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On November 22nd 2013 the House of Lords debated the following Motion on Human Rights Violations. The link takes you to the recording of the parliamentary debate and the text of the debate appears below.


Video of the debate can be found here: – the Human Rights debate follows the Questions.  Scroll ahead to 11.38.


Human Rights

Motion to Take Note

11.37 am

Moved by

Lord Alton of Liverpool

That this House takes note of Her Majesty’s Government’s policy towards countries responsible for violations of human rights.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

My Lords, in just under three weeks’ time, we will mark the 65th anniversary of the adoption of a declaration which asserted that,

“disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall…

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Posted on Updated on


On November 22nd 2013 the House of Lords debated the following Motion on Human Rights Violations. The link takes you to the recording of the parliamentary debate and the text of the debate appears below.


Video of the debate can be found here: – the Human Rights debate follows the Questions.  Scroll ahead to 11.38.

Meeting at the House of Lords with Mr.Justice Michael Kirby's Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Abuses in North Korea.
Meeting at the House of Lords with Mr.Justice Michael Kirby’s Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Abuses in North Korea.


Human Rights

Motion to Take Note

11.37 am

Moved by

Lord Alton of Liverpool

That this House takes note of Her Majesty’s Government’s policy towards countries responsible for violations of human rights.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

My Lords, in just under three weeks’ time, we will mark the 65th anniversary of the adoption of a declaration which asserted that,

“disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want”.

It is as much a declaration of human dignity as a declaration of human rights. I hope that those words and the declaration’s 30 articles will serve as the architecture for today’s debate. These rights are universal and not available for selective enforcement according to culture, tradition or convenience.

Every year, the Foreign Office publishes a comprehensive report on human rights violations. It clearly should be followed by an annual debate in both Houses, the appetite for which is underlined by the distinguished list of speakers who will contribute today, albeit in speeches far too constrained by time limits. We eagerly await four maiden speeches: those of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, and the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, whose grandfather, Dr Alfred Wiener, dedicated much of his life to documenting anti-Semitism and racism in Germany, and whose first wife, Margarethe, died shortly after being released from Bergen-Belsen.

It was in the aftermath of those horrific events that the 1948 declaration was promulgated, the United Nations established, and the Nuremberg trials commenced. During today’s debate, I hope that we will reflect on whether the Security Council, the General Assembly, the United Nations Human Rights Council, which replaced the discredited Commission on Human Rights in 2006, and the International Criminal Court, established by the Rome Statute in 2002, have been effective guarantors of the high ideals of that declaration.

It is just 10 days since China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Cuba and Vietnam were all elected to the Human Rights Council despite concerns about their own human rights records and their decision to exclude United Nations monitors from their jurisdictions. Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations General-Secretary, has said:

“All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action”.

But will they be able to do so with any certainty in the future? I shall be interested to hear whether the noble Baroness believes that international bodies charged with upholding human rights should be wholly independent of national governments who violate them.

China, in particular, has huge diplomatic, political, economic and military influence, and its attitude will determine the shape of global attitudes to human rights. Through the Opium Wars to the Rape of Nanking and the horrors of Mao Zedong, China has itself suffered gross human rights violations. The protection and promotion of human rights should not only be seen as a moral cause, but it can never be in a nation’s self-interest to see universal freedoms and values trampled upon.

In today’s debate, we will hear about the situation in many countries and we will hear many themes, from female genital mutilation and the use of rape as a weapon of war to the killing of human rights monitors—in Colombia 37 have been murdered already this year—from human trafficking and repression arising from sexual orientation to the caste system, which inflicts such misery on Dalit people. Sometimes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is seen as an à la carte menu from which we may pick and choose. But these rights stand together. None should be emasculated; they are there for a reason.

Let me give one example. In a report by Members of your Lordships’ House, Article 18 was dubbed an “orphaned right”. Sidelining a right which upholds the right to belief, or indeed the right not to believe, is a serious error and the failure to uphold this orphaned right is leading to appalling consequences. As the noble Baroness the Minister rightly warned at Georgetown University last week, there is a need to “build political will” and to actively uphold the Human Rights Council resolutions on the treatment of minorities and tolerance towards other faiths. She said that in large parts of the world Christians “face extinction” and that senior politicians in countries like Pakistan have a “duty” to denounce persecution and to set a standard for tolerance. The noble Baroness is right and she is to be commended for leading by her own formidable example.

There are growing restrictions on freedom of conscience that range from the suffering of the Ahmadiyya Muslim communities in Pakistan and Indonesia to the plight of the Baha’is in Iran and Egypt; from the Rohingyas and other Muslims in Burma to Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims in China, and of course Christians in these countries as well as in countries as diverse as Egypt, Syria, Nigeria, Sudan, India, Eritrea and Cuba. But I stress that it is not only people of religion who suffer from violations of Article 18. In Indonesia a young man, Alexander Aan, has been jailed because he declared himself an atheist. For that, he is serving a two and a half year sentence in a remote prison in west Sumatra. Whatever our beliefs, the defence of Article 18 is therefore something which all of us should champion.

Among the organisations mandated to defend human rights that needs urgently to be strengthened is the International Criminal Court. It is mandated to prosecute individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, but it has been wholly inadequate in its mechanisms of enforcement. Let us take the situation in sub-Saharan Africa. Last week I met Dr. Kasereka Jo Lusi, a remarkable surgeon who works in Goma in eastern Congo. He told me that an average of 48 women are raped every single hour in the DRC. Twenty different militias carry out these horrors with impunity. Why is no one brought to justice and what can we do to promote a paradigm shift in attitudes and beliefs towards women and girls? In confronting impunity, why is it that Joseph Kony, who created the LRA killing machine responsible for terrible atrocities and indicted by the ICC, has not been brought to justice? Why does the indicted Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, remain at large? Bashir has been hosted by signatories of the Rome Statute, which stipulates that they have a duty to co-operate with arrest warrants. What have we done to seek compliance?

Within the past month, I have made speeches in this House about Egypt and Sudan. Can the Minister give us her latest assessment of the continued aerial bombardment of civilian populations in Darfur and the Nuba mountains? There is also the plight of Copts. We saw the murder of two little girls at a recent Coptic wedding and the orgy of violence which I have described as Egypt’s Kristallnacht.

In May, I raised human rights abuses in Pakistan. If the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Cabinet Minister, who was well known to the Minister and who was charged with upholding the rights of minorities, remains unsolved, what faith can ordinary citizens have in the justice system? Why should potential attackers fear the law? What progress is being made in bringing his murderers to justice?

Last week, the Minister replied to my Written Question about the discovery of two mass graves in Sadad, in Syria. Yesterday, Human Rights Watch issued a new report on the 45 people killed there by the Islamist militias of al-Nusra Front and Daash. Are we any closer to verifying those accounts or to bringing to justice those who have used chemical weapons and those responsible for the daily violations of human rights using conventional weapons?

On Tuesday, I visited the protesters who, for 10 weeks, have been on hunger strike outside the American embassy in London, protesting about the massacre of Iranian democracy activists shot at close range at Camp Liberty in Iraq in September and who are highlighting the execution of 120,000 political prisoners, including women, in Iran since 1979. I hope the Minister will respond to the account of Tahar Boumedra, the former head of UNAMI, about the massacre in Camp Liberty, which my noble friend Lady Boothroyd, the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Waddington, I and others sent to William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday. Can she tell us when we last raised these issues with Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq? How did human rights violations figure in this month’s decision to upgrade our diplomatic relations with Iran?

As the Prime Minister discovered last week at CHOGM in Colombo, the judgments we make about when and how to engage on human rights questions can derail delicate relationships and even threaten the cohesion of admirable organisations such as the Commonwealth. What balance do we strike as we consider the complex questions of engagement?

I will conclude with the example of North Korea, which, with 2-300,000 people in its gulags and egregious violation of human rights, is sui generis—in a class of its own. Almost all of the rights set out in the Universal Declaration are denied. Only yesterday, the United Nations General Assembly’s human rights committee unanimously adopted a resolution citing the “systematic, widespread and grave” human rights violations in North Korea, including torture, the death penalty for political and religious reasons, and the network of political prison camps.

I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, which, at evidence-gathering sessions, has regularly heard from escapees. Earlier this year, I published some of those accounts and, last month, I gave evidence to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. I have advocated the need for such an investigation for many years and pay tribute to Her Majesty’s Government and other Governments for working to secure its establishment. The inquiry has heard accounts of arbitrary imprisonment, torture, slave labour, rape, summary execution, forced abortion and medical experimentation. It has heard how three generations of a family can be dispatched to North Korea’s vast gulag system for such “crimes” as criticising the political leadership. It heard of a mother forced to drown her own baby in a bucket, of prisoners scavenging through excrement for morsels of food, of inmates forced to live on rodents, grasshoppers, lizards and grass, and of an inmate watching the public execution of his mother and brother. Mr Justice Kirby, the Supreme Court judge from Australia who chairs the commission of inquiry, said he wept on hearing many of these accounts.

I have visited North Korea four times, three times with my noble friend Lady Cox. On each occasion we have confronted the North Korean regime with its appalling human rights record. Precisely because of its isolation, I have long proposed a policy of constructive, but critical, engagement with North Korea, what I have termed, “Helsinki with a Korean face”, following the model of our approach to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War in the Helsinki process—a robust stand on security and a critical stand on human rights but a willingness to put those issues on the table and talk face-to-face with the regime.

Only a week ago, the Times reported that the regime carried out 80 public executions in seven cities on one day—3 November—for alleged crimes of watching South Korean television dramas or owning Bibles. The Times said that they were allegedly tied to stakes, hooded and killed by machine gun. In the 1990s, 2 million people died of starvation in a country which puts its resources into a nuclear capability and one of the world’s largest standing armies. In January the Sunday Times reported that in two provinces, North Hwanghae and South Hwanghae, as many as 10,000 people had died of starvation and that the starving had resorted to cannibalism. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether we have raised these reports with the regime through our ambassador in Pyongyang, and describe our engagement with the United Nations commission of inquiry.

In March I had the opportunity to meet Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi in Burma. She famously said:

“Please use your liberty to promote ours”.

Perhaps that is the purpose of a debate such as this and of our being Members of your Lordships’ House. She told me that the BBC’s Burmese Service made a major contribution to the process of opening up Burma. There is much that can be learnt from this and applied to North Korea. Burma is an example of a country where the right combination of international pressure, the flow of information and critical engagement has led to progress.

