Italian Demo for Persecuted Christians

From the Catholic News Agency, last week:

More than three thousand people marched through Holy Apostles’ Square in Rome on Wednesday to demonstrate “against the exodus and persecution of Christians in the Middle East and for religious freedom in the world.” The march was organized by Magdi Allam, the vice director of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches supported the march and said he hoped it would bring “positive results for the Holy Land, and for Christians in Iraq and Iran, that they might not feel forced to flee their countries.”

Allam is an Egyptian immigrant to Italy. According to a profile in Haaretz, he was raised to support Palestinian rights, but following emigration to Italy he came to realise that Yasser Arafat was “was a tyrant, a megalomaniac, corrupt and corrupting”. From this revelation, Allam concluded that Israel must therefore be in the right and should be supported unconditionally:

“The Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza demonstrates that the problem is not the need to withdraw from territories occupied in preemptive wars, but rather the Arabs’ lack of desire to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Israel erred in 1967 when it accepted the formula of territory for peace, and thus placed its very existence up for public auction.”

With views such as these it is highly doubtful that Palestinian Christian comnplaints about Israeli occupation would have been part of the demonstration’s agenda (I blogged on Palestinian Christian woes here, where I noted that two US congressmen who wanted to tout their support for Palestinian Christians “quietly withdrew” a resolution on the subject rather than include criticism of Israel).

The News Agency describes some of the speakers:

Auxiliary Bishop Shelmon Warduni of Baghdad told participants, “In the name of all those persecuted for the faith I thank you. I ask to you make the political and religious world and all public opinion sensitive to the plight of persecuted Christians and that you continue to do so in the future.

Former Italian government official Rocco Buttiglione said, “Religious freedom is the heart of all freedom and for the first time the public is being shown that Christians are being persecuted.”

Buttiglione, known to the media as a “theo-con”, has featured on this blog before. The Catholic World News adds some further details:

Among those participating were Italy’s former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and the former foreign minister, Gianfranco Fini. Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo di Segni, who was also at the rally, stated, “To negate religious freedom, which is the highest expression of freedom, is unacceptable…The fact that here, there are representatives of different religions is a stupendous example and a splendid sign.” The head of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, was also present at yesterday’s demonstration.

Fini, of course, is the notorious “post-fascist” who once opined that Mussolini “was the greatest statesman of the century”. Berlusconi told the crowd that

the denial of religious freedom is “unacceptable.” “The fact that people of different religions are here today is a wonderful example and a splendid sign,” he said.

The AP, meanwhile, gives us Foxman’s contribution:

“I stand here tonight as an American Jew and as a survivor of the Holocaust to say to you that ‘never again’ was a pledge that the Jewish people learned with great pain and sadness,” he said. “But ‘never again’ is not limited to Jewish pain and suffering. ‘Never again’ is an imperative whether they’re Jewish, Muslims or Christians.”

(Foxman, by the way, is currently facing calls for this dismissal over his support for Turkey’s campaign for the US Congress not to recognise the Armenian genocide)

AsiaNews notes a few other participants:

The initiative…saw the participation of some 4,000 people from different religions and various political currents. Speakers included: Attilio Tamburrini, of the Italian section of Aid to the Church in Need; Roberto Pazzeschi, of the Italian Evangelical Alliance; Jesus Carrascosa, Communion and Liberation’s director for international affairs; Souad Sbai, president of the Association of Moroccan Women; Riccardo Pacifici, spokesman of Rome’s Jewish community. At the request of the diocese of Rome, Fr Bernardo Cervellera also spoke at the rally.

The same site also provides the text of Cervellera’s speech, in which he implicitly compares the plight of Christians in the Middle East with the situation in secular Europe:

In a certain way, there’s something new about this evening: Westerners who are going back to thinking of Christians and religious freedom not as an historical embarrassment, but as a benefit for humanity as a whole and Europe above all.

It is not by chance that, in his beautiful speech at Regensburg, Benedict XVI dedicated just a few lines to the irrationality of violence in Islam and in religions, but he dedicated a long page to the irrationality of Western culture that wants to do without the religious dimension and Christianity. This false, irreligious culture, which suffocates the voice of Christians in Europe, is the herald of violence and dangerous also from the international point of view.

This evening’s step is a step toward the re-birth of a Europe that nourishes itself from its religious roots.

Looks like there was more than one agenda going on here…