come together to celebrate their faith.
The report also notes encouraging initiatives for interreligious dialogue. Leaders like Pope Francis have expanded their engagement with different faith communities, exemplified by the encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” and various interreligious meetings. This outreach aims to foster understanding and cooperation among diverse religious groups in pursuit of peace and mutual respect.