More than 12%—one report says it is as high as 27%—of those who have escaped from North Korea say that they have heard broadcasts from outside the country. The BBC World Service should make broadcasts to the Korean peninsula a priority. This would help to break the information blockade in the north and promote democracy, human rights and the English language. A popular campaign has been launched by young South Koreans calling for this. To facilitate BBC broadcasts from Korean soil, changes to South Korean law would be necessary. Was that discussed with President Park during her recent state visit? The Government have expressed sympathy for the proposal. Are we taking the idea forward?

In confronting each of the challenges that I have described, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides us with a map and with a compass. I think that today’s debate will mirror the FCO’s six human rights priorities: women’s rights; torture prevention; abolition of the death penalty; freedom of religious belief; business and human rights; and freedom of expression on the internet. Many will doubtless concur with the Foreign Secretary’s view that human rights must be “at the heart” of British foreign policy.

We need to do far more to ensure that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is less honoured in its breach, and I hope that today’s debate will demonstrate the determination of this free Parliament to insist on the centrality of the declaration to our approach to foreign affairs while also providing a voice for voiceless people. I beg to move.

11.52 am

Lord Selkirk of Douglas (Con):

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on a wide-ranging and comprehensive speech, as well as on raising this debate at a very relevant time. Abuse of human rights takes a great many different forms, but it is on the often savage hostility currently being shown towards religious minorities in many countries that I wish to concentrate.

It was alarming to hear from the Minister only last week that, given the available evidence, Christianity is now in danger of extinction in some nations of the Middle East, which were the very birthplace of the Christian faith. She said:

“There are huge advantages to having pluralistic societies”,

and went on,

“we all have an interest in making sure that Christian communities do continue to feel that they belong and are not persecuted in the places where this religion was born”.

Indeed, the loss of religious freedom has a profound effect on not just the political arrangements in a country but the cultural, social and economic situation that exists there. The right to religious freedom is one of the fundamental promises about human rights made to people in some of the great declarations and finest speeches proclaimed down the years.

On 5 March 1946, while visiting Westminster College in the small Missouri town of Fulton, Sir Winston Churchill famously observed that an iron curtain had descended across Europe. It was less than a year since the war had ended and, with President Truman at his side, Sir Winston said:

“We must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man”.

Five years previously, in his State of the Union address, the United States President, Franklin Roosevelt, had spoken eloquently of the four great freedoms which must be fought for and upheld. He listed them as freedom of speech, freedom of worship, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear. While composing the speech, the President let three of his advisers into the secret of the imperishable soundbite that he was about to deliver. The famous “four freedoms” paragraphs were not included until they had been dictated by the President one night in his White House study and taken down in longhand by his aides to be added to the fourth draft. He ended his speech by saying:

“Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them”.

These four freedoms were later enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the new world authority in 1948.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, Article 18 promises freedom of religious worship, and among those who voted in favour were Iran, Egypt and Syria. It is clear that when this freedom of worship is abused, the other freedoms singled out by President Roosevelt are in jeopardy, too. This is because fear grips communities where extremism and violence rule, and want stalks the lives of refugees fleeing from persecution.

Democratic Governments who believe in human rights upheld by the rule of law must have the presence of mind and the will to raise such matters wherever religious minorities are being hounded and abused, whether by Governments or by other religious groupings. I must ask the Minister to give an assurance that the Government will have the continuing will and boldness to raise such sensitive issues in the countries under criticism. After all, if the Prime Minister could give a lead in relentlessly pursuing such matters in Sri Lanka last week, surely it is not too much to ask that other Ministers continue to speak out whenever they are dealing with those Governments who commit intolerable abuses of human rights.

A deliberate attempt is being made to engage in religious cleansing in certain communities which are seeking to force into extinction Christianity and a number of other minority religions. If rational discussion fails to produce results, we should seriously consider withholding overseas aid or other forms of economic assistance to those countries until such time as they are prepared to conform to civilised norms. I can see great merit in the suggestion made in another place by my right honourable friend Tony Baldry that the Government should consider appointing a special envoy for freedom of religion and belief who, working with other UN and US emissaries, could co-ordinate the United Kingdom’s diplomatic efforts in this field and shine a relentless spotlight on abuses.

I end with the words of the former Chief Rabbi, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, quoting the eminent historian, Lord Acton. He said:

“The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities”.

11.58 am

Lord Parekh (Lab):

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on securing this debate and thank him for introducing it with such passion and wisdom. We are right to concentrate on the promotion of human rights rather than on the promotion of democracy, which has been in the air for quite some time. The rights are easy to identify and monitor, and there is greater international agreement on what rights are worth preserving and what rights are human rights. There is also greater international pressure for implementing those rights as opposed to the promotion of democracy, because democracy can mean many different things in many different contexts. Therefore, I particularly welcome our discussion of violation of human rights rather than violation of democratic norms.

It is also right to point out that we cannot deal with violations of human rights in the whole world; we have to be selective. In that context, it is important for us to concentrate on those countries with which we have close ties, and where we can make an impact. In that context I particularly thank the Prime Minister for the stand he took at CHOGM in Sri Lanka. He was right to go. I think that the Prime Minister of India was not right not to go. Our Prime Minister was right to visit Jaffna, commiserate with the Tamils, condemn the army operations which killed thousands of Tamils, demand an investigation into what actually happened during the war and afterwards, and meet the representatives of the Tamil group.

An equally sensible attitude is increasingly being taken with reference to Gujarat, the Indian state from which I come, where genocide took place in February 2002, when a large number of Muslims were killed with the complicity of the state. The American Government denied a visa to the Chief Minister but the British Government took a very sensible view and said nothing. Increasingly, the British Government began to recognise that we had no conclusive evidence that the Chief Minister had been directly and actively involved in what had gone on; after all, he had been in power for only four months. Nor did we ignore the fact that this sort of thing had happened in other parts of India, and therefore we could not single out one state alone. About 18 months ago, or perhaps a little less, the British Government asked the British high commissioner to India, Sir James Bevan, to visit Mr Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat. More recently, the Foreign Office Minister, Mr Hugo Swire, visited the place. In Kolkata recently, the Prime Minister said that he would be more than happy to meet any elected leader. This is not to exonerate the leader of his responsibility but simply to indicate that not talking to people is not the answer.

I wish to make three general points. First, as we cannot promote all kinds of human rights we obviously have to prioritise. Of the six priorities listed by the Government there is not much reference to the rights of trade unions, which in my view have played, and continue to play, an extremely important role. Business rights are fine but they are not supposed to include trade union rights. During the Arab spring, trade unions were the vehicle through which important radical change was achieved. Minority rights are also important. Generally, the standard definition of human rights concentrates on individual rights and tends to ignore minority rights.

Secondly, while we are right to condemn violations of human rights, we sometimes tend to ignore our own complicity in these violations. Large corporations based in our country sometimes engage in practices abroad that violate human rights or lead indirectly to violations of human rights. We ought to tighten up the monitoring of our corporations. Many violations take place during civil wars. We are sometimes complicit in instigating or tolerating civil wars in other countries, which can result in gross violations of human rights.

Thirdly, we tend to be selective about where we condemn violations of human rights and where we do not. Violations of human rights in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia are by and large ignored, whereas we tend to concentrate on them in countries such as China. This sometimes gives the impression that we are unprincipled and that we are using human rights discourse or issues to promote a particular political agenda. We need to ensure that we are principled when we condemn violations of human rights.

Baroness Northover (LD):

My Lords, I gently remind noble Lords that this is a time-limited debate. When the Clock hits five, speakers have had their five minutes. We want to ensure that we have enough time for our maiden speeches, the Minister’s winding-up speech and for the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to respond at the end.

12.04 pm

Baroness Hollins (CB):

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on securing and introducing this important debate. It has been said that wartime rape is as old as war itself. Women’s lives and bodies have been unacknowledged casualties of war for too long, but now greater media awareness and reporting, probably in part because of the exceptional women journalists covering conflict, have brought wider knowledge of the extent to which rape is occurring. The consequences of rape are also better understood. Five years ago, a United Nations resolution described rape as a tactic of war and a threat to international security.

Rape is used as a punishment for men as well as women, by forcing men to watch as their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters are raped. Victims of rape are left emotionally traumatised, physically damaged and at risk of potentially fatal sexually transmitted diseases. Rape humiliates, dominates, instils fear and disperses communities. The after-effects of rape are felt for generations, as women bear their rapists’ children, and face shame and revulsion. Surely it is time to draw a line, and time for the international community to take rape as seriously as it does the use of other weapons. As my noble friend mentioned, hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in the Congo. Reports of rape have also emerged from the current conflict in Syria. When will women’s human rights be recognised and acted upon?

Rape is always an abuse of power. In the case of rape, it is an abuse of physical power. When communities are under threat, it is the weak and vulnerable who suffer the most. People with disabilities are subjected to more violence in any country, but more so in a country in turmoil, where people are concerned for their own lives and livelihoods and may not have the resources to look after the most vulnerable people in their communities. It may be as obvious as someone with physical disabilities being unable to flee rebel attacks, or as insidious as someone with a disability being last in the queue for food and water. Disabled women and girls are also raped.

The Human Rights Watch report of an investigation in Uganda in April and May 2010, which looked at the treatment of people with disabilities during conflict, was called As if We Weren’t Human. It was sobering reading indeed. Over one-third of the 64 women and girls with disabilities interviewed by Human Rights Watch had experienced sexual violence. Charity, a Ugandan woman with a physical disability, described how, in the camp,

“people told me: ‘You are useless. You are a waste of food.’ People told me I should just die so others can eat the food”.

Women reported being abused by aggressors because of their disabilities. A partially blind woman had her eyes removed because she had not seen where her husband kept his gun. A girl with learning disabilities was beaten and raped because she did not understand the questions she was being asked.

It is unusual for victims of rape and sexual violence in times of conflict to seek help, but when they do, those with disabilities are at a further disadvantage. Health centres and police stations are far away and victims rely on others to take them there, leaving them at greater risk of the untreated physical complications of rape. Police stations and courts do not have the resources to facilitate communication with those who have difficulties, such as the deaf and people with learning disabilities. Many girls and women with disabilities are illiterate and rely on their families for communication. Families will often not support a woman or girl in reporting a rape because of the additional stigma that rape brings to a family already stigmatised by disability.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises the specific vulnerabilities of those with disabilities and requires its signatories to take appropriate measures to protect such persons from exploitation, violence and abuse. We signed the CRPD in 2008, but what is our policy on those countries that do not comply with it? What is our policy on those that allow such human rights abuses to be carried out on women and girls? The G8 this year declared rape to be a war crime. Will the Minister explain to the House what the British Government are doing about it?

