Prince Charles this week spoke again of his ”mounting despair” at the plight of Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in northern Iraq and Syria.
Concerned at the deterioration of religious tolerance around the world, the heir to the British throne warned that “the very freedom on which society is built is threatened with destruction”.
The prince was speaking in a seven-minute video address for the launch in the House of Lords on Tuesday of the Religious Freedom in the World Report 2014, produced by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
In the video the prince praised the report and spoke of his “mounting despair” at the expulsion of Christians, Muslims and Yazidis from parts of northern Iraq by Islamic State (IS) jihadists.
“It is an indescribable tragedy that Christianity is now under such threat in the Middle East … [where] people of different faiths [have been] living together peaceably for centuries,” he said. “It seems to me that our future as a free society – both here in Britain and throughout the world – depends on recognising the crucial role played by people of faith,” he said.
Urging religions to engage in inter-faith dialogue, a process which he said required humility and maturity, the Prince of Wales cited Pope Francis, who in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, said: “Interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world.”
The prince also urged governments to honour their commitment to freedom of religion in the United Nations declaration of human rights, although noted that “even in the West this right is often challenged”.
The ACN report monitored religious freedom in 196 countries and found that in 80 of them – 41 per cent – it had been impaired or was in decline. In Britain the situation had deteriorated and was “of concern”, as it was in France and Germany.
It pointed out that in Britain “a hierarchy of rights” meant that the rights of equality campaigners “usually take precedence” over the rights of conscience of religious believers, and cited the closure of Catholic adoption agencies after they were forced to place children with gay couples.
The report also listed prejudice against Muslims seeking work, attacks on imams and mosques, and violence against practising and non-practising Jews.
John Pontifex, the report’s editor, told the launch audience at the House of Lords that while much religious persecution was motivated by a militant form of Islam, there was a rising tide of anti-Semitism causing an increased influx of European Jews to Israel.
Other speakers at the launch included the Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama, who was due to speak in Manchester tomorrow on the situation in Nigeria, Skeikh Ibrahim Mogra of the Muslim Council of Britain and Foreign Office Minister Baroness Anelay.
Last December Prince Charles spoke out against the persecution of Christians in the Middle East at a reception at Clarence House and in August of this year he made a “significant donation” to ACN for its work helping the thousands of displaced Iraqi Christians.
Above: Britain's Prince Charles speaks to religious leaders during a visit to a Syrian Orthodox Church in London on 17 December. The Prince of Wales was accompanied by Jordan's Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal during the visit, celebrating Christian communities fro m the Middle-East in Britain. Photo: CNS photo/Toby Melville, Reuters