Catholic Voices in partnership with Aid to the Church in Need provided a fantastic workshop this evening on standing up for religious freedom. Baroness Helena Kennedy QC of the Shaws, Professor the Lord David Alton of Liverpool, Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark and seminary rector Father Habila Daboh, of Kaduna, northern Nigeria were the panelists presenting this topic. Lord David Alton spoke first and clearly outlined the human rights violations taking place in China today. Archbishop John Wilson then answered the question are people of faith at risk of being marginalised and ignored which is marked by growing and aggressive secularisation? His eloquent answer highlighted the diminishing place given to people of faith in society today. He referred to Pope Francis who has recently said that there are two types of religious persecution today – the violent persecution but also the more subtle “polite” persecution in which people of faith should be seen and not heard in society. He urged us not to be silenced but to enter into the public domain with confidence and kindness and demonstrate the great good that people of faith have to offer society as a whole.
Father Habila Daboh, Rector of the Good Shepherd Seminary, Kaduna, northern Nigeria followed the archbishop. Four of his seminarians were kidnapped in 2020 and after long and difficult negotiations only three returned alive. Fr Habila highlighted the terrible persecution of Christians taking place in northern Nigeria that is currently growing while the West remains deafeningly silent. He described the pain of losing Michael, the seminarian, but also the fruit that has come from this suffering. He also thanked Aid the Church in Need for their support in the face of religious persecution.
Finally Baroness Helena Kennedy spoke first of the other atrocities taking place in northern Nigeria, then of the persecution of the Yazidi people while neighbouring countries remained silent. She also referred to the plight of the Christians in Syria and the Uyghur genocide that is currently being perpetrated by the Chinese government against the Uyghur people around the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. She said that if we learned anything from the ashes of the holocaust it is that we cannot be bystanders. We have a duty to prevent things we can see happening. She is fighting for these cases to be prosecuted in the international courts.
After four such fascinating speakers had spoken there was no time for questions so Brenden from Catholic Voices summed up the evening for us. He urged us to take away at least two important points: to be aware of the blind spots – something that Aid to the Church in Need was so skilled in highlighting for us – and to speak up confidently for religious freedom. That is something that Catholic Voices teaches us all to do so eloquently. It was a brilliant webinar and time very well spent.