12.09 pm

The Lord Bishop of Derby:

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this debate, and I also associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk.

Many of the pictures painted are dramatic and challenging, and I invite the House to think a little about the context that we are in and how we might approach some of these huge issues. The Government have identified six key priority areas, including women and freedom of religion, and those are the two things that I will look at in particular. We are in a world where we have ideals and fall short of them, and need to negotiate between the two.

In my own language, I start by inviting us all to look at the motes in our own eyes. I am embarrassed that my church has legislation in place to discriminate against women, as much religion still does. We are moving towards tackling these things, and the prime movers have been women themselves. One point that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, made is that the victims need to be listened to so that they can help us understand what changes are required. It is not legislation but the stories of the victims that need to come first.

We as a church have been criticised, rightly, for the long and tortuous path of giving women full access to leadership in our institution. It is very easy for society to think that we have already done that: we have sex equality legislation and human rights legislation. Noble Lords will know that next Monday is White Ribbon Day, when in this country we remember the increasing levels of violence against women in our society. That is part of the context.

Just yesterday I was involved in a debate for Parliament Week—where the theme, as we know, is “Women in Democracy: Women in Society”—about lads’ mags and the fact that companies such as Tesco sell these magazines along with cheese and cornflakes. They objectify women and normalise the offensive attitude of making women commodities. We give large companies such as Tesco the freedom to degrade the women in our midst. That is the context in which we come to this debate: the motes in our own eyes.

I will suggest a way in which we might move forward. I think that the Government already have some line on this: the Foreign Secretary talks about engaging with complexity and the Minister talks about being pragmatic. We need to be pragmatic in negotiating between ideals and reality. As a trustee of Christian Aid, I know that women are key to development, with new voices and new perspectives, but I also know through my work with Christian Aid that the human trafficking of women and girls is increasing exponentially. Therefore, the ideals and the practice are in enormous tension.

I turn briefly to my specific point. The 2012 list of countries about which we have particular concern does not include India. My diocese works with churches in north India and is especially involved with Christian Dalit peoples—the lowest caste. In the past week, I have been in touch with a colleague in Delhi who worked with Christian Dalit women. She told me about Lakshmi, who works on a construction site from six in the morning till six at night and has to sign a register saying that she is getting the minimum daily wage, although in fact she is paid less than half of it. She also told me about a girl called Anjum, who was put into a brothel at the age of 15 and, last week, was rescued by the churches. She had found herself in that position because she was a Dalit woman in that culture.

The Prime Minister has just visited India and is talking about a special business relationship with that country. We need that: it will be good. However, what can we put into that relationship that will lead these issues to be taken seriously? In your Lordships’ House earlier this year, we made a decisive intervention during the passage of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill about Dalits in our own country. First, how can we take that learning and that experience into our work with business in India to help people aim for a similar result?

Secondly, how can we maintain concern for women and girls caught up in the ever-expanding criminal work of human trafficking? Thirdly, how can we look at the motes in our own eyes and challenge the right of large companies such as Tesco to degrade women in the midst of selling cheese and cornflakes and make it normative? As has already been asked, how can we better play a role in the UN? Finally, I guess that I and my colleagues on these Benches need to go back to our own institution and ask how women can play a more constructive and creative role among us so that we have more integrity in contributing to this debate.

12.14 pm

Lord Finkelstein (Con):

My Lords, at the moment I took the oath in the House I was filled with wonder and gratitude. There was gratitude to be given the privilege to sit among your Lordships and to contribute to your deliberations. There was gratitude to my supporting Peers, the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord Coe, the latter having forgiven me for defeating him in an egg and spoon race. What can I say? He can run but he dropped the egg. There also was gratitude to all the officials of the House. They have helped me to overcome every practical issue related to having a peerage, save the one that still vexes me; namely, how, in a suburban house containing three children and six guitars, do my wife and I fit a two-foot, red leather box with a large wax seal? I now understand the strategy of barons since the time of King John, which is to get a castle first and only then acquire a peerage.

Finally, there was gratitude that as the son of refugees I live in peace in this extraordinary country with its respect for human rights. It is therefore fitting that human rights should be the subject of my maiden speech. My mother is a survivor of Belsen concentration camp and my father was an exile in a Siberian prison village. Pinner is nicer. People often bemoan the absence of big ideas in British politics. I always reply that big ideas drove my family from their home and their country, murdered my grandmother, starved my mother, imprisoned my father and stole our property. So I like pragmatic, small British ideas, our quiet suburbs and our stable institutions. My politics were never better summarised than by my paternal grandmother saying, “While the Queen is safe in Buckingham Palace, I am safe in Hendon Central”.

My necessarily brief contribution to this debate is that we in this country have a special understanding of the value of allowing people to live their life in peace as they see fit, to enjoy their privacy and never having to fear what they are because they fear their neighbours or the state. For that reason, because of the respect for that fundamental human right, we have become a leader in extending to gay people the freedom, equality and respect that should rightfully be theirs.

However, with that leadership comes a responsibility. Last year, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights identified 76 countries which criminalise private, consensual same-sex relationships. Even where homosexuality is not illegal, all over the world lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are subject to arbitrary arrest, violence and torture. When they are the victims of crime, they cannot turn to the police or the authorities because it is they who will be arrested. They are left defenceless. In Iran, there are secret executions; in Cameroon, there is torture and imprisonment; and, in Belarus, there is police intimidation and confiscated passports.

The only complaint that these countries can make is: why pick on them? The disrespect that they show to fundamental human rights, and the way in which they defy international law, is not theirs alone. It is common. I recognise—we all do—that there are limits to what we can do and I know that much of what we can do we are doing. It is right to pursue a policy of active diplomacy; right to link aid to the Commonwealth to the question of gay rights; and right to use bilateral diplomacy to, for instance, raise Russia’s discrimination against gay people. Perhaps, as the Foreign Office reviews its priorities in its human rights policies, which I am sure it does from time to time, it might consider whether the rights of LGBT people should be among them. After all, internationally, if it is not us, who is it?

12.18 pm

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD):

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for that extraordinary tour de force that describes the parlous state of human rights in the world today. We are grateful to him because he is dogged in his determination to continue to raise these issues and to make our consciences awake. I am delighted to be speaking here today but I cannot continue without congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, on his extraordinarily witty and elegant speech, which was serious too in subject matter. We wholeheartedly support his views on LGBT rights.

The noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, and I have two things in common. We are both alumni of the London School of Economics, that hotbed of political radicalism. We both started political life as members of the Social Democratic Party—less of a hotbed of political radicalism. But it is well known that the noble Lord could not really contemplate a future with the Liberals or indeed the Lib Dems when the merger between the SDP and the Liberals happened and he made his way to the Conservative Party. But as with all things in life, what goes around comes around and we are both now happily united under the wonderful umbrella of coalition government. I am sure that I echo the sentiments of the whole House when I say how delighted we are to have such a distinguished journalist among our ranks and we look forward to his witty, elegant and thoughtful contributions.

I also want to mention how much we are looking forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Suttie. She will bring a formidable knowledge of foreign affairs and the European Union to our deliberations, as I am sure we will hear before too long in this debate. For myself, given the limited time that we have today, I want to talk of just one situation—the most egregious human rights violation currently under way, namely; the civil war in Syria and the failure of the international community to do anything to end those atrocities.

In the two and a half years of this war, we have had talk of arming the opposition to change the balance of power in the early stages. Then there was talk of a no-fly zone to enable a humanitarian corridor to be established. Finally, there was the failed resolution of 29 August this year, which was an attempt on the part of some United Nations Security Council members to live up to their promises on responsibility to protect—namely, to act collectively to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

During all this time, the cost of the tragedy in Syria has risen. We have 150,000 dead, 7 million people displaced—2 million in neighbouring countries. Moreover, we have seen the hopelessness of getting even basic medical assistance to the victims of violence. It is estimated that of the original fleet of 500 ambulances in Syria, only 40 or so are still operating. More than 16,000 doctors have fled and at least 36 paramedics in uniform have been killed.

Let me turn to the record of the United Kingdom Government. Yes, we have been generous—some half a billion pounds in humanitarian assistance and countless visits to refugee camps by luminaries to publicise the state of those camps. But when genocide is under way, with jihadi groups singling out not just Alawite but all Shia as infidels, and ethnic cleansing through killing or displacement is rife, it is legitimate to ask when the international community will act.

So let me turn to the concrete question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, only last Tuesday regarding the creation of a humanitarian corridor. My noble friend Lady Northover, who I am delighted to see is in her place today, explained how difficult it would be to get all sides to the conflict to sign up to a ceasefire at the same time. While I can see the difficulties on the ground, it is also evident that when there is a will on the part of the Russians—the main obstruction in this case—a solution can be found. The chemical weapons inspectors were given safe passage only a few weeks ago.

What discussions has my noble friend been having with Russia and Iran regarding their leverage with the regime to gain the co-operation of the Syrian military and with Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the compliance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—a rather neutral-sounding name for the al-Nusra Front and all its barbarism? What discussions have the United Kingdom had with the leaders of the Free Syrian Army?

While we accept that there are several hundred groups fighting on the ground, we can all agree that most have external powers whose support keeps them going. So let me turn briefly to the United Nations Security Council. The current composition provides an opportunity. If Russia co-operates with permanent members, as it did over chemical weapons, then we also have a further three Commonwealth member states plus an EU state. With the impending replacement of Saudi Arabia by Jordan, the necessary majority for a fresh United Nations resolution should surely be attainable. I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell the House what efforts the Government are making to secure the United Nations Security Council resolution to provide some sort of humanitarian corridor in Syria.

Human rights protections derive from the inalienable and pre-political rights of individuals. It is a collective responsibility of all to uphold them.

12.25 pm

Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Lab):

My Lords, first, I, too, commend the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this debate. When I saw that each of us had about four minutes to make our contribution, I was concerned whether we would be able to have a debate in depth and breadth which would touch on many of the issues about which I feel passionately. I should have had greater confidence in your Lordships’ House, because each speech before mine has ticked off a number of the issues that I wanted to touch on, whether religion or human rights for gay people and women. To the fine maiden speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, I feel able to say “amen”.

I would like to take my few minutes to concentrate on issues relating to women. The recent discourse within the Commonwealth has shown us the importance of human rights and the way in which they impact on all our people, but the rights of women is a matter which the Foreign Office has rightly highlighted as a key issue which we as a global community should communicate. I absolutely agree with the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, about the impact of rape. According to the World Health Organisation, domestic violence affects one in three women across the world. It is now of pandemic proportions. It is the greatest cause of morbidity in women and girls worldwide. If it was any other form of disease, there would be a global outcry that so many women and girls are dying and being seriously injured by such a vicious and pernicious form of assault on their human rights, their dignity and their right to live.

