Christian persecution gains notice from Prince Charles, Catholic group

MANCHESTER, England -- The heir to the British throne suggested that Islamic leaders must speak out against the persecution of Christians by Muslims if they are to guarantee freedom within their own countries.

Prince Charles said in a video message released Nov. 4 that it was an "indescribable tragedy that Christianity is now under such threat in the Middle East," especially as the followers of the two faiths had lived together "peaceably" for centuries.

The message coincided with the presentation in the British Parliament of the 2014 Religious Freedom Report by the United Kingdom branch of Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity helping persecuted Christians around the world.

The prince said faith leaders had a duty to ensure that their co-religionists treated those of other faiths with tolerance.

"Rather than remaining silent, faith leaders have, it seems to me, a responsibility to ensure that people within their own tradition respect people from other faith traditions," Prince Charles said, adding that it was "essential that governments honor their duty to uphold the right of people to practice their faith."

The Prince of Wales also was critical of the decline of religious freedom in Britain.

"It seems to me that our future as a free society -- both here in Britain and throughout the world -- depends on recognizing the crucial role played by people of faith," he said.

"I believe that to speak to another faith tradition and to defend those who follow it, it is profoundly helpful to speak from the core of one's own spiritual experience. My own Christian faith has enabled me to speak to, and to listen to, people from other traditions, including Islam," he added.

"And, as Pope Francis has recently said, such interfaith dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and should be seen as a duty for all Christians, as well as for believers from other religious communities."

The report analyzed the situations of religious minorities in 196 countries from October 2012 to June 2014. It assessed the extent of religious freedom violations, discovering that about 80 percent of people facing persecution around the world were Christians.

High levels of religious persecution were identified in 20 countries, with 14 of them Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Iran and the other six authoritarian regimes, including North Korea and China.

The report also found that religious freedom has declined overall around the world in the past two years, including in Western countries with a Christian heritage.

Religious freedom in the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand was deteriorating at such a rate that they are designated as countries of concern in the report.

The United States, Ireland, Italy and Australia had low levels of religious persecution but all saw deterioration of religious liberties over the past two years, the report said.

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