Vatican foreign minister Archbishop Dominique Mamberti on Friday said the anti-Christian attacks in India and the decline of the Christian population in Iraq shows religious freedom is still a pressing matter. Decrying what he called “Christianophobia,” he called for anti-Christian violence to be combated “as decisively as ‘Islamophobia’ and anti-Semitism.”
At least 13 people have died in attacks against Christians in the eastern India state of Orissa. Thousands have sought shelter in government camps after a Hindu leader’s murder by apparent Communists provoked mobs of Hindus to burn more than a dozen churches and attack Christians.
Hindu groups often accuse Christians of bribing poor tribes and low-caste Hindus to convert to Christianity. Christians deny the accusations, saying such conversions are voluntary abandonments of India’s complex caste system.
Archbishop Mamberti, speaking at a conference titled “Protection and the Right to Religious Freedom,” said the violence in India shows that religious liberty is a vital part of international relations and human dignity. He reported that 21 Catholic missionaries were killed worldwide in 2007, and also lamented the halving of the Iraqi Christian population.
While there were about one million Christians in Iraq before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of the country, at present there are only around 500,000.
Pope Benedict XVI denounced the violence in India last Sunday, also condemning the killing of the Hindu leader.
Last month the Pope also told Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that Christian minorities in Iraq needed more protection.