US Catholics to pray for persecuted people, including Indians

Topics such as church vandalism, blasphemy laws, and Christian persecution in India are covered in Religious Freedom Week

Jun 13, 2024

Firefighters and arson investigators inspect the damaged Resurrection Catholic Church after an arson and vandalism attack in Los Angeles, California in this Jan 25, 2018 file photo. The incident, the second fire at a Los Angeles church in a week, also saw green paint splashed over the face of statues of Jesus. (Photo: AFP)

WASHINGTON, D.C.: Catholic bishops in the United States have invited their people to a week of prayer, reflection, and action on topics related to violations of religious freedom worldwide.

For each day of Religious Freedom Week from June 22 to 29, the bishops have selected topics such as church vandalism, blasphemy law in Pakistan, and Christian persecution in India as particular areas of focus, Catholic News Agency (CNA) reported on June 11.

The beginning of the week marks the feast day of English saints and martyrs Thomas More and John Fisher.

On June 22, Catholics have been urged to pray so people of faith can gather and worship at religious sites without any fear amid a rise in attacks on sacred places in the U.S.

The bishops have tracked more than 320 cases of vandalism against Catholic sites since 2020. These include attacks on Catholic churches, pro-life pregnancy centers, maternity homes, and other pro-life organizations across the country.

The forms of attacks range from vulgar graffiti, property damage, threats, theft, and arson. Data showed that anti-Semitic incidents have increased in the U.S. since the eruption of the Israel-Hamas war, CNA reported.

“The very nature of a sacred space is that it is set apart from other spaces as a place to seek communion with the divine and thus should be treated with respect. In a pluralistic society such as ours, respect for sacred spaces is especially vital for the sake of civil peace, which is part of the common good,” the bishops said.

June 23 has been dedicated to prayer for people living under fear of persecution under unjust blasphemy laws and laws that criminalize apostasy.

The bishops noted that blasphemy laws exist in nearly 40% of the world’s countries including Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Mauritania, and Saudi Arabia, which punishes blasphemy with the death penalty.

“Penalties for blasphemy vary considerably, ranging from fines to prison sentences to executions,” the bishops noted, and urged Catholics to support papal charity, Aid to the Church in Need, which supports persecuted Christians worldwide.

For June 24, the bishops asked, that Catholics pray that the Holy Spirit “would give us the courage to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel, even in the face of social and legal pressure.”

The bishops said Christians in numerous settings such as schools, workplaces and health care facilities are being pressured “to conform to the orthodoxy of gender ideology.”

They also said government agencies are proposing regulations that, in the name of prohibiting harassment, would “chill or prohibit speech that upholds the nature of conjugal marriage, the bodily reality of human beings, and even the sanctity of life.”

“We certainly should approach people who disagree with us on these issues with tenderness and compassion, but that does not mean we should be forced to speak untruthfully,” they added.

Catholics have also been urged to join the bishops’ efforts to advocate for bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform.

The bishops dedicated June 26 as the day of prayer for “our Christian brothers and sisters in India, who face harassment and violent attacks.”

Media reports and rights groups documented a sharp rise in anti-Christian violence in India and Hindu radicalism. Hindu mobs have attacked Christians, destroyed churches, and disrupted religious worship services based on false allegations of forced conversions.

This prompted the U.S. religious freedom watchdog to recently urge the Biden administration to list India as one of the worst violators of religious freedom, CNA reported.

U.S. bishops have been promoting the work of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926, to support those in need in the ancient Eastern churches — the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India, and Eastern

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