The report demonstrates that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. It goes on to make it clear that, globally, as many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners. Globally, 7% of women had been sexually assaulted by someone other than their partner. The scale and enormity of the abuse of women must be seen to be believed. Ban Ki-Moon was right when he said:

“There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable”.

I commend the Minister, in particular, and Her Majesty’s Government for what they have sought in policy in relation to women and girls, but does she think that it is right that Foreign Office policy should restrict its purview to violence against women in areas of conflict, bearing in mind that violence against women in and out of conflict is a fundamental breach of their human rights which needs to be addressed? Will the Foreign Office consider expanding that role?

I commend the Government on signing the Istanbul convention last year, but when are they likely to ratify it, so that we can become one of the first 10 nations to enable that convention to come into operation? If we are to continue to have our position of prominence in raising the issue of human rights for women and girls, it is incumbent on our Government to use their best endeavours to make sure that we are among those 10. I have to tell the Minister that if the previous Government were still in being, I very much hoped that we would be the first to sign and ratify and would not risk coming not even in the first 10.

This is something that we can choose to address. If we wish to make violence against women something of the past, it will take all of us to raise our voice. Will the Minister tell us a little bit about the strategy that the Government intend to operate and deliver in order to make that a reality?

12.30 pm

Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB):

My Lords, I am grateful to my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this important debate. Manipulation of religious sentiment to persecute those of other faiths is a sad feature of human rights abuse in much of the world. I would like to take this opportunity to give a Sikh perspective on possible ways to a fairer and more tolerant society.

When we talk of human rights abuse, we immediately think of countries such as Syria, North Korea and Iran. We rightly condemn their abuses of human rights, but we look more benignly at countries with which we have close political alliances or trade links—as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, perceptively observed. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby reminded us, we should look to the mote in our own eye. If we were consistent, the UN report of a government massacre of some 40,000 men, women and children from Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority and evidence of continuing human rights abuses would have led to that country’s immediate suspension from the Commonwealth pending an investigation.

I will give another example of this less than even-handed approach to human rights. Next year sees the 30th anniversary of the Indian army attack on the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar and the subsequent massacre of tens of thousands of Sikhs throughout India. An independent inquiry headed by a former Chief Justice of India found overwhelming evidence of top Congress Party involvement. Yet our Government’s response to this attack on a minority faith was total silence. When I raised the matter with a then Cabinet Minister, I received the reply, “Indarjit, we know exactly what’s going on, but we are walking on a tightrope. We have already lost one important contract”. He was referring to the Westland helicopter contract.

We rightly condemn the use of sarin gas in Syria but were silent over America’s use of Agent Orange in Vietnam—which, even today, is causing horrendous birth defects half a century after its use. The same country’s use of drones to fly over sovereign territory to kill and maim those it does not like and, in the process, kill many innocent civilians sets a dangerous precedent.

I have spoken about our country’s selective approach to human rights only as an example. Other world powers, including India, China, the USA and Russia, behave in exactly the same way, making any co-ordinated approach on human rights virtually impossible. It was the great human rights activist Andrei Sakharov who said that there will be little progress in our universal yearning for peace and justice unless we are even-handed in our approach to human rights.

My hope is that Her Majesty’s Government will take the lead in working for a world in which principle always transcends the interests of trade and power-bloc politics. I firmly believe that our country is best placed to give a lead in this wider view of human rights.

12.34 pm

Baroness Kennedy of Cradley (Lab):

My Lords, I am very proud and honoured to stand here today as a Member of this House and make my maiden speech. I begin by thanking noble Lords on all sides of the House for the warm welcome that I have received. They will know that I am preceded here by my husband, my noble friend Lord Kennedy, but I also know that noble Lords will be familiar with the quote that begins, “Behind every great man …”.

I also thank all the staff for the help they have given me. One day when I was looking particularly confused, one staff member asked, “Would it help, my Lady, if I pointed out which the way Lord Kennedy went?”. I was impressed by how skilfully he gave me the option of going in the opposite direction. I need to give particular thanks to the doorkeepers. Some noble Lords may have noted that when I and my noble friend Lord Kennedy were introduced, the galleries were rather packed. I would like to thank the doorkeepers and assure them that there are currently no other Kennedys working for the Labour Party on the way to this noble House.

I also thank my supporters, my noble friends Lady McDonagh and Lord Collins, and my mentor, my noble friend Lady Gould, for all their advice and support. My final thank you is to my friend Margaret Bradley, a local Cradley historian whose research helped me with this speech.

I was delighted when it was agreed that I could use Cradley as my territorial title. It is a town rich in history. For hundreds of years, ironwork—nail-making and chain-making—was the staple industry of Cradley and its surrounding towns. Right up until I went to university, I lived in Cradley, in the same house and in the same street—and it is where my father still lives today. Since at least 1830, my ancestors’ livelihoods relied on the nail and chain industries in Cradley and the surrounding towns.

Noble Lords may be wondering why the history of my home town is relevant to today’s debate on human rights. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for initiating this crucial debate. It is relevant because it reminds us of the evils of child labour. In Cradley, children were born, reared, worked and died in the chain shops. It was not unusual to see baby baskets swinging from iron poles so that women could hammer iron and rock their baby at the same time. By the age of eight, children were experienced chain makers.

Thankfully, the dominance of child labour in Cradley is a distant memory. However, this is not the case in many other parts of the world, where child labour exists on a colossal scale. Millions of children younger than the basic minimum working age are deprived of their childhood and work in appalling conditions that damage their physical and mental well-being. The ILO estimates that across the world, instead of going to school, 168 million children aged five to 17 are child labourers. Every child has the right to a childhood, and every child has the right to an education. Child labour is a violation of a child’s human rights.

Today, I want to highlight two areas of child labour that particularly affect girls: mining and domestic work. Across the world there are more than 85 million children engaged in hazardous work, the most menacing of which is the plight of child miners. Children as young as six and seven are handling explosives, exposed to toxic air and carrying heavy loads. The physical and psychological effects are traumatic for both boys and girls. However, girls bear a double burden as they also have to carry out domestic chores at home for the family. There is no time for rest, and no time for school.

Another area where girls are particularly vulnerable is when they work behind closed doors as domestic workers. Some 11.5 million children, mainly girls, work dawn to dusk taking care of domestic chores in other people’s homes. They live with their employer. They are under the control of their employer. They are isolated and trapped. Many suffer verbal abuse or, even worse, physical abuse. Girls are suffering in silence. It is slavery by anyone’s definition.

We must work with each other and everyone involved in our civil society to alleviate global poverty, achieve universal primary education and eliminate child labour. We know we can all do more. There are many charities in the UK that work to alleviate poverty. I declare an interest as I am a trustee of one such charity, APT—Action on Poverty. APT fights poverty by giving people the means to feed their families all year round and forever. It works with local partners on the ground in sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia to build lasting livelihoods for the most vulnerable.

We know that child labour is directly linked to poverty, which is why charities like APT are vital. When a person knows that they can feed their family not just today but every day in the future, they can fully embrace education, not employment, for their child. If children fail to get an education, they fail to get the skills needed for their own growth as well as their country’s economic growth. The poor of today remain the poor of tomorrow. Sadly, child labour is not just an issue for developing countries. Studies have shown that children here in the UK have been found in forced labour. That is why I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to bring forward a modern Slavery Bill, which I hope is still due in December. I hope that it will pay particular attention to child labour here and across the world.

Government must do more to work with international businesses to encourage them to address the issue of child labour in their operations and supply chains. Businesses should not just demand that child labour stops but should help influence national Governments and employers in countries around the world, encourage better working conditions, mobilise communities around education, support social protection programmes, and invest more in education and in modernising agricultural production in poor rural communities where child labour is rife.

I will make one final plea. The next World Day Against Child Labour is on Thursday 12 June 2014. Let us all commit now to join together on that day and encourage other organisations to join with us. Children need to be learners, not labourers. Children should no longer be denied a childhood, an education or the most basic of human rights: a future.

12.41 pm

Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB):

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this very important debate, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, for her very clear and powerful speech. It is particularly important that she mentioned something that has not been mentioned so far in this debate, namely the way that children are still exploited in so many parts of the world. We look forward to hearing her clear and powerful voice on subsequent occasions.

When future historians look back on the immediate post-World War II period, they will judge that one of the greatest achievements of that time was the UN declaration of human rights and the ensuing conventions. Those affirmed in law the unique worth of every single individual. They are, in the words of the late Ronald Dworkin, “trumps”, which cannot be overridden by any raison d’état. Of course the trouble, as we know, is that it is so easy to be deeply depressed at the massive way in which human rights are violated in so many countries in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave us a long list at the beginning, although he did not mention some of them. It is very easy to get depressed by that, and it is difficult to know what to focus on in this debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, reminded us, it is important that we should not be selective. However, when we get depressed, we need to go back to the fact that we still have a benchmark in the UN declaration. It is a question of being as persistent in the pursuit of that as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has been in setting us a very good example in his wide-ranging and persistent concern for human rights.

I hope that noble Lords will excuse me if, as chairman of the All-Party Group on Dalits, I focus very briefly on them. I do so first because of the sheer scale of the problem that affects them: there are something like 260 million Dalits in the world, mainly in India and other south-east Asian countries. Secondly, although all human rights violations are appalling—torture, religious persecution and so on—there is something particularly humiliating and degrading about the way in which Dalits are totally rejected by the surrounding culture in which so many of them live and every area of their lives is affected. If anyone doubts the sheer horror of this I would recommend the novel A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. The “fine balance” of the title is the balance between hope and despair. I have huge admiration for the poor of India, for their sheer resilience, hope and even joy, despite everything. However, the problems are huge. In almost every area of exploitation the Dalits will be found at the bottom, more exploited than anybody else.

I am glad to say that we will hear more over the next months about different forms of trafficking. Noble Lords will not be surprised to know that because the Dalits are the most vulnerable of all groups, they are found in all forms of trafficking and at a much higher percentage than other groups. Trafficking takes the form of bonded labour. It also takes the form of the Sumangali system for the payment of dowries. Although that system has been officially abolished in India since 1961, it still goes on. However, the sex trade is perhaps the most shocking of all. As Dalit Solidarity Network UK puts it,

“Most girls and women in India’s urban brothels come from Dalit, lower-caste, tribal, or minority communities”.

