August 22: A day to remember victims of violence based on religion

FOLLOWING AN UNPRECEDENTED increase in violence against religious communities and people belonging to religious minorities, the UN General Assembly last year proclaimed August 22 as the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. But the situation has only become worse. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) warns about the growth of international religion-based terrorism, and an alarming trend of attacks against religious buildings and symbols to draw attention to other, legitimate social rights and injustice issues.

“Ever present news about acts of violence and harassment based on religion in countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria or India continue to give ACN great cause for concern. Although social and ethnic motives are often involved, we cannot close our eyes to this reality,” said Thomas Heine-Geldern, ACN executive president.

Islamist attacked church in Mozambique
Islamist attacked church in Mozambique

Heine-Geldern draws particular attention to the imminent dangers facing the African continent with the rapid spread of Islamist militant groups: “How can it be that there is no global response to the long unheeded warnings of Islamic State terror cells operating in Mozambique, most recently resulting in the August 12 ISIS capture of the Mocimboa da Praia port in the north of the country? We recognize in their methods the same intention to eliminate the cultural and religious plurality of the country, as they have done in other countries, like Iraq. To-date more than 200,000 people have had to flee. What are we waiting for?”

August 22 is also about remembering and honoring those victims of religious persecution who have been forgotten. “This year among others, we remember the seminarian Michael Nnadi, murdered on February 1 in Nigeria; we remember Philippe Yarga, a catechist from Pansi in Burkina Faso, killed on February 16 along with 24 others; and we remember Joseph Nadeem, a Pakistani Christian who died on June 29, assassinated by a neighbor purely out of religious and social contempt. We also remember the victims of religious persecution who are still alive, especially those who are kidnapped, like Sister Gloria Narvaez in Mali, and the young girl Leah Sharibu in Nigeria,” said Heine-Geldern.

“Regrettably, we see a new and alarming trend in many countries, where religious buildings and symbols are attacked and destroyed to draw attention to other legitimate social rights and injustices,” said Heine-Geldern. As examples, he highlights the case of Chile where during the social and political upheavals at the end of 2019 more than 57 Christian churches and places of worship were attacked and burned, and in the United States where, this year, up until July 16, more than 60 attacks on Catholic churches linked to protests against racial discrimination have been registered.

Heine-Geldern said: “It is not justice to draw attention to valid social, racial or economic injustices by attacking the faith and beliefs of others. Unchecked hatred against religious groups engenders violence and destruction and should be publicly repudiated. Violence is never a solution and governments have an obligation to protect the victims and prosecute those who commit acts of violence.

“The International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion is a milestone in the right direction, but we have to acknowledge that the situation worldwide is not improving. We encourage the UN to take further steps to combat hate crimes and acts of religion-based violence. It would be welcome if next year we had fewer victims to remember.”

—Maria Lozano