(LifeSiteNews.com ) - Fear and hatred of Christians and Christianity is taking hold around the world, a high level Vatican prelate said this weekend, following a series of attacks in India against Christians. Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Secretary for Relations with States for the Holy See, said that "Christianophobia" must be countered as strongly as anti-Semitism.
Mamberti told a conference, titled "Protection and the Right to Religious Freedom," in northern Italy, "In order to promote this dignity in an integral way, so-called 'Christianophobia' should be combated as decisively as 'Islamophobia' and anti-Semitism." Christianophobia consists, he said, of three major divisions: misinformation about Christians, intolerance and discrimination, and violence and persecution. "Sadly," he said, these prejudices are still a burning concern.
The Church, he said, "ceaselessly underlines that the principle of the right of religious liberty lies in the very dignity of all human persons."
"Christians are victims of prejudice, stereotypes and intolerance, at times of a cultural nature." Mamberti said that it's a "paradox" to not guarantee Christians the same freedoms granted to other religions, or "to create a sort of 'hierarchy' of intolerances."
He called for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's so-called Program on Tolerance to "not address exclusively the grave phenomena of anti-Semitism and discrimination against Muslims, but also the equally unacceptable incidents of intolerance against Christians."
Archbishop Mamberti referred to the recent attacks in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, where Hindu mobs have killed 13 Christians and caused thousands more to take refuge in government camps. After a Hindu leader's murder by what is reported to have been a group of communists, Hindu extremists have burned more than a dozen churches in apparent reprisals.
Hindus have long been at odds with India's Christians, accusing Christian missionaries of "bribing" "Dalits", or low caste Indians, to convert. Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Chuttack-Bhubaneswar, however, has defended the conversions, saying that the Indians of the lowest caste responded willingly to the charity of Christians who ministered to them.
"Before, they were like slaves. Now, some of them study in our schools, start businesses in the villages, demand their rights. And those who - even in the India of the economic boom - want to keep intact the old division into castes are afraid that they will gain too much power. Orissa today is a laboratory. What is at stake is the future of millions of Dalits and tribals living all over the country," the archbishop said.
In response to the reprisals the Indian Catholic Church called for a day of prayer and fasting for the first Sunday in September, with peaceful processions all over the country.
Archbishop Mamberti also spoke of the 21 Christian missionaries that were killed in 2007, as well as the shrinking of the ancient Chaldean Christian communities of Iraq and the Middle East, under pressure of ongoing Islamic violence. This week, two more Christians were kidnapped and murdered in Mosul. In February, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Iraq's largest Christian denomination, was kidnapped and found dead two weeks later. More than two thirds of the Christian community of Iraq has been forced to flee.
On June 21, the Christian monitoring group Voice of Martyrs (VOM) reported that 16 Christians were abducted by Muslim extremists when they gathered to pray in Academy Town, Peshawar, Pakistan. Local contacts with VOM reported, "The 16 Christian men were held captive for an hour. They were beaten and abused, and had all their money and mobile phones stolen from them. During this time, the Taliban attempted to persuade Pastor Zulifqar to convert to Islam, which he unquestionably refused."
In another recent incident, immediately after the closing ceremonies of the Olympics, the Chinese communist government arrested the elderly bishop of an underground Catholic church in northern China. The Cardinal Kung Foundation, a US based human rights organisation, reported that Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo, 73, of Zhengding, was taken by six government officials from his cathedral Sunday morning.
Millions of Chinese Catholics remain loyal to the Pope and worship in secret, but their priests, religious and lay catechists are frequently detained and harassed. Before the Olympics, Chinese customs officials confiscated 315 Chinese Bibles from missionaries entering the country legally.
Last year, a British MP also used the term "Christianophobia" when he warned that the radical secularism that has become the common parlance of media and politics, is forcing the country's traditional Christian culture to the sidelines. Mark Pritchard, the MP for the Wrekin, Shropshire, said Christianity in the UK was being undermined 'mostly by stealth."
Last year, the passage of the Labour government's Sexual Orientation Regulations, forced Catholic adoption agencies to either close their doors or secularise when faced with a government mandate to violate their religious principles and adopt children out to practising homosexuals.
"Some people," said Pritchard, "seem to want to forget the Christian tradition going back to the first century and its contribution to arts, culture and science."
"It's gone far enough. If there are those who want to see the Christian church reduced to the margins in this nation they should have the courage to say so, rather than using the rights of other religions as an excuse."