Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades addressed a full room at the monthly Catholic Business Network breakfast March 3, held in Cathedral Center at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
The morning started with Mass in the Guerin Chapel and followed with networking, fellowship, camaraderie and an important message from Bishop Rhoades. His comments pertained to how Catholics should be aware of religious persecution abroad, and he called on the faithful to pray for their cause.
Before getting into the specifics, he opened with a report on the state of vocations to the priesthood in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Two seminarians will be ordained into the priesthood this June and five will be ordained to the transitional diaconate.
“We’re doing well, and that’s (due to) your prayers,” he said.
While the number of vocations is encouraging, he said they pose a “happy problem” for the diocesan budget. Traditionally a collection on Pentecost is offered up for seminarian education.
Following these remarks, Bishop Rhoades explained that Pope Francis has dedicated the month of March for prayer and penance for persecuted Christians. There’s no shortage of need for those prayers, as he outlined the dire situation many Christians are facing in the Middle East and worldwide.
“Seventy-five percent of the world lives in countries where there are high restrictions on religious freedom by the government, “he said. “Millions have been displaced fleeing violence by extremist (groups).”
He cited a report from the United Nations, which claimed that 65 million were forcibly displaced by persecution in 2015. Those families are seeking asylum in other countries or living in refugee camps in their native lands, which creates a host of other issues.
Persecution is only part of the picture, he went on to explain. In its most recent annual report, the organization Aid to the Church in Need listed 38 countries with religious freedom violations, which the bishop called a “fundamental breech of human rights.”
The report also sheds light on discrimination based on religion. This includes restrictions on access to jobs, holding public office, media and education posed by the state, he said. Turkey, Iran, Laos, Vietnam and Algeria are among the countries with such practices in place. The report listed 23 countries that have been known to impose persecution. Interestingly, the opposition is not the government, he said. Instead, it’s “virulent and extremist forms of Islam.”
Fortunately there is a growing awareness of these atrocities, and the U.S. bishops have taken action. The bishop cited Catholic Relief Services, the Knights of Columbus and church collections, which all help fund emergency relief in affected countries.
What makes CRS different than other humanitarian organizations, he said, is the fact that they partner with local people, churches, religious orders and dioceses to meet the needs of the people there. He called this a “real strength” and is confident in the sustainability of the work.
But there is plenty of work left to be done — and such organizations depend on the support of laity. But where to begin? The bishop suggested starting with prayer.
“The number thing I hear from persecuted people is ‘Please, don’t forget us. Pray for us,’” he said. “Solidarity is so important.”
Equally as important is being informed and spreading the word about the realities of religious persecution. He suggested supporting organizations that provide relief, such as CRS, Knights of Columbus and Aid to the Church in Need.
In closing, Bishop Rhoades quoted St. Edith Stein, who said “The star of Bethlehem shines in the night of sin.” Even though we are living in dark times, faith will prevail.
Following his remarks, the bishop answered a few questions from attendees pertaining to topics including slavery in Muslim countries and the status of religious freedom in China.
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