Much of that has its origin in religiously sanctioned prostitution. It has been reckoned that some 250,000 women in India fall into this category, many of them enslaved unknowingly when they were still young children. Dalit Freedom Network has said that almost all women trapped in ritualised prostitution are Dalits.

When the concept of human rights was first formulated after World War II, the particular concern was the way in which individuals need to be protected against their states. There is a particular complication, of course, with the kind of discrimination the Dalits experience, because it is so deeply embedded in cultures. Therefore, I very much hope that the Government, when they raise their general concerns about human rights in India and other south-east Asian countries, will continue to bring this issue before those Governments.

12.46 pm

Lord Patten (Con):

My Lords, like the words “location, location, location” in a very different context, “consistency, consistency, consistency” should be the key to our Government’s attitude to countries that violate human rights. Our foreign policy must be realistic—of course I recognise that. I am in favour of our trading nation having the commercial foreign policy that we are developing. However, I am also in favour of the motif once used so effectively by the late Robin Cook: the need for an ethical foreign policy. The two are not at odds and indeed both trade and aid can be used as powerful levers to bring about change over the years in delinquent countries. To illustrate this I will compare and contrast our attitude in this context, particularly in relation to religious freedoms, on Iran and on Turkey, where there are dominant Governments.

I turn first to Iran. While all are hopeful that Mr Rouhani, the new President, may make things better for persecuted minorities, we should all recall that instant warm words of welcome in the media for apparent, new liberal change around the world often have to be eaten pretty quickly, as the plight of the poor Copts in Egypt, highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, shows us at the moment. They are clearly the most up-to-date victims of religious clearances in Africa. In Iran, all religious groups other than orthodox Muslims are now in the religious cleansing firing line under Mr Rouhani’s new presidency. There is no or little freedom and much persecution of all those who are not Muslims, from Sufi dervishes to evangelical Christians, from the poor Baha’is, who are so persecuted, to those Armenian and Assyrian churches who happen to conduct their services in Farsi, which is thought not to be acceptable. Some of those churches are still being closed down under the new liberal presidency of Mr Rouhani.

There has been little visible change and a bit of hope, and the Government have been very robust in trying to do what they can to help and to condemn such persecution in Iran. Good. Strangely, however, the Government seem—although perhaps I am misguided—to pull their punches a bit on Turkey, a country which is always described as “mildly Islamist” in polite diplomatic discourse. Bad. Is it mildly Islamist for Turkey to suppress the ancient Greek monastery on Halki island, or to restrict the freedoms of worship of the Alevis in Turkey? Is it “mildly Islamist” to make it impossible for Christians to have public places of worship established in the seaside holiday-making areas of coastal Turkey? One Anglican clergyman has told me that they have to flit from house to house underground to have underground services, as if they were living in some kind of penal times—and actually they are living in some kind of penal times.

I am very glad that some of our leading western Christian leaders have got off their knees at long last to say that this anti-Christian trend must be resisted. I hasten to add that I recognise that being on their knees is part of the day job of right reverend Prelates, and others, as they pray for us in need of their prayers. But I am glad that they have shown this leadership. A few years ago, I took part in a debate in this place with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, which highlighted the apparent onset of Christian clearances in Iraq. It is a bit late now, as those clearances are more or less complete. Turkey next? I do not know—I hope not—but I do know that it is not “mildly Islamist” to disperse with such terrifying violence peaceful demonstrations in Gezi Park in central Istanbul, where I have walked, rightly condemned by Amnesty International for its “large-scale human rights violations”. Is it indeed respectful of freedom of expression for so-called “mildly Islamist” Turkey to have in its prisons more journalists than any other country on earth, including China? Only three days ago, on Monday, it was reported that the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr Bulent Arinc, is calling for the former Christian basilica of Hagia Sophia, presently a secular museum, to be opened up for prayer—I guess Muslim prayer.

In my noble friend’s wind-up, could she find a moment or two just to explain to your Lordships what exactly is meant by the phrase “mildly Islamist”, or do we turn a blind eye to what is going on in Turkey?

12.51 pm

Baroness Suttie (LD):

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this timely and important debate. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Finkelstein on his excellent and deeply amusing maiden speech. In the month since my introduction, I am grateful to noble Lords from all sides of this House for having made me feel so welcome. I am hugely grateful, too, for the helpful advice from ever-patient members of staff who have dealt with my numerous questions with good humour and tolerance. In particular, I would like to thank Black Rod and his department for their excellent induction course.

I also thank my two supporters. My noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market and I have been friends since getting to know each other in Brussels, when she was serving on the Committee of the Regions and I was working in the European Parliament. My noble friend Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope is in some ways responsible for getting me involved in politics in the first place. As my excellent constituency MP in Hawick in the Scottish borders, I used to write to him on a regular basis from Hawick High School with a variety of obscure and occasionally precocious inquiries. We subsequently worked together on two separate occasions over several years in the other place. As a very dear friend and colleague, he has also been a constant source of sunny optimism.

Exactly 25 years ago, I was studying in Voronezh State University in southern Russia in the Soviet Union. I was there as part of a three-month Russian language exchange programme from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. It was there that I not only learnt the beautiful Russian language but learnt to appreciate Russian art and culture as well as the very generous and at times overflowing Russian hospitality. It was the era of Glasnost and Perestroika which by then, in 1988, had even reached the provincial city of Voronezh. It was a time when culture flourished, banned novels were published, and, as British students, we were able to discuss issues such as politics and humans rights, which in the darker days under Brezhnev would have been unimaginable.

After graduation, I returned to work in St Petersburg, or Leningrad as it still was then, from December 1990 to spring 1991, as an English teacher. By this stage, the Soviet Union was in a state of evident collapse. I survived thanks to the kindness of my Russian friends, as food was rationed and the shelves were completely bare. The August putsch took place later that year and, by the end of December, the Soviet Union was dissolved.

During my regular visits to Russia in the 1990s, I saw the gradual transfer to a free market Russian style of capitalism but, sadly, this has not been matched by a move towards parliamentary democracy, independent institutions, the rule of law and respect for human rights. Indeed, since the parliamentary elections at the end of 2011, which many observers regarded as fraudulent, and the presidential elections to re-elect Vladimir Putin in the spring of 2012, we have witnessed a considerable backwards step in terms of parliamentary democracy and human rights. Journalists and businesspeople, in particular, have faced threats and serious intimidation, or worse, when they have challenged the Kremlin’s line.

I am relieved, as I am sure are all noble Lords, that the British freelance journalist Kieron Bryan was granted bail yesterday, but the case of the Greenpeace 30 more than ever illustrates the need for thorough judicial reform in Russia. I hope that the Government will continue to press the Kremlin for a speedy, transparent, proportionate and fair conclusion.

In March this year, I did some political training work in Chisinau, in the Republic of Moldova. The politicians I spoke to told me of their fears of having such a heavy dependency on Russian energy supplies. In the run up to the Vilnius summit next week, as they prepare to sign association agreements with the EU, they are understandably worried. Russian Deputy Premier Dmitry Rogozin’s chilling remarks to Moldova that he hoped that they, “Wouldn’t freeze this winter”, are perhaps sadly typical of the current neo-colonial state of mind in the Kremlin.

In the run up to the Sochi Olympic Games, when Russia is very much in the public eye, we must use every opportunity to continue to push for real institutional reform in Russia, as well as an independent judiciary and for the creation of genuine parliamentary democracy.

12.56 pm

The Earl of Sandwich (CB):

My Lords, it is a considerable honour to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. She is a proud daughter of Hawick, a historic town, which I know. She has told us of her experience of international development and human rights, especially in Russia and eastern Europe. I know that she has spent many years in Westminster and has gathered that kind of political experience, not least in managing two senior Liberal Democrat politicians, including the Deputy Prime Minister. That must be a test of endurance. We look forward to hearing her many times in future.

I also have the exhortation of the new noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, ringing in my ears—that we know we can all do more. That will take a lot of living up to, because human rights is an essential issue in foreign affairs. My noble friend Lord Alton has raised it with a skill nurtured over many years in Westminster, and he has given me and others a lot of encouragement. I have joined him often in debates, especially on Sudan, where human rights violations continue daily. He mentioned the Nuba mountains and the bombing there, and I agree with him about strengthening the ICC. But today I shall be in Asia, for a change.

The Commonwealth summit, or CHOGM, has again tested the nerves of diplomats all over the world in the past week, which is largely down to our own Prime Minister and the initiative that he has taken. I have seen the Channel 4 documentary; there can be little doubt of the shelling and abuses of human rights against fleeing Tamils in the last stages of the civil war. President Rajapaksa has a hard shell but, with India and Canada keeping away, he has received a strong message of disapproval. I am sure that the UK was correct to stay with the Commonwealth meeting and influence it from within. At the same time, we must not forget the atrocities of the Tamil Tigers during the war; nor can we ignore the strength of feeling on both sides.

There comes a point where outsiders without such recent experience cannot really fathom the depth of prejudice and discrimination that continues beneath the surface, long after the world has turned away. I am thinking of the EU candidate countries mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, in the Balkans, where the European External Action Service is still pushing through its hardest tests of good government, not always with success, against the relatively recent background of ethnic genocide. Politicians cannot behave like leaders of human rights NGOs, whose stamina we all applaud. Political parties have to be selective; picking from what my noble friend called an à la carte menu, they turn continually to other subjects, and for this reason are always open to charges of hypocrisy.

We can learn a lot from our recent debate on China—another Conservative initiative, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs. His understandable concern was with our business and trade with China, and whether our relationship would be affected by too much emphasis on human rights, such as our preoccupation with Tibet and China’s attitude to the Uighurs in Xinjiang province, where the conflict has been no less violent. The noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, said in that debate that,

“it is perfectly possible … to exert quiet and helpful influence, to encourage moves towards greater openness while avoiding explicit criticism or confrontation … not through lecturing or preaching but through the sharing of best practice with partners representing a very ancient civilisation”.—[Official Report, 7/11/13; col. 349.]

That seems to sum things up very well.

The Dalai Lama told a journalist recently that trust develops gradually, even with an animal,

“if you show genuine affection”,

but that if you are,

“always showing bad face and beating, how can you develop friendship?”.

The same might be said of many other situations in which we have to do business with tyrants or bring humanitarian aid to victims of brutality.

