Pope Francis says there are more martyrs today than in pre-Constantine days

The persecution of Christians today is greater than in the first centuries of the Church, Pope Francis has said.

At a conference in Rome the Pope said he was “greatly pained to note that Christians around the world are suffering the greatest part of this discrimination. The persecution of Christians today is even greater than in the first centuries of the Church, and there are more Christian martyrs today than in that era.”

The Pope addressed organisers, speakers and participants at a conference entitled “International Religious Liberty and the Global Clash of Values”. The conference was organised by the centres for Law and Religion and for International and Comparative Law at St John’s University in New York and the Department of Law at Rome’s LUMSA University.

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He said that real religious liberty included the freedom to live according to the values taught by one’s faith.

“Religious freedom is not just a matter of thought or private devotion,” the Pope said. “It is the freedom to live – both privately and publicly – according to the ethical principles that are a consequence of the truth found.”

Pope Francis said ensuring people’s right to live their religious values was increasingly difficult in the modern world “where weak thinking – this is a sickness – lowers the level of ethics in general and, in the name of a false understanding of tolerance, ends up persecuting those who defend the truth about the human person and its ethical consequences”.

A natural part of being human, he said, is seeking the truth about the origin and ultimate destiny of one’s life, one’s connection to the cosmos and one’s place in history.

“In the human mind and heart there arise questions and thoughts that cannot be repressed or suffocated” because they emerge naturally, he said.

Religious freedom is a “fundamental right of the human person” and a recognition of the dignity of the human capability “to seek the truth and adhere to it”, the Pope said.

National and international laws and organisations must “recognise, guarantee and protect religious liberty”, the Pope said. Religious freedom is “an indicator of a healthy democracy and one of the principal sources of a nation’s legitimacy”.

As he has said repeatedly, Pope Francis told the conference participants it is “incomprehensible and worrying” that even as worldwide appeals to human rights grow, “discrimination and restriction of rights persist based only on belonging to and publicly professing a certain faith”.

“It is unacceptable that real persecution – and even wars – continue based on religious belonging,” he said.

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