As reported here extensively (see the list of links at the bottom of this post), a series of events about the persecution of Christians took place in Orlando, Florida two weeks ago. Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff was one of the featured participants at those events.
Andreas Unterberger is a popular Austrian opinion writer. Last Thursday Elisabeth wrote a guest column at Mr. Unterberger’s blog about her experiences in Orlando (I’m told the original is behind a paywall, so I have no URL for it). Many thanks to JLH for the translation:
Guest Column at Andreas Unterberger
The Scandal of the Persecution of Christians Penetrates International Consciousness
May 29, 2014
On May 17th, on the initiative of Lutheran pastor Bruce Lieske, a march took place, calling attention to the present-day persecution of Christians worldwide. The basic idea of this march is based on the annual presentation of the Platform for Persecuted Christians in Vienna.
To clarify the background of the Viennese event, I quote from my speech at the Lutheran Prince of Peace Church in Orlando.
“In Vienna in 2008, on the 60th anniversary of the signing of the ‘United Nations Charter of Human Rights,’ an awesome idea was born: Why not use the date of the signing — the 10th of December — to advocate for persecuted Christians in the world, to call attention to their lot, and to push for action to be taken against oppression, torment and discrimination.
“Even though fundamental human rights like freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom to assemble do apply for many Christians in the world, the right to own property and the rights of a householder do not. And even worse: Christians in numerous countries are tortured, raped and killed. About 200,000 of them are massacred every year because of their religion. And it is in Islamic countries where Christians suffer the most. The index of global persecution from the respected organization, Open Doors, shows that, out of the ten countries most aggressive in intimidating and persecuting Christians, nine of them are Islamic by government or predominant culture.
“So it was only too fitting to make a connection between the anniversary of the declaration of human rights and the worst form of its abuse. The idea in Vienna was to introduce the evil of persecution of Christians to the public consciousness, to give the victims a face, and to work together in solidarity. That was and remains important, because the phenomenon of Christian persecution is mostly either ignored or suppressed in the West.
“The Vienna idea to counter this voicelessness was to have a press conference with materials to hand out, personal contacts, a torchlight walk with megaphones from the Opera to Saint Stephen’s — the most beautiful and important cathedral in the land — and finally, celebration of an ecumenical divine service with a prestigious member of the clergy and participation by representatives of the most diverse Christian denominations — especially those from the areas which suffer the greatest persecution.
“From the beginning, the platform of ‘solidarity with persecuted Christians’ was advanced by a varied and growing number of organizations. On the initiative of the Wiener Akademikerbund, church-based institutions, aid organizations, associations in academic and civil life and dedicated individuals came together to set an example and mobilize support. The 24 organizations that cooperated on this platform also made sure through the year that the subject was not forgotten in their own fields of activity.
“So far, six days of action have been arranged, to increase perception of this sad subject in the media, to heighten the sense of solidarity in many citizens and to encourage concrete offers of help for the victims. The money collected during a day of action was donated to a project of the current honorary or star guest.”
On December 10, 2013, Pastor Lieske, too, was sitting in the fully packed Stephansdom. He was impressed by the moving torchlight march and the following ecumenical worship service. The desire took root in him to organize this march in his hometown of Orlando. For it was imperative that the growing abuse and killing of people because of their Christian belief also be publicized in the USA. Pastor Lieske started the program with a dedicated group, including practicing Jews and devout Christians. A march around a small lake in the middle of Orlando, followed by a prayer meeting with short speeches in the nearby church. As in Vienna, it was possible to get Syrian Orthodox Sister Hatune as the star guest. Several of the speakers and guests flew in from Europe and Canada to express their solidarity.
The early evening was shaped by a panel discussion, in which European guests reported on the situation of Christians in Europe. I spoke briefly on the term coined by historian Bat Ye’or — “dhimmitude” — which describes the subjection and oppression of non-Muslim populations in an Islamic state, and ever more frequently, in non-Muslim states as well — especially in Europe and the USA. An Egyptian Copt reported on his homeland and how the state deals with its religious minorities. Sister Hatune’s descriptions of her missionary work in Islamic countries were shocking and frightening. No one there had ever been so close to reality as they were with Sister Hatune’s report.
On May 17th, on the shores of Lake Eola, 200 courageous people — both religious and secular, and also several priests — came together to show support for the most persecuted religious group in the world. Pastor Lieske’s group had prepared placards with statements such as “STOP BURNING DOWN CHURCHES IN EGYPT,” among others. The total effect was that much more impressive, because all the placards were the same size and had the same lettering. There was silence during the march around the lake. Only at the halfway mark was there a pause and a prayer.
At this same time, a group of Muslims were setting up their tents for an Arabic festival taking place the next day. One Muslim — asked if he supported the march — said that he did, for we surely all believed in the same God. I and a Christian born in Pakistan both denied this, because the Christian God has nothing in common with the Islamic Allah. The march ended with prayers and speeches in the filled-to-capacity Prince of Peace Church.
I took part in the name of the Vienna League of Academics (Wiener Akademikerbund) and the Citizens’ Movement (Bürgerbewegung) Pax Europa. I am proud to have helped at the birth of a hopefully successful movement. It is my earnest hope that this march will be successfully emulated worldwide. There have already been inquiries in this regard.
I am disturbed by the glaring absence of representatives of the Catholic Church. The organizers naturally sent an invitation to the march to all religious communities in Florida. The Catholic Church stayed away with the assertion: “We have such a good relationship with the Muslims. We do not wish to endanger it.” (A striking example of the above-mentioned dhimmitude.)
Obviously, that oh-so-good relationship is more important than the many dead and mutilated brothers and sisters in Christ. Other churches, too, did not find it worth their while to spend two hours standing against the persecution of Christians. And so I will do everything I can to assure that these marches continue in the future. We cannot close our eyes to the tragedies that are unfolding in the Near East, in Africa, in Asia, but also in the West.
We must never forget. To be silent is to assent.
Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff is a mother, an English tutor and a guardian of freedom.
Photo credits: Charlie Marteau.
Previous posts about the Prayer March for Persecuted Christians, Orlando, May 2014: