The cardinal cited Pope Francis’ reminder to conduct an examination of conscience on this topic. The pope encouraged Christians to ask themselves whether they are indifferent to Christian persecution or respond as if “a member of my own family is suffering.”
Among his recommended actions, Dolan said that believers should encourage constant prayers of intercession for the persecuted. Prayers for the conversion of Russia shaped Dolan’s childhood sense of life behind the Iron Curtain, and a similar “culture of prayer” in private and in liturgical celebration for today’s persecuted Christians could have an effect, he said.
“We also want to make people aware of the great suffering of our brothers and sisters using all means at our disposal,” Dolan said, commenting that he has asked pastors to speak on the issue and to include stories of present-day martyrs in their sermons. These stories are also fruitful for use in ongoing faith formation.
“Our experience defending religious freedom shows that when we turn our minds to an issue we can put it on the map,” he said.
Dolan praised groups like Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic Near East Welfare Agency, Catholic Relief Services, In Defense of Christians, Open Doors, the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, the Knights of Malta, and the Knights of Columbus for their work to help persecuted Christians.
Other speakers at the symposium included Robert Nicholson, executive director of the Philos Project, and Chinese civil rights lawyer and activist Guangcheng Chen, who is presently the Distinguished Fellow for the Center for Human Rights at The Catholic University of America.
Chen has defended women and families against the Chinese government’s forced sterilization and abortion policies. He was arrested, suffered beatings, and abused under house arrest before escaping to the United States.
Bishop Matthew Kukah of Sokoto, Nigeria told the symposium that Christians in Nigeria face difficulty securing land for churches in states that see the building of churches as undermining Islam. By contrast, most mosques are state funded.
He suggested a focus on “bread and butter” issues as a way forward, by addressing crisis areas like homelessness, orphan children, unemployment, and conditions that stop farmers from farming or harvesting crops. In areas that are struggling to build schools, having a Muslim presence in schools is “a guarantee that persecution will not continue,” he said.
Archbishop Basha Warda of Erbil spoke about the situation facing Iraqi Christians and other minorities like the Yazidis. He warned of “a growing loss of hope” for Iraqi Christians, whose numbers have declined from 1.6 million before the 2003 U.S. invasion to fewer than 250,000 today.
“This time, it’s quite likely that we will have disappeared by the time the world chooses to look upon us again. And yet as for now, we are still here, still working with whatever strength, courage and hope that we are able to still find.”
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While rejecting a “culture of dependency,” he noted that Christians, like many others, are facing severe need in basic areas like security, food, employment, education and freedom of religion.
Also during the symposium, writer David Oldroyd-Bolt interviewed Lord David Alton, a former Liberal MP who is now in Britain’s House of Lords. Alton said that even though religious freedom advocates can’t solve all problems, “we can solve some of them.”
He cited the case of the abduction, forced marriage and forced conversion of a 13-year-old girl in Pakistan, resolved when her supporters secured help from “good members of the judiciary.”
Alton saw recent improvements in aiding persecuted Christians, like the creation of the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, which is able to make common cause on some issues. He praised the work of Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador At Large for International Religious Freedom, as well as those from other countries with similar roles.
Alton suggested that on the topic of Christian persecution there is “a lot of indifference” that is driven by “contempt for religious faith.”
He criticized those who dismissed the Nigerian Islamic extremist group Boko Haram’s killing of Christians as having causes in climate change or population growth.