When the Pope talks, even in this day and age, people listen. They might not agree with the Holy Father. They might not heed his advice or take him seriously, but theyre listening. We know this, year after year and month after month, because every time he speaks on even remotely controversial issues a certain segment of the population goes either apoplectic or gaga. As we mentioned last month, every time Pope Benedict XVI mentions anything about AIDS prevention in Africa, the media lights up with furious condemnations and hackneyed anti-papal barbs. That is, unless the Holy Fathers words can be twisted to suit a particular agenda, as in the case of the Popes comments about condoms to German journalist Peter Seewald in the new book Light of the World (see our New Oxford Note Condom-mania, the Rerun, Jan.-Feb.), after which the Pope was virtually canonized for his alleged support of condoms, though this turned out to be an erroneous interpretation of his remarks.
This years number-one hot-button religious topic will not be the passé subject of condom use among HIV-infected Africans. The primary global concern in 2011 will be the persecution of religious minorities especially that of Christians in Muslim countries. The issue is nothing new, but the frequency and intensity by which Christians are being violently persecuted in many areas of the world has reached such a height that it can no longer be easily overlooked by the eyes of the world. Last year ended with fifty-two Christians massacred on Halloween inside a church in Iraq, six killed on Christmas Eve at a church in Nigeria, and twenty-one worshipers blown up by a bomb outside a Coptic Christian Church in Alexandria, Egypt, on New Years Eve.
Pope Benedict XVI is certainly doing his part to keep this topic on the table both in the media and in the diplomatic community. It is a serious concern for much of Christendom, and the Vicar of Christ would be remiss if he did not speak out against the perpetrators and those who enable the perpetrators of hate-inspired, anti-Christian violence.
On January 10, in a speech to ambassadors accredited to the Vatican, Benedict urged the governments of Muslim countries to take more effective measures to protect religious minorities within their borders. The Pope cited the recent string of attacks on Christians. Judging by coverage in the worldwide press and the reaction of certain government officials and Islamic leaders, you would think the Pope said he was amassing 3.6 million troops to take over the countries that fail to comply. Egypts reaction was particularly remarkable. The Holy Fathers words addressing Egypt were strong but brief: In Egypt too, in Alexandria, terrorism brutally struck Christians as they prayed in church, he said. This succession of attacks is yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt, in spite of difficulties and dangers, effective measures for the protection of religious minorities.
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