In the face of increased persecution of Christians in the Middle East, the Holy See's diplomatic arm is developing a strategy to shed light on Christian martyrs, helping those remaining to stay in their homeland and to foster interreligous dialogue. A visible effect of this commitment is a joint statement issued by the United Nations Human Rights Council March 13, which was drafted by the Holy See together with Lebanon and Russia. According to Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, the Holy See's Permanent Observer to the UN in Geneva, the statement “is news in the world of the Human Rights Council, since it is the first time we explicitly mention the category of Christian persons.” The joint statement clearly recognizes the abuses suffered by persons from any religious, ethnic, or cultural background simply because they want to exercise their religion. The document represented a sort of "road map" for Holy See diplomacy. Since the release of the joint statement, the UN Human Rights Council discussed in a April 1 special session the situation in Nigeria, where the radical Islamist group Boko Haram has killed more than 15,500 since 2012. Archbishop Tomasi voiced the Holy See's concern, and stressed that “we are witnessing the continued development and dissemination of a radical and ruthless type of extremism inspired by an ideology which attempts to justify its crimes in the name of religion.” The Holy See Permanent Observer also underscored that “with the recent explicit allegiance of Boko Haram to the so-called Islamic State group, one cannot be blind to the fact that such extremists groups are growing like a cancer, spreading to other parts of the world, and even attracting foreign militants to fight in their ranks.” The Holy See’s final goal is help build a network able to stop the persecution of Christians and of any other religious group, and to back the building of pluralistic societies with solid political systems, capable of protecting fundamental human rights. This task had already been indicated by Fr. Miguel Ayuso Guixot, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, in a Sept. 8, 2012 intervention at a conference on “Arab Awakening and Peace in the Middle East: Muslim and Christian Perspectives.” Commenting on the Arab Spring, Fr. Ayuso stressed the need to “nurture a culture of democracy,” to develop “a fair rule of law, so that everyone is equal in front of the law,” and to develop “needed state institutions at the service of every citizen.” The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue's efforts are aimed at awakening the consciences of the Muslim world, which remained silent in front of the brutalities perpetuated by the Islamic State. In an Aug. 12, 2014 declaration the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue called into question religious leaders, especially those in the Muslim world, asking “What is our credibility, if we do not denounce what is going on, which is offending God and humanity?” Holy See efforts at interreligious dialogue are continuing. In an April 7 interview with The Australian, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican's secretary for relations with states, said that “The Holy See will continue to dialogue with Muslim leaders and teachers, and to encourage respect of the true spiritual values which come from authentic religious experience.” In addition, the Holy See is working to aid persecuted Christians on the ground, helping them to remain in their home countries. In recent months, its missions to Iraq have tried to comfort the internally displaced and to coordinate financial aid. Shortly after the Islamic State seized Mosul and much of Nineveh province, Pope Francis sent Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, as a special envoy to Iraq. Cardinal Filoni returned to Iraq during Holy Week, visiting refugee camps, celebrating Mass for refugees, and meeting people to see how their conditions could be improved. In an interview with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Filoni underscored that “despite the precarity of the situation, I met people willing to remain in their home country.” A delegation led by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum also travelled to Iraq March 26-29, and a delegation of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, led by its prefect, should be visiting Iraq in the coming weeks. The final goal of these trips is to coordinate on-the-ground efforts and to give more weight to apostolic nuncios and the bishops, who are working to protect Christian populations from persecution and to help them escape when they are persecuted.
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