European leaders gathered this week at a conference in Vienna to
discuss Christian persecution and its resounding effect on Europe,
particularly emphasizing the need to seriously address religious
discrimination and genocide around the world.
“The persecution faced by Christians around the world must be
recognized and treated by the international community with the
seriousness it deserves,” Ellen Fantini, executive director of the
Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians, stated
“The pressure faced by Christians in Europe is much more subtle – what Pope Francis has called ‘polite persecution.’”
The conference, entitled “Embattled: Christians Under Pressure in
Europe and Beyond,” drew more than 100 attendees. It was held at the
archbishop’s palace in Vienna, with the hope of informing the public,
lawmakers and officials of the ongoing threats of religious persecution.
The event was organized by the Observatory on Intolerance and
Discrimination Against Christians in partnership with ADF International,
Open Doors, Aid to the Church in Need, and Christian Solidarity
International, which additional support from the Federalist Society for
Law and Public Policy Studies.
In the spotlight at the conference was a North Korean native, Timothy
C., who was forced to leave his country or face imminent death because
of his religion. Other similar stories surfaced throughout the event,
including those of Nigerian Christians killed by Boko Haram.
According to Jan Figel, the EU Special Envoy for Religious Freedom,
over 100,000 Christians are killed every year due to religious
persecution. Figel underscored the importance of not remaining silent
during times of persecution, and pointed to the example of German
theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
“Those who do not understand religion and misuse religion cannot
understand what is happening in the world,” Figel stated during his
opening keynote address.
Figel’s statements were echoed by Swedish MEP Lars Adaktusson, who
called the current persecution and killings of religious groups in the
Middle East “genocide.”
“We must never hesitate in the defense of religious freedom. In the
end, it is about standing up for a value-based foreign policy based on
human dignity and human rights,” Adaktusson stated.
The Swedish MEP also spoke of his time in Northern Iraq, saying the
evidence of persecution was significant. In the Middle East, Adaktusson
noted that he saw “the signs of deliberate destruction and contempt for
the beliefs of others,” pointing to destroyed churches, books, and
crosses at the hands of the Islamic State.
In addition, Auxiliary Bishop Stephan Turnovszky of Vienna
highlighted the marginalization of refugees in Europe, who are “often
subjected here to violence, threats, and discrimination on the basis of
their Christian faith.”
The conference additionally called into question European
governments' role with regard to conscience, freedom of speech, and
parental rights, which have been increasingly restrictive and invasive.
While the government has enhanced its control, Bishop Turnovszky
believes that Europe is failing to protect people because of their
Moving forward, Gudrun Kugler, member of the Vienna Regional
Parliament, encouraged individuals to contact public officials in order
to raise awareness of religious discrimination, and to start making
strides to prevent persecution.
Kugler believes both individuals and organizations should work to
“create space for Christians in Europe and to address the atrocities
committed against Christians around the world.”