In Nepal there are unresolved human rights cases left over from the 10-year civil war—more than half of them at the hands of the army or the state. According to the agency INSEC, more than 3,500 violations took place in one year alone, 2012, including much violence against women, but there has been no single prosecution in the seven years since the end of the conflict, owing to the political turmoil. This is why I am particularly asking the Minister if she will make every effort to encourage Nepal to re-establish the independent human rights commission, which has never been quite independent and needs more support from outside. This is where I fundamentally disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who seems to think that every country can fend for itself. We must reassert the international solidarity that is so important in these situations.

Human rights in the Commonwealth and elsewhere will elude us as long as governance, the rule of law and other principles of democracy remain unaddressed. We have to keep banging the drum and not get too frustrated when no one listens.

1.03 pm

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield:

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate. It follows on very helpfully from a short debate that I secured two weeks ago on the situation with regard to religious freedom following the events of the Arab spring.

The all-party parliamentary group’s recent report on international religious freedom, Article 18: An Orphaned Right, to which a number of us in this Chamber contributed, accurately shows that over the past decade every region in the world has seen marked declines with regard to religious freedom. Christians in Egypt and Syria, Baha’is in Iran, Shi’ite Muslims in Indonesia, and Sunni Muslims in Thailand and Burma face serious threats to their viability and even survival. We have heard other examples today, including comments by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, on the situation in Turkey.

If freedom of religion and belief is a primary barometer of the social health of a nation, the palpable decline in recent years in respect of this most fundamental right suggests a worrying state of affairs regarding the health of the global common good. Despite this trend, Governments the world over—ours included, I fear—still assign it too low a priority than the scale of the crisis at present requires.

Part of this reluctance, I imagine, is that Governments and opinion-makers are hesitant, perhaps even reluctant, to acknowledge the connection between levels of religious freedom and the basic health and well-being of societies. This is not about protecting the rights of one religious community over another but about providing for the human flourishing of all, irrespective of whether they have a religious belief—as was hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. It is about being confident of one’s core values in our society, so that a variety of different communities may prosper.

Like other noble Lords, I applaud the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, for the careful attention she has devoted to this issue. I noted in an earlier debate that she is a near neighbour to me in Wakefield; there is solidarity in West Yorkshire. Her speech last week to the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington DC was but the latest example of the forthright engagement that we have come to expect from her.

It is of course true that a great deal of work is being done in relation to freedom of religion and belief. However, this work is not necessarily focused on ensuring that everyone is able to exercise that right in peace and security. So the question, it seems to me, is how we move on from the essentially negative strategies that have been rooted in combating discrimination, intolerance, hate speech and incitement. Of course these things are important, but they work only once there is a clear commitment to the underlying value of the freedom of religion or belief. Core values need to be supported by proactive policies. Other noble Lords have hinted at such policies; indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, talked about the independent human rights commission. Is it not now time for the Government to shift their attention to a more positive approach to religious freedom and to recognise the wider societal benefits that it brings?

How might this be achieved? Some suggestions have already been put forward during this debate. Certainly the appointment of an ambassador at large or a special representative for religious freedom would help enhance the voice of the UK as the champion of an inclusive approach to freedom of religion or belief. A number of us have been pressing for this recently.

The head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s human rights and democracy department is indeed an impressive figure. However, the incumbent of that post on her own is unable to give this matter the attention it rightly deserves because of competing priorities and pressures on her department’s time. We need to look again at strengthening the machinery of government in this area. It is to be hoped that when the Foreign Affairs Select Committee looks at its work programme for the next year, it will take upon itself the task of examining this issue with its usual forensic attention. I have been assured in a letter by the committee’s chair that this will be taken into account.

In concluding, I note only that unless we are prepared to give this issue the urgent attention it requires, we cannot be surprised if respect for religious freedom continues to decline markedly. The existing strategy across our world is not working, and it is time to think again.

1.08 pm

Baroness Berridge (Con):

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord for securing today’s debate, particularly as I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom or Belief. We specifically added “or Belief” when the British Humanist Association became one of the stakeholders. The issue has for too long been viewed as global identity politics. Christians seemingly speak up only when Christians are persecuted, Sikhs for Sikhs, and Baha’is for Baha’is, and this has contributed to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights not being treated as a universal human right. The issue needs careful nuance and although some commentators, especially some on the centre right, want neat analyses, the following cursory around-the-world tour reveals that to be too simplistic.

On 28 August 2013 in the southern Iranian city of Bandar Abbas, Mr Ataollah Rezvani, a well known Baha’i, was murdered. He had come under pressure from agents of the ministry of intelligence who were intimidating him. On 17 November at around 9.30 in the morning, Pastor Zhang Xiaojie, who leads the Nanle county Christian church, a Three-Self state sanctioned church in China, was detained. Currently the pastor and 20 other members of the church are still being detained without arrest or charge. As has already been mentioned, Alexander Aan, an atheist, is in prison in Indonesia. Interestingly, Papua New Guinea has recently launched a consultation to prohibit non-Christian worship. If you are a Hindu in Pakistan, the law does not allow you to marry. Also, in November 2012, Ummad Farooq, whose father is president of the Ahmadiyya Muslims in his local community, was shot in head. Ummad is being treated in Birmingham and I am proud to say that he is claiming asylum here in the United Kingdom.

In Colombia, two pastors were killed in 2012 and about 300 indigenous Christians were displaced from their homes. Pagan indigenous populations receive material support from paramilitary organisations to organise the persecution of local Christians. The Rohingya Muslims in Burma, Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia, the Coptic Christians in Egypt and, of course, all followers of whatever religion or belief in North Korea are being persecuted. However, not all persecution is far from our shores as anti-Semitism and attacks on Jews and Jewish places of worship have re-emerged in Europe, particularly in Hungary and Greece.

All the studies point to a simple fact: the persecution of people of faith or no faith on the basis of their belief is rapidly increasing. I warmly congratulate the Government on the fact that this is a human rights priority for them, but given the trend I have just outlined, does it not merit its own sub-group of the Human Rights Advisory Group? Most if not all of the other priorities do so. Moreover, does it not justify more than a part-time, unpaid special rapporteur as its main resource at the international level? The Prime Minister is to visit China next month, so will Her Majesty’s Government raise the case I have outlined, as well as the plight of Falun Gong followers who are tortured and imprisoned for their belief?

I was heartened to read in the Minister’s recent speech delivered at Georgetown University in America the assertion of the freedom to change one’s religion. This is the reason the APPG’s first report focused on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 as it is the international instrument that states this unambiguously. Globalisation and the internet on smartphones means increasing exposure to different beliefs around the world. While traditionally where you were born and the community you were from perhaps dictated what you believed, individuals are increasingly able to make such decisions for themselves. There is a global trend of religious conversion and the emergence of new religious movements. This positive empowerment is, however, often met by harsh responses from many Governments around the world. For instance, as other noble Lords have mentioned, while diplomatic developments with Iran are promising, dozens of Muslims who have become Christians, along with Baha’is who are seen as apostates, remain in prison because of their faith. Can my noble friend please comment on our policy towards religious freedom in Iran?

A truly worrying example in this context are the recent reports that the Arab League is developing a regional blasphemy law that will criminalise any expression of opinion that is deemed a blasphemy, even when such opinions are expressed outside the jurisdiction of a particular country. If such a proposal ultimately is put into law by Arab League states, it will be in full breach of international human rights standards. Have Her Majesty’s Government made representations to the United Nations and the Arab league on this proposed blasphemy law?

I hope that protecting the freedom to convert will be on the agenda of the January summit on Article 18 that my noble friend is planning. The United Kingdom should be at the forefront of preserving the freedoms that have been opened up to this Twitter generation.

1.13 pm

Lord Mendelsohn (Lab):

My Lords, I congratulate and pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for securing this debate. The noble Lord is well known for his commitment to these issues and I can recall listening, in the late 1980s, to a passionate defence of the rights of Jews being persecuted in the Soviet Union that was made by the noble Lord. Today, I possess a great sense of gratitude for the warm welcome that I have received from all sides of the House. I have been truly struck by the sincerity and good will of all. I would also like to thank the staff of the House for their unfailing courtesy and useful advice. Their help is hugely appreciated. I am also grateful to my noble friends Lord Levy and Lord Janner of Braunstone, who supported me at my Introduction. Together with my mentor, my noble friend Lord Mitchell, they embody the best of this Chamber. I am sure that I will learn more from them and, indeed, from the whole House than I will ever be able to contribute. This is also a very special debate as I find myself in the company of good friends and colleagues who have made really outstanding maiden speeches.

I grew up with friends and family scarred by and in the shadow of the Holocaust. I appreciated the universal lessons that were drawn from those terrible events. Also around that time we saw the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the establishment and operation of the murderous and brutal regime known as Democratic Kampuchea. As a young school pupil, I remember participating in the work of a TV appeal to bring relief to the Cambodian people. These events have had a lasting impact on me, and in many ways they have guided my life. The events of the Holocaust and the end of the Second World War gave rise, of course, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

International systems, conventions, treaties and courts may not be perfect, but it is essential that they exist rather than not. I congratulate the Government on their successful election to the Human Rights Council. This reminds us how broad the role is that Government can play, and in this regard I would like to make a few suggestions and offer some thoughts on what the Government can consider. First, we need to remind ourselves that our work defending, protecting and advocating human rights protects not only those who face the denial of those rights, but also our own way of life. This is a dangerous period and the erosion of human rights can be an early sign of a broader attack on liberty. If our role in the world is to stand for anything, it is not just about adhering to the universal declaration, it is surely to protect our liberal values and way of life and extending the same rights and freedoms to others. We should do this by making the world more stable, increasing economic inclusion, making government outcomes more fair, less corrupt and more effective, and giving more people a stake in successful democracies. We should cement all of that in place through stable, equitable free trade and a growing economic interdependence that binds us together.

Secondly, this is a vast task with many actors. Human rights and democracy are frequently challenged. They are still very young in most countries and under pressure, particularly where education and the checks on elected Governments and corruption are weak, as well as where there is little appreciation that violence and discrimination against women is perhaps the greatest bar to a nation’s progress. Human rights must be part of a long-term strategy across a range of government departments, international institutions, parliamentary initiatives and an active, thriving international NGO and civil society sector.

The Government are well placed to achieve a lot and their influence depends on the level of international engagement. I am encouraged by the work of this and many previous Governments to extend our reach, and I add my support to these efforts. But I would encourage the Government to look more closely at whether we are using all the tools we have as effectively as possible. Surely it is worth considering whether development aid can do more to support a strategy of long-term political development as part of a wider strategy across government departments.

