Prince Charles hits out against religious persecution

James Macintyre | 22 December 2016
Prince Charles hits out against religious persecution
Photo: Prince Charles has hit out against religious persecution on the Thought for the Day slot on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. Reuters

Prince Charles has hit out against religious persecution around the world and spoken about “Our Lord Jesus Christ” in an unprecedented appearance on the Thought for the Day slot on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The Prince of Wales framed his passage around a meeting with a Jesuit priest from Syria who gave him “a graphic account of what life is like for those Christians he was forced to leave behind”.

The heir to the throne, who has frequently spoken out about persecution against Christians in the Middle East and given undisclosed sums to the charity Aid to the Church in Need, said: “Clearly for such people religious freedom is a daily stark choice between life and death. The scale of religious persecution around the world is not widely appreciated, nor is it limited to Christians in the troubled regions of the Middle East. A recent report suggests that attacks are increasing on Yazidis, Jews, Ahmadis, Baha’is and many other minority faiths, and in some countries even more insidious forms of religious extremism have recently surfaced which aim to eliminate all types of religious diversity.”

Prince Charles went on to compare the violent religious persecution of today with the horrors of the Second World War. “We are now seeing the rise of many populist groups across the world, that are increasingly aggressive towards those who adhere to a minority faith. All of this has deeply disturbing echoes of the dark days of the 1930s,” he said. “I was born in 1948, just after the end of World War II, in which my parents’ generation had fought, and died, in a battle against intolerance, monstrous extremism and an inhuman attempt to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe. That nearly 70 years later we should still be seeing such evil persecution is to me beyond all belief. We owe it to those who suffered and died so horribly not to repeat the horrors of the past.”

The prince, who has faced criticism from Christian traditionalists in the past for describing himself as “defender of faith” rather than “defender of the faith”, pointedly referred in the context of the Holy Family fleeing persecution to “Our Lord Jesus Christ” in what was his most public declaration of his own Christian faith to date. He went on, however, to talk about the Prophet Mohammed as well.

He said: “Normally, at Christmas we think of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. I wonder though if this year we might remember how the story of the Nativity unfolds, with the fleeing of the Holy Family to escape violent persecution. And we might also remember that when the Prophet Mohammed migrated from Mecca to Medina, he did so because he too was seeking the freedom for himself and his followers to worship. Whichever religious path we follow, the destination is the same: to value and respect the other person, accepting their right to live out the peaceful response to the Love of God.”

 

The full text of Prince Charles’s Thought for the Day is below:

In London recently I met a Jesuit priest from Syria. He gave me a graphic account of what life is like for those Christians he was forced to leave behind. He told me of mass kidnappings in parts of Syria and Iraq and how he feared that Christians would be driven en masse out of lands described in the Bible. He thought it quite possible there would be no Christians in Iraq within five years. Clearly for such people religious freedom is a daily stark choice between life and death. The scale of religious persecution around the world is not widely appreciated, nor is it limited to Christians in the troubled regions of the Middle East. A recent report suggests that attacks are increasing on Yazidis, Jews, Ahmadis, Baha’is and many other minority faiths, and in some countries even more insidious forms of religious extremism have recently surfaced which aim to eliminate all types of religious diversity. We are also struggling to capture the immensity of the ripple effect of such persecution. According to the United Nations, 5.8 million more people abandoned their homes in 2015 than the year before, bringing the annual total to a staggering 65.3 million. That is almost equivalent to the entire population of the United Kingdom. And the suffering doesn’t end when they arrive seeking refuge in the foreign land. We are now seeing the rise of many populist groups across the world, that are increasingly aggressive towards those who adhere to a minority faith. All of this has deeply disturbing echoes of the dark days of the 1930s. I was born in 1948, just after the end of World War II, in which my parents’ generation had fought, and died, in a battle against intolerance, monstrous extremism and an inhuman attempt to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe. That nearly 70 years later we should still be seeing such evil persecution is to me beyond all belief. We owe it to those who suffered and died so horribly not to repeat the horrors of the past.

Normally, at Christmas we think of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. I wonder though if this year we might remember how the story of the Nativity unfolds, with the fleeing of the Holy Family to escape violent persecution. And we might also remember that when the Prophet Mohammed migrated from Mecca to Medina, he did so because he too was seeking the freedom for himself and his followers to worship. Whichever religious path we follow, the destination is the same: to value and respect the other person, accepting their right to live out the peaceful response to the Love of God. That’s what I saw when attending the consecration of a Syriac Orthodox Cathedral in London recently. Here were a people persecuted for their religion in their own country, but finding refuge in another land, and freedom to practise their faith according to their conscience. It is an example to inspire us all this Christmas time.

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