|Copyright:Photograph by Roger Anis
His Grace Bishop Angaelos
General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church
in the United Kingdom
International Religious Freedom Day 2016
27 October 2016
As we mark International Religious Freedom Day, it is becoming more apparent that the Freedom of Religion or Belief is not only desirable, but fundamental to our ability as humanity to peacefully co-exist, and live with God-given dignity irrespective of our religious or non-religious convictions.
Regardless of what many may want to believe, religion is not only hugely significant, but fundamentally core to the vast majority of the world’s population. Accordingly, the opportunity to have and practice one’s religion unencumbered, and without imposition on others, is a right that must be protected for all those who believe and practice peacefully and faithfully.
Our world is struggling to promote, and indeed maintain, God-given freedoms that have been enshrined in numerous international charters and conventions for decades, such as Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As a result we continue to witness violations against communities around the globe, and for that reason it is now that governments, faith leaders, civil society, NGOs and all in positions of leadership or influence must stand together in solidarity to address the problems that threaten further violations against the most vulnerable, and lead to the destabilisation of our global community.
Collaboration remains our best tool in combatting intolerance and injustice, and providing hope at a time when fear, anxiety and hopelessness are increasingly overtaking our general state of being and perspective.
The Christian message is one of hope, and at these times of seemingly increasing darkness, that Gospel message of hope and promise is most needed. God has graciously and indiscriminately bestowed humanity with the freedom to choose or reject Him, and did not make His image and likeness, the right to dignity or the basic right to exist, conditional upon choosing Him. It is upon that foundation that we must accept one another’s diversity, and advocate for all who are denied the right and freedom to practice their chosen faith, or none.
The oppression and persecution of religious minorities across the Middle East and beyond has unfortunately become an all-too-familiar occurrence. As a result, many have become either desensitised or disheartened by the ongoing struggle. We must not lose heart however, but take opportunities such as today, to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves, to advocate for those who find themselves without a champion, and to challenge all who seek to justify injustice. Following in the footsteps of our Lord, we must endeavour, to the best of our ability, to “proclaim liberty to the captives…recovery of sight to the blind…[and] set at liberty those who are oppressed…” (Luke 4:18).
Each and every one of us can make a difference, so let us take the opportunity on International Religious Freedom Day to work in whatever capacity we can to safeguard the basic God-given rights and freedoms of those we encounter on a daily basis, and those we see suffering from afar. When we advocate for others we inevitably advocate for the whole of humanity, ourselves and our own included.
Trusting in the faithfulness of our heavenly Father, we pray that He continues to use all who are willing to spread the message of hope, light, forgiveness, and peace to those who are so desperately in need of it in our world today.