My final point is this. We need to address the economic dimensions that influence the attainment of human rights. There is a need to understand that the factors which curb human rights go beyond the traditional notions of corrupt regimes—rather, it is the fact that terribly uneven societies endure and the extractive capabilities of nations continue to be plundered while the prosperity and well-being of their citizens are ignored that causes great forms of repression. Creating the right market conditions, promoting growth, values and responsibility in the private sector is certainly part of it, but there is some merit in the argument that we should be vigilant. We must try to ensure that we do not allow societies to reach the tipping point where a population feels that the diminution of their and their children’s long-term economic prospects and a fundamental lack of hope adds to instability and conflict and a further erosion of their human rights.

I thank all noble Lords once again for the warmest of welcomes.

1.18 pm

Baroness Howells of St Davids (Lab):

My Lords, I feel privileged to follow my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn. I read that when he was introduced into the House, he said, “If, over my service, I can make even a fraction of the contribution to public life of my introducers, I will achieve a great deal”. My noble friend has a long history of working towards justice, both in the UK and in the Middle East. He is deeply involved in, and dedicated to, his work in the north London Jewish community. After today’s excellent, enlightened and thought-provoking maiden speech, I am sure that his presence in this House will be greatly appreciated. The presence of my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn on our Benches along with my noble friend Lord Bach will be music to the ears of all sides of the House. I am sure they will bring great harmony.

I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on giving us the opportunity to speak on this issue, which has been so pertinent to our values and is the foundation on which the principles of our Commonwealth are built. Following the Prime Minister’s visit to Sri Lanka, there cannot be a more appropriate time for this House to deliberate on how these values and principles translate into action beyond our immediate environment, into the Commonwealth and extending into the international domain.

As has been said, during the UK’s successful bid to join the UN Human Rights Council, a point of collaboration was made. We all agree that collaboration and international unity are paramount to how the Government are able to respond to violations of human rights. The point committed our Government to working more effectively with international partners and emphasised constructive association with both Commonwealth and EU partners to share best practice and expertise. With this newly acquired position, we furthered our ability. I need not point out to this House that with ability comes obligation.

The Government have made reference to the steps they have taken to promote human rights in Sri Lanka, through bilateral and supranational funding and through sharing experiences and expertise. My concerns are twofold and I would like to hear the Minister’s response on the following points. What efforts are being extended to other Commonwealth countries, and how do the Government intend to utilise the merits of the Commonwealth charter to promote human rights internationally? Further to that, as the Government are keen to replace the Human Rights Act 1998, what assessment, if any, have they made of their proposed British Bill of Rights and how it would compromise our own ambitions to work internationally?

I will not delay the House any longer, as most of the questions that I want to raise will come up later.

1.23 pm

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick (CB):

My Lords, we are all immensely grateful to my noble friend Lord Alton not only for introducing this debate but for his long persistence and faithfulness on these issues over, one dares to say, a generation. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, for introducing in his excellent maiden speech the responsibilities of business and the corporate sector. I want to focus on that in some of my remarks.

We are all conscious of the UN human rights responsibilities as they were laid out in the 1940s, but they were updated in 2011 by the guiding principles on the responsibilities of business. The new principles and burdens which fall on business, in essence, oblige businesses to sign up to the Human Rights Council guiding principles. They require organisations such as my own, KPMG, to:

“Avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur”—


“Seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services”.

This is a golden opportunity to bring the corporate sector into line with the responsibilities of public authorities. It is a chance for corporations, which have long held in private their own concerns about whether they have witnessed, for example, trafficking of individuals, unfair discrimination or employment procedures in other companies that were unacceptable, to take a stand alongside public duties.

On 16 October, there was an interesting report in the Guardian on a new assessment survey rating called “Tomorrow’s Value Rating”, set up by an organisation that seeks to assess the way in which companies are living up to the guiding principles on business and human rights. It found some interesting points of note. For example, although a vast majority of companies, such as my own, are signatories to the UN Global Compact, only a third of those that said they were devoted to human rights had a policy in place or a mechanism for measurement. It also found that in the oil and gas sector only three of the 10 companies covered had a stand-alone human rights policy and that management of human rights often appears to be reactive rather than proactive.

One does not want unduly to punish companies that are in the early stages of assessing their human rights responsibilities, but this is a chance not just for a debate in this House but to look at the way in which the Government think about future legislation for the UK alongside our partner countries, to set a tone of expectation in the corporate world as well as in the political sphere. In 2013, a long list of obligations relating to the principles of human rights for companies was set out by the Institute for Business and Human Rights in the UK. Point 6 of its 10 points of emphasis is titled:

“Renewing efforts to protect lives in the work-place”.

I want to draw attention to a specific example with a positive outcome, and I hope that we will see companies acting in this way in future.

None of us will forget the events in April surrounding the collapse of a building in Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. We will all recall the loss of life—1,200 individuals—the maiming, in particular, of many women and the loss of livelihoods. However, I am immensely grateful to be able to report to this House and for the benefit of public understanding that many of the companies involved, including ABF—Associated British Foods—the owner of Primark, decided that they would take their responsibilities immensely seriously. They would not only pay out for those who had lost livelihoods but stand together to take a responsible position on building requirements, regulations and standards for the future. Not only was this a dreadful affair that saw the unjust loss of multitudes of lives but it has been a golden opportunity for corporations to take their duties seriously. I am very grateful for the leadership of George Weston, the chief executive of ABF, and for his stand in its annual report, published on 5 November.

In conclusion, we have an opportunity in the corporate sector as new markets increasingly emerge where many of the pressure points that my noble friend Lord Alton and others have mentioned are brought to bear. If we can bring about a process for better common working practices between corporations and public authorities, we could see companies taking a greater lead in preventing human rights abuses.

1.27 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab):

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who I much admire, on his commitment and his courage, often in joint harness with the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I will make three brief points.

First, I recall in the early 1980s going to a south Asian country and saying to our ambassador, “What are you doing about human rights?”. His answer was, “Oh, that’s a job for my first secretary”. That would no longer be allowed. Indeed, there has been an immeasurable improvement in the overseas department’s links and attitude to human rights. I think, for example, of changes in the structure of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with the human rights and democracy department; the human rights report, which, happily, came from a recommendation of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which I chaired at that time, which has certainly been refined and improved; the human rights and democracy programme; and also the much improved links with non-governmental organisations.

My second point is about the interlink between the domestic and the foreign. I recall the former Foreign Minister of Australia, Senator Gareth Evans, saying, “How can we Australians be taken seriously on human rights representations abroad if we maltreat our Aborigines”—being Australian, he actually said “Abos”—“at home”. That shows that there is a linkage between what we do at home and the strength of our representations abroad. That obviously relates to our immigration policy, our counterterrorism policy and our attitudes to Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

Looking at our international organisations, I am delighted that we are now on the Human Rights Council, which is an enormous improvement on its predecessor, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which could reach agreement only on attacks on Israel. I look forward to reports during our two-year tenure, starting in January. I think also of the Commonwealth and the Council of Europe, included in the second priority in the 2012 human rights report.

On the Commonwealth, of course we think of CHOGM and whether or not the Prime Minister should have attended the Sri Lankan summit. Yes, there is a time for engagement but I am troubled by the question of cui bono—who actually benefited most from the Prime Minister’s attendance? I fear that the answer may well be the President of Sri Lanka. The Commonwealth charter is a magnificent document but in practice, if one looks at the 60% of Commonwealth countries that still have capital punishment and attitudes towards the criminalisation of homosexuality, there is much work for our Government to do in persuading our Commonwealth colleagues of the importance of human rights.

On the Council of Europe, there is a danger of the Government making a major error in defying the European Court of Human Rights in respect of prisoners’ rights. I do not talk about the subject of the question but the danger of defiance. The Prime Minister unwisely said that,

“no one should be in any doubt: prisoners are not getting the vote under this Government”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/10/12; col. 923.]

I saw the embarrassment of the Attorney-General when he appeared before the Joint Committee earlier this month. It would be a disastrous precedent in respect of Russia, Turkey and other defaulters, if we—pioneers of the system in the Council of Europe—were to defy it. There is a way out. Clearly the court will grant a wide margin of appreciation. It is insisting only that there is no blanket ban.

Finally, there has to be a balance in any matter of human rights. Sometimes it is best to do things in a low voice and behind the scenes. I was a member of the human rights mission to China that was led extremely ably by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, in which we were effective because we made quiet representations to the Chinese authorities. I concede also that there is a temptation to be strong on the weak and weak on the strong.

Of the six FCO priorities, freedom of religion is key. This has been the leitmotif of so many speeches in this debate. It is very important indeed that the Government consider seriously the recommendation of the excellent report of the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and others, Article 18: An Orphaned Right, which includes the right to change one’s religion, which was omitted from the final communiqué of CHOGM—I wonder why. The Government should look carefully at the case for a special envoy or ambassador and I hope that they will come back with a positive response to that.

1.32 pm

Baroness Cox (CB):

My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on his tenacious commitment to justice and the protection of human rights. From a vast array of concerns, I will focus today on Burma and Nigeria.

The widely celebrated reforms in Burma are welcome but while western political leaders, investors and aid agencies flock to Rangoon, many ethnic national peoples suffer military offensives, gross violations of human rights by the Burmese army and exploitation of their natural resources by the Burmese Government.

The Muslim Rohingya people suffer systematic oppression, with 140,000 forced to live in dire conditions in camps in Rakhine state and thousands more forced to flee to Bangladesh or in precarious boats to other countries. Human Rights Watch describes the situation as “ethnic cleansing”. Will Her Majesty’s Government support calls for an independent international inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity?

My small NGO, HART, works with partners in Shan, Kachin, Karen and Karenni states. We have visited them to witness the plight of their people, which has not been reported by the media. In Kachin and Shan states, the Burmese army continues military offensives, driving hundreds of thousands of civilians to camps for the displaced. We have seen their destitution and heard heartbreaking stories of atrocities perpetrated by the army, including the recent rape of girls aged eight and 15.

Land confiscation and environmental degradation from investment projects are increasing, as in northern Shan state, with China’s oil and gas pipelines. Indeed, people in Shan state are asking what sort of peace this is, when they are losing more and more of their lands and livelihoods.

In Karen state, the cessation of fighting is welcome, but the ceasefire allows the Burmese army to build more, larger camps along the Salween river and the Burmese Government to exploit, destroy or confiscate natural resources, with no compensation. Human rights violations by the Burmese army, including sexual violence against women, continue with impunity.

Burma’s ethnic national peoples share many concerns; for example, that the 2008 constitution, which does not recognise the rights of ethnic national peoples or allow for the development of a federal union, will become the accepted political road map for Burma, and that ethnic national people, who retain their armies for protection from Burmese military aggression, will be seen as rebel groups with rebel armies.

