On the last day of September, U.S Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich hosted a symposium in Rome entitled “Advancing and Defending International Religious Freedom through Diplomacy.” The two main speakers were U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. Other speakers included U.S. Holy See Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher; U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Samuel Brownback; and Bureau Chief for Islam at the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Monsignor Khaled Akasheh.

Secretary Pompeo at the Symposium. Image courtesy of Riccardo De Luca / U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

In his opening remarks, Secretary Pompeo raised the importance of serving as a moral witness. He highlighted the example of Father Lichtenberg, a priest in Berlin in the 1930s, who fervently resisted the Nazi regime, and helped Jews with finances, advice, and even emigration assistance as the Nazi fist tightened. Lichtenberg was arrested by the Nazis in 1942 and died on the way to Dachau concentration camp.

Addressing the religious persecution of the Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang, as well as Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong devotees by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Pompeo said:

“Catholic churches and shrines have been desecrated and destroyed. Catholic bishops like Augustine Cui Tai have been imprisoned, as have priests in Italy. And Catholic lay leaders in the human rights movement, not least in Hong Kong, have been arrested.”

“Authorities order residents to replace pictures of Jesus with those of Chairman Mao and those of General Secretary Xi Jinping. All of these believers are the heirs of those Pope John Paul celebrated in his speech to the UN, those who had ‘taken the risk of freedom, asking to be given a place in social, political, and economic life which is commensurate with their dignity as free human beings.’”

Having personally attended the Symposium, what surprised me the most was the fact that there was no mention by Vatican representatives of Christians being killed for their faith by Muslims.

Archbishop Gallagher at the opening of the Symposium, “Advancing and Defending International Religious Freedom Through Diplomacy,” organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, held September 30, 2020, in Rome. Image courtesy of Riccardo De Luca / U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

In his Opening Remarks at the Symposium, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, U.S. Holy See Secretary for Relations with States, not only failed to mention China or Islam as threats but even defended the renewal of the Vatican’s provisional two-year 2018 agreement with the CCP—an agreement in which the Catholic Church cedes authority to name bishops to Beijing. This, from a senior cleric who in the past, has claimed diplomatic immunity in order to avoid handing over Vatican documents to prosecutors investigating two priests that abused more than 100 children over 40 years.

Similarly, in their own speeches at the Symposium, neither Monsignor Akasheh nor Cardinal Parolin mentioned China (or Islam) by name. Akasheh, in his own discussion of repressive regimes that are persecuting Christians and other religious minorities, completely ignored the many examples of China’s repression of religious groups. Instead, he referred to the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb, in the United Arab Emirates in 2018, using it as a point of reference for promoting religious freedom.

It’s worth noting that contained in that “Document” is a declaration “that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.” While there is nothing wrong with including this within the “Document” itself, the only religion in which criminals have cited their religious texts to carry out violent acts and the unlawful use of force against people or property—in order to intimidate or compel societies or governments for religious reasons—has been Islam. To be sure, it would be both discriminatory and deceitful to hold that all Muslims are terrorists; but every religious terrorist has thus far been a Muslim.

It is a historical fact that the persecution of Christians can be historically traced from the 1st century AD—starting with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Yet, according to a report released in January 2020 by Open Doors—an international NGO advocating on behalf of persecuted Christians—up to 260 million Christians suffer persecution worldwide. Besides Communist countries such as Communist China and North Korea—or even nationalist countries like India, where Christians are continually persecuted by Hindu nationalists—most countries on the list are Islamic nations.

The difference between the atrocities in non-Islamic countries and Islamic ones is that the jihad against Christians is inherent to Islamic tenets. According to the jurist Muhammad al-Ghazâlî (1058-1111), considered by some historians as the single most influential Muslim after the Prophet’s death:

“Everyone must go on jihad [i.e., warlike razzias or raids] at least once a year … one may use a catapult against them [non-Muslims] when they are in a fortress, even if among them are women and children. One may set fire to them and/or drown them.… If a person of the Ahl al-Kitab [‘People of the Book’—i.e., Jews and Christians] is enslaved, his marriage is [automatically] revoked, and his wife becomes the rightful property of a Muslim. One may cut down their trees.… One must destroy their useless books. Jihadis may take as booty whatever they decide … the Jihadis may steal as much food as they need.”

Neo-conservative and progressive politicians, as well as many Catholic leaders, have led many people to believe that the acts of terror carried out (especially against Christians) by the likes of ISIS, Boko Haram, or other Muslims are an anomaly of Islamic observance. They insist that Islam is a tolerant religion that promotes religious freedom. It is, in fact, the extreme opposite.

Persian translation of the Koran said to have been written by the Emperor Aurangzib-Alamgr. Image courtesy of the British Library.

According to Sura 9, 29: “Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture [Jews and Christians]—[fight] until they give the jizyah [poll tax] willingly while they are humbled.” And we should not forget the Koran’s injunction, in the translation of Sahih al-Bukhari, which says in Book 52, Number 260: “Whoever changes his [Islamic] religion, kill him.”

Pompeo’s comments called to mind the example of Pope St. John Paul II “who played a pivotal role in igniting the revolution of conscience that brought down the Iron Curtain.” The Secretary of State went on to explain: “John Paul II was also unafraid. He challenged Latin America authoritarianism and helped inspire democratic transition.”

As the Catholic Church upholds in Dignitatis Humanae (1965), its Vatican II Declaration on Religious Liberty, if the persecutions of Christians and religious minorities in places like Communist China and the Islamic world are ever going to be halted, then the Church—and the international community—must get to the root of the problem and address it. But that requires that officials and church leaders be honest about the problem.

Cardinal Pasolin at the conclusion of the Symposium. Image courtesy of Riccardo De Luca / U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

Instead, senior Church officials continue to defend the extension of the Vatican’s controversial 2018 agreement with China. As recently as last Saturday, at a commemoration of 150 years since the first Italian missionaries arrived in China, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin ignored the problem. And yet, at the same, there may still be hope for the future, given his stunning reference to the traditional ‘Baltimore Catechism’:

“If I am not mistaken, there is a famous series of catechetical booklets, produced from the one of the Councils of Baltimore in the United States. One of the initial questions of that faith primer is: ‘Why did God make you?’ and the proper response to be given is ‘God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.’ The simplicity of this should not obfuscate the profundity of this truth.”

“We are created for a purpose,” Parolin said. And then, as if to remind his audience he said: “Without this objective end—an end that exists beyond the self—we cannot hope but to find society in crisis, with each of us unable to embrace anyone but ourselves.”