Rome, Italy, Oct 20, 2014 / 15:26 pm
More than 200,000 people have signed a petition asking European leaders to offer "real help" for persecuted Christians and other religious minorities around the world.
Luca Volonté, a board member of CitizenGo and president of the international foundation Novae Terrae, told CNA that the petition seeks to address the "critical plight of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East and in many other part of the world."
Volonté urged "the Council of Europe, the European Union's foreign ministers and the European Parliament to put into action policies of asylum and humanitarian aid, to bring this horror to an end."
Novae Terrae launched a petition in August on CitizenGo, an online platform for human rights advocacy, asking the Council of Europe and other continental leaders to step up in tacking religious persecution on a global scale.
The petition drew renewed attention when a Pakistani court on Oct. 16 upheld the death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who has been sentenced to death for "blasphemy."
However, the petition notes, such cases are widespread, and many do not receive public attention.
It points to the example of Pastor Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor and American citizen who has spent the last 2 years imprisoned in Iran.
"At this very moment, Christians in Iraq are being given an ultimatum: covert, leave or die," the petition states, emphasizing that Europe's lack of response to such abuses has been "deafening."
"According to the International Society for Human Rights, 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians," the document observes. "The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity in the United States estimates that 100,000 Christians now die every year for their faith –that is one every five minutes. Many other religious minorities are suffering because of violence and persecutions in several countries."
The plight of Christians in the Middle East, especially in light of the rise of the Islamic State, was a focus of the Oct. 20 consistory of cardinals meeting at the Vatican, and earlier this month, the Vatican Secretariat of State set a meeting with several nuncios to Middle Eastern nations.
In addition, Pope Francis may tackle the issue of religious freedom in his speech at the European Parliament of Strasbourg, scheduled Nov. 25.
The efforts of the international community recently saved the life of Meriam Ibrahim, who was sentenced to death in Sudan for refusing to renounce her Christian faith. She was imprisoned for about two months, giving birth to her second child in prison. Amid international pressure, she was released and allowed to leave the country.
"Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, at least, is safe," the CitizenGo petition reads. "Not safe are countless Christian women and men, babies, children and elderly people in Iraq and Syria, in Nigeria and Cameroon, in Sudan, Pakistan, Somalia and Egypt, to name just a few. Christians are driven from their homes. They are thrown in jail for blasphemy, and churches are burned and worshippers regularly slaughtered. Girls are abducted and married against their will."
The petition calls on the European leaders, asking them "to respect their commitments regarding freedom of religion and beliefs, developing policies of asylum and managing European relations towards foreign countries according to their respect of religious freedom."