by Father Shay Cullen Profiles in Catholicism
The strong words of Pope Francis spoken in solidarity and support for all the human rights defenders, environmental activists, social workers and truth journalists on the front line and fighters for justice and equality everywhere has encouraged and inspired millions of people to reach out to help. Prayer is a public way for a Pope to make a social and political statement of great importance.
“We pray for those who risk their lives while fighting for fundamental rights under dictatorships, authoritarian regimes and even in democracies in crisis,” he said. Pope Francis is very aware of the struggle and needs of these dedicated human rights activists fighting for justice and peace and the human dignity. Those standing for racial equality in the “Black Lives Matter” campaign and those fighting for women and children’s rights in the “Me Too Movement.”
He addressed all people- Christians, non-Christians, people of all religious beliefs or those with none at all- who have dedicated their lives serving humanity and giving unselfish service without seeking reward. They need and deserve our support when we can’t help the victims of abuse directly.
They do the vital work for us defending victims of rights violations and courageously give their lives doing it. In the Philippines, 318 human rights workers and activists were killed between July 2016 and June 2020. As many as 110 lawyers were killed from 1972 to the present. Sixty-one of those killings have taken place since 2016. Also, 86 journalists and reporters have been killed since 1992.
They are accepting serious risks defending victims of abuse and violations of their human dignity and rights. The suffer hardship and abuse, rejection and imprisonment and death because of their work for human rights in supporting the downtrodden and abused victims. They are survivors themselves. They have that most fundamental love of others to uphold the dignity and rights of every human being. Without those rights, we are just as the animals are. We can see this spirit of sacrifice around the world. In Syria, the volunteers and medical workers in hospitals are being bombed by the cruel dictator Marshal Bashar al-Assad. They risk their lives every day defending and saving the wounded and sick in war-torn Syria.
Recently, Assad’s troops fired mortars on an underground hospital and killed a child and seven people. Assad with Russian help has destroyed Syria. He has arrested, murdered and tortured to death thousands of Syrians and has driven 350,000 people into exile among them courageous human rights workers. The number of dead vary between 388,650 and about 594,000 as of March 2021. On 23 April 2016, the United Nations and Arab League Envoy to Syria put out an estimate of 400,000 that had died in the war. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as many as 5.6 million Syrians have fled the eight years of war and are living in tents in neighbouring countries. There are 6.6 million internally displaced and another 2.98 million besieged and sheltering in remote areas.
Many others have escaped to try and reach Europe in search of a new life. Pope Francis has prayed and appealed for European countries to open their borders to welcome the war refugees. Germany and some nations did. Canada has received thousands of refugees and many from Syria in recent years.
However, the anti-asylum people and Neo-Nazis of Europe rose up and opposed any welcome and right-wing political parties grew to stop it and largely succeeded. Some Catholic countries slammed shut their doors with dark compassionless hearts and built fences to keep out the refugees, thousands of them homeless children. Too bad if Jesus of Nazareth and his parents were arrested at the Egyptian border and deported them to the cruel baby-killer King Herod for a death penalty, there would have been no Christianity.
Under international law, a person fleeing persecution seeking asylum has a right to reach the country of destination and choice by any means available to ask for protection, shelter and asylum Many hard-hearted people see them as parasites, pests and vermin to be rejected. The newly proposed UK asylum law is suggesting to do just that by declaring asylum seekers who reach the UK as “illegals.”
There can be no “illegal” entry to a country by an asylum seeker. Many Germans escaping East Germany seeking asylum in the West during the Cold War would have to be declared illegal entry and returned to the communist East if such crossing the border seeking asylum was said to be illegal. Such escapes were cheered and encouraged The proposed law by the UK wants to make illegal what under international law is right and legal and just. To deport an asylum seeker without due process and evaluation would be a violation of that refugee’s human rights, according to some UK human rights lawyers.
More dictators and populist autocratic leaders have emerged in recent decades. Pope Francis's prayer is badly needed in Myanmar as the people have shown courage and bravery in facing down the military that staged a coup six weeks ago. The defiance and resilience of the people and youth is inspiring and as many as 260 have been killed by the military, thousands more arrested and detained.
The cries and voices of the oppressed and imprisoned Uyghurs are being heard and supported by the human rights campaigners. They will be encouraged by the prayer and support of Pope Francis, a world-renowned voice for the voiceless and oppressed people. Many are calling for an end to what they call a genocide. Millions of Uyghurs are allegedly imprisoned in re-education camps by the communist regime and women forcibly sterilized, raped and killed, according to escaped witnesses interviewed on world media.
In every country where tyrants and dictators arbitrarily arrest and imprison their own people and kill them with impunity, the voice of protest denouncing the evil deeds can be heard. We are all challenged to join the prayer of Pope Francis and thousands of human rights defenders to campaign on social media and sign petitions in their support. If ever the tyrant’s goons come for us, may we have human rights defenders at our side.