The following are extracts from an address given in March by Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh, Ireland, at the launch of the 2011 edition of Aid to the Church in Need's report on Christians oppressed for their faith. After an address from Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, Cardinal Brady compared the situations for the faith in Ireland and Iraq.
The evidence is clear and it is persuasive that Christianity is being aggressively uprooted from the Middle-East, the very lands from which it first sprang. The evidence may be less clear and the aggression may be less blood-stained but the reality remains that Christianity is under threat in Western Europe and throughout the Western world by aggressive atheism.
Not the old style heavy-handed militant atheism and tyranny such as was evident in the former Soviet Union but by a more recently-fashioned nihilism which insistently denies the existence of any God-given truth.
Notwithstanding the fact that the roots of European culture are profoundly Christian, an element of the culture of contemporary secularised Europe not only denies this reality but seeks to have Christianity eliminated, or failing that, 'ghettoised'. Christian culture, Christian values and the Christian faith are under sustained attack in many quarters.
Throughout Europe and the Western World, Christians are being asked "Why are you still here?"
This fundamental question, which was screamed at the about-to-be murdered Fr Ganni four years ago in Northern Iraq, has not gone away. It is the same one which challenges each and every Christian at all times and in all places: Christians are required to "apologise" (in the true sense of the word); to give an account of what they believe.
Self-evidently professing one's faith and giving an account of it is more "life-threatening", at least from a physical perspective, in present-day Iraq as compared to present-day Ireland. But does the same hold true from a spiritual perspective? Could it possibly be the case that it is more difficult to be a Christian believer in Ireland than in Iraq?
I also suggest that we should recognise that there is a culture war being fought in the West just as much as there is one being fought in the Middle East. It may be largely bloodless and there may be different rules of engagement but the stakes are the same, namely, the rights of all Christians to gather in public and profess their faith in word and deed.
And here let us be clear, Christians have every right to be "here":
- to gather in the public square;
- to hand on their faith to their children;
- to proclaim to the world the Christian truth about the dignity of every human being and the infinite love of our merciful God.
Some time ago, there was a cultural moment which was commonplace and largely accepted:
- tomorrow's world would be better than today's;
- technological and scientific advances would solve humanity's most intractable problems;
- human reason would triumph and subdue its baser instincts; and by dint of it a city would be built on a hill where people would happily live in well-fed peace and harmony.
Genuine, well-intentioned efforts to create such "New Harmonies" in both the new and old world did not succeed. Many efforts to radically reshape, "improve" society seemed almost predestined to founder upon the flawed nature of the human condition.
One hundred years ago, Europe was the cultural, economic, social and scientific powerhouse of the world. Today, Europe has become eclipsed as a global 'superpower'. Europe is, in the opinion of many, rapidly becoming a socio-economic 'has-been'.
Any healthy sustainable vision for a New Europe must embrace, not deny its Christian roots and in this what applies to Europe applies to Ireland.
In a nutshell, my central proposition here is:
- Europe is floundering because of its failure to warmly embrace its Christian heritage;
- it is declining because of its failure to respect the God-given dignity of every person and the revealed truths of Christian faith.
I would suggest that when one takes the Christian leaven out of any society, that society's development is greatly impaired. Indeed I would go so far as to argue that society's development will regress. We should not forget:
- it was a Christian ethic which strove for and succeeded in eliminating slavery;
- freedom of conscience was formulated from the Christian mindset;
- forgiveness for human failings is a supreme Christian imperative.
What type of world would we have when people are not free and where transgressions are never mercifully forgiven?
In all of this it should be clear that the Christian view of the world is founded on the understanding of both the greatness and brokenness of the human person, a greatness and brokenness reflected in every individual life and human community – from the smallest to the largest.
It is also founded upon the central belief that there is a God, a loving God of infinite mercy who wants what is best for every human being. For the Christian, every life is worth living from the moment of conception to natural death because every life is a gift from God.
2,000 years ago, Christ's healing mission on earth was to reconcile man to God. His Church's enduring mandate is to continue this mission, this process of reconciliation and healing of broken spirits and broken societies. The earthly mission of Christ's Church is to heal the world and to bring people and peoples into the light of God's kingdom.
That is why the Church is still here in Ireland. That is why the Church is still in Iraq.