OPINION: On Religious Persecution and Tolerance

This Easter has been a bittersweet one. The all-night vigil I participated in at my parish was powerful – through the words, songs, and testimonies given, I truly saw Christ as victorious over death. There was a collective joy – a shared gratitude – at having experienced light in darkness, meaning in our own individual sufferings. And yet, only a few hours later, I learned of the suicide bombings at the Easter masses of three Catholic churches in Sri Lanka that killed over 200 people. Trying to reconcile the different Easter experiences that my brothers and sisters in faith and I have had this year has been very difficult today, and it’s something that at times feels impossible to do.

All day yesterday I was thinking, “How can I experience this resurrection, this triumph over death at Easter when hundreds of Christians have been slaughtered celebrating this same Easter?” My only consolation is to cling to the beliefs that these martyrs and I share: that in this death, there will be eternal happiness and freedom, that they will be with God. And I hope that for those who survived the attacks – who lost loved ones, who were injured – that they don’t feel alone in their suffering, that they feel accompanied by Christ, who suffered tremendously on the cross. However, my faith seems so trivial – my experience of Easter so removed – from that of the Sri Lankans, and all other Christians being persecuted for their beliefs. I feel unworthy, and have a desire to do more, to help more, to tell more people about what happened, and what has been happening to Christians and other religious minorities for all of history. And yet, I also had a difficult time doing just that, as it seemed like no one truly cared or was affected by the news of this massacre: they would sigh, drop a “how terrible,” and continue with their conversations without much more discomfort.

Aside from the fact that some people just don’t care or feel compassion for people so far removed from their circles, there seems to be an increasing desensitization to attacks on religious groups as they become more and more frequent. The Christchurch mosque shootings were only last month and yet it seems like no one is talking about them anymore – attacks on houses of worship are becoming the norm. We see this all around the world and against multiple religious minorities, but recently, there has been a spike in attacks and discrimination against Christians in South Asian countries like Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan. This is primarily due to growing nationalistic and sectarian politics, that thrive off of “othering” and push nations towards extremism by dividing their peoples along strict religious or ethnic lines. Unfortunately, these strategies and political rhetoric are commonplace in many regions and countries, including the US.

As a practicing Catholic, whose faith is central to her belief system, I understand the importance of religion, which is precisely why I urgently call for religious tolerance and increased contact between peoples of different faiths. There is beauty in diversity, and all humans – no matter of what background – deserve respect, as we all have the same value and dignity. Division and extremism lead to destruction, not to a more authentic or genuine faith. That is why all attacks and violence against religious groups should be condemned – regardless of who perpetrates them and of who they are against.

It is naive to think that there are no differences between religions, or that they won’t cause any tensions. However, reconciling these differences and easing these tensions are obstacles that can more easily be overcome if politicians do not exploit them and if people did not capitalize on discriminatory rhetoric in politics to justify their own beliefs. Religion often forms a really important part of individuals’ identities, and so it is a powerful tool that can be used to move people to do either harm or good – let’s choose good.