Coptic archbishop: Condemning persecution of non-Christians follows the example of Christ

Archbishop Angaelos / Courtesy photo.

Washington D.C., Jul 27, 2021 / 10:30 am (CNA).

Christians around the world must speak out against all religious persecution – including against the Muslim Uyghurs, the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London told CNA during a recent summit on international religious freedom.

“As Christians who live as part of persecuted communities, we understand the pain of persecution, and if we cannot accept it for ourselves, we should never accept this for anyone else,” Archbishop Angaelos of London told CNA in a July 15 interview about global religious persecution.

The archbishop, who has become a leading voice on global religious persecution, was scheduled to address the recent 2021 International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C., but was unable to attend due to pandemic-related travel restrictions in the United Kingdom. He spoke on the phone with CNA about what he had planned to tell the summit. The July 13-15 event featured religious and civic leaders from around the world, as well as survivors of religious persecution.

It is “utterly reprehensible and unacceptable” that “we still many millions of people around the world deprived of their very basic right to believe or not to believe,” he said, pointing to significant advances in other parts of society such as technological progress.

Last year, Angaelos signed a statement against China’s “potential genocide” of the Uyghurs, a largely-Muslim population in northwest China. More than 75 religious leaders signed the document – including two Asian cardinals, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, Burma, and Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo of Jakarta, Indonesia. The leaders called for prayer and solidarity with the Uyghurs, as well as “action to end these mass atrocities.”

Archbishop Angaelos explained his decision to join other voices in condemning China’s atrocities.

It was “Our Lord Himself Who, having seen the world’s suffering, then took flesh and came to resolve that suffering, and shared in our suffering, to raise us above that,” he said. Thus, “we too must look at the suffering of others and continue to do what we can to alleviate it.”

Christians in certain countries have suffered egregiously in recent years, the archbishop said, pointing to a “major exodus” of Christians from the Middle East and North Africa, as well as attacks on Christians in Nigeria, China, and Pakistan.

However, he emphasized, non-Christian communities have been targeted for persecution as well, such as the Uyghurs in China, the Rohingya Muslims in Burma, Baha’is in Iran, and Yezidis in Iraq.

Christians must speak out against persecution of any community, he said, not only as a matter of justice but also as a practical means of protecting all religious communities.

“Human rights violations are always a cascade,” he said. “There’s a start with one particular group, and then the group that is persecuting will move to the next, what they perceive to be a soft target, and the next, and the next.”

Egypt’s Coptic Christians have been targeted through church bombings and attacks on pilgrims in recent years – although the overall “scale” of persecution there has decreased during the recent pandemic, Archbishop Angaelos told CNA.

However, he noted, Coptic Christian women and girls have still been abducted and forcefully converted, and some Christian communities have experienced a deprivation of resources during the pandemic.

“We might be in a slightly better place, and yet, of course, we know that we have such volatile settings, it doesn’t take much to set things off and it doesn’t take much for communities to be demonized and vilified,” he said.

The Coptic Orthdox Church is an Oriental Orthodox Church which rejected the Council of Chalcedon of 451. It followers were historically considered monophysites – those who believe Christ has only one nature – by Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox.

Christians in the West can help the persecuted by spreading awareness of their plight, Archbishop Angaelos said.

“When things fall off the top of our newsfeeds and are no longer headlines, they are easily forgotten. And what we need to do is to keep the issues alive, even with awareness, with speaking, with keeping our eye on spots where there is violation against people,” he said.

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