Their situation is best expressed in the words of their own local leaders. I quote a leader of the Shan people:

“The Burmese Government has conceded just enough credibility to achieve everything it wants from the international community: investment, aid and hosting international events”.

A senior officer in the Shan state army said:

“When the lights went on in Rangoon, everyone rushed there—and nobody stopped to visit us in the darkness”.

A healthcare worker helping displaced people in the jungles of Karen and Karenni states said:

“They are playing a game like Chess: take one piece at a time. While they sign a ceasefire with the Karen, they launch major offensives in Kachin State. They wear a beautiful mask, but the original face, which is brutal, is hidden”.

Will Her Majesty’s Government make much stronger representations to the Burmese Government to desist immediately from military offensives against civilians in Kachin and Shan states; to increase humanitarian assistance to displaced people in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states and allow unhindered access for international aid and human rights organisations; to call the Burmese army to account for violations of human rights, including murder, torture and rape; to ensure that concessions granted to the Burmese Government in recognition of recent reforms do not promote exploitative investment; and to allow ethnic national people to participate in discussions and agreements concerning the extraction of resources from their own lands—and the future of Burma?

I turn very briefly to the disturbing situation in Nigeria’s northern and central belt regions. The escalation of violence in the past two years by the Islamist Boko Haram movement follows two decades of violence in which thousands of Christians have been killed and hundreds of churches destroyed. Although Christian communities may have resorted to self-defence, the instigation of violence has been consistently asymmetrical, and now Boko Haram has stated its commitment to drive all Christians out of northern Nigeria.

We work with partners in Plateau, Kano and Bauchi states. These states are generally not visited, for security reasons—which is why we have gone there—and we have seen the suffering of local communities, as well as initiatives by local leaders, such as the Anglican Archbishop of Jos, Benjamin Kwashi, and the Anglican Bishop of Bauchi, to promote reconciliation between the different faith communities. Given Boko Haram’s escalating violence against Christians and its equally brutal killings of Muslims who do not support it, will Her Majesty’s Government do more to support these initiatives, in addition to the already well supported programmes in Kaduna state?

I conclude by expressing gratitude for the opportunity to highlight situations that we encounter working with victims of oppression, who are often trapped behind closed borders or off the radar screen for security reasons. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some reassurance to some of these hidden victims of violations of human rights in our world today.

1.38 pm

Lord Clarke of Hampstead (Lab):

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for giving us the opportunity to have this timely and important debate. I also thank him for his tireless efforts, in this House and outside, to expose the persecution and ill treatment of people. My comments could apply equally to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. They are an example of why this House exists and why we have to take an interest in other people’s affairs.

This debate is timely because there are currently seven people on a hunger strike here in London. A group of very brave people are calling for the release of seven hostages taken by Iraqi forces at the behest of the mullahs in Tehran. Many Members of this House will be aware of the hostage situation in Iraq. The tragedy of the hostage-taking is quite easily traced back to the evil regime in Tehran. This House is indebted to the persistence and determination our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, who cannot be with us today but who keeps members aware of what is happening to those seven hostages. His efforts are in stark contrast to those of our own Government, who appear to be quite laid back about latest outrage and abuse of human rights in Iran.

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending a meeting in this House on the human rights situation in North Korea—another meeting arranged by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. We heard from Mr Michael Kirby, the chairman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. We heard a report on the situation in North Korea. My remarks today will concentrate on the dreadful situation in Iran, but at the meeting on North Korea I heard a quote from a Mr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Many of you will know of Dietrich Bonheoffer; I did not—I put that down to my obvious lack of education. The quote stuck in my mind; I wrote it down straightaway. Mr Bonheoffer said:

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil”.

I must confess that I did not know anything about him, but now I know much more. He was hung by the Nazis just 23 days before the German surrender. I am confident that that brave Lutheran pastor, who opposed the Nazis, would be with us in this debate today, not being silent but speaking out about what is going on.

While we remain silent, the evil regime in Tehran and the hearts of those wicked people grow stronger. It is almost 30 years since I first became involved in protests about human rights abuses in Iran. Over the three decades, I have seen evidence of the torture wrought upon innocent people: gouging of eyes, lashings and stoning of women. Many other things have gone on that are too evil to talk about, but in my locker in this House I have the video evidence of how those wicked people have treated their own people.

I think of those poor people of Ashraf camp, where they put loudspeakers right the way round, bombarding them 24 hours a day and driving them mad with the incessant noise. In recent years, we have seen unprovoked attacks on the residents of Ashraf. On 1 December, 52 people were killed—52 lives extinguished by these wicked people. Those victims had been promised protected person status when the Americans and British left Iraq. Our Government promised that we would look after those people in Ashraf, but they quickly abandoned all attempts to give them some guarantee of freedom. All they get is ever more pressure, ever more torture and ever more violence against them.

I also recall with great sadness the murder of Faezeh Rajabi. Faezeh was a 19 year-old girl who communicated with us by a telephone link, and I had the pleasure of talking to her. She died among her friends in the massacre of 8 April 2011. I also think about the 16 year-old girl who appeared in court having been raped and assaulted by a man. The judge said to her, “You’re responsible for this immorality”. She had the temerity to argue with the judge and he ordered, “Take her out” and she was hung. She was a 16 year-old girl. When people talk about the “moderate” Mr Rouhani, I would suggest that if you are going to parley with him, you should take a very long spoon. There is not time to tell this House about his pedigree, but I recommend that all those who want to know what this so-called moderate is all about should read about him. I deplore him and the people he represents. Maybe we should remember those voices that are silent now, of Lord Corbett, of Lord Slynn, of Lord King of West Bromwich and Lord Archer of Sandwell. They called over the years for our Government to do something stronger about what is going on Iran and I echo their sentiments today.

1.45 pm

Lord Cormack (Con):

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead. I pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has been an indefatigable campaigner. He gave a very fine keynote speech today and it is a privilege to take part in this debate. It is a privilege also to follow four very distinguished, and I might say distinguishable, maiden speakers, each one of whom brought a particular quality to our deliberations.

In a brief debate, I want to highlight one or two things. First, we must always be persistent—the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, did right to quote the great Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I think back to those in our own country who struggled for what we now take for granted but what, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, pointed out, is certainly not taken for granted in many parts of the world. I think of Wilberforce and his campaign against slavery, and Shaftesbury, who rescued children. We have a great deal to be proud of—which does not mean that we have great deal to be complacent about. We must also remember that persistence pays off.

I want to relate two, very brief stories to the House from my own experience. I do it in the light of the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, who talked about Russia as it is today—and certainly there is a great deal of imperfection. When I came into Parliament some 43 years ago, I immediately became a great friend of the noble Lord, Lord Janner. We decided to form a campaign for the release of Soviet Jewry. He thought that it was right that I should chair it, as a Christian, and he was a very tireless secretary. I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment, because I pay tribute to him. At that time, it was impossible to get a visa to go to Moscow to argue our case. It was impossible to get religious books accepted in the Soviet Union. I remember we sent one, signed by all the party leaders, to a dissident called Slepak’s son for his bar mitzvah. It was sent back. Twenty years later, as a member of an international commission on human rights, I took part in an epiphany service in the Kremlin in a place where the leaders of the Soviet bloc countries had gone in the past and Christian worship would never have been permitted. At that service, handed to Mr Gorbachev’s special representative and chef de cabinet, Andrei Grachev, was a volume of the Scriptures which was symbolic of a million Bibles being accepted into the Soviet Union. That was true progress.

I relate just one other incident. Two years later, in 1972-73, we were in Vienna receiving some who had come out and been given visas. There was one young lady who spoke the most perfect English. I joked with her and said, “You must have been top of all your classes” and she said, “Well, actually, I was, until the day after my parents were granted the visa, when I was summoned to the vice-chancellor’s office and told that I had been the victim of a mistake and I had failed everything”. Twenty-one years later, I stood in that vice-chancellor’s or chancellor’s office in the University of Tartu in Estonia, a country by then a member of the European Community and of NATO, and rejoiced at the freedoms that had come.

I tell these two very brief stories merely to illustrate that persistence can and does pay off. It is important that we maintain dialogue—the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to the Helsinki accords. It is important that we keep contact with those countries whose regimes we deplore, and it is important that we deplore them publicly so that there is pressure on the leaders of those countries to make them realise that they are not acting in isolation but are being looked at, and that their words and deeds are being monitored. Let us remember that in almost every country of which we are talking, be it Pakistan, Nigeria or Iran, a vast majority of ordinary, decent people are desperate to have the freedoms which we enjoy and which my noble friend Lord Finkelstein spoke so movingly about earlier in this debate. If we are going to be able to ensure that human rights really are universal, we must keep up both the public and the private pressure.

1.50 pm

Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB):

My Lords, the debate we are having today on human rights violations and the Government’s response to them is of critical importance to our relations with a whole range of countries where those abuses have taken, or are taking, place. These are not simple judgments to make and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has done much to shine a spotlight of publicity on so many such countries, most particularly North Korea, deserves credit for insisting that we examine the dilemmas posed to our foreign policy.

It is easy enough to caricature the two extremes: a foreign policy based solely on realpolitik, aimed at securing the national interest as narrowly defined; and, on the other hand, what has been called an ethical foreign policy where human rights considerations override all others. However, it is also easy to dismiss either of those extremes. The real dilemmas are to be found in the foreign policy choices that lie between those two extremes, and they have to take account of the separate circumstances of individual countries. There is no single template for policy which can be applied worldwide.

This week the spotlight is very much on Sri Lanka, where the Commonwealth Heads of Government have been meeting, where massive abuses of human rights by both sides took place during the final phases of the civil war, and where the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights recently discerned a drift towards authoritarian rule, with pressure on an independent judiciary and free press. I trust that the Minister will give the House some idea of how the President of Sri Lanka responded to the Prime Minister’s representations. Will she also assure us that the Government will not slacken in their advocacy of an independent inquiry into the events at the end of the war? An inquiry is surely going to have to be international if it is to be truly independent. Will we also keep up the pressure on the need for reconciliation and genuinely even-handed treatment of all ethnic and religious groups in that country if the present very welcome peace there is to be consolidated and sustained?

In considering how Britain should respond to human rights abuses, I suggest that one mistake we need to avoid is looking at the issue principally, or even solely, in the context of our bilateral relationship with the country in question. However, Britain’s influence and leverage are unlikely to be decisive nowadays. All too often we have seen how easy it is for the country in question to punish us for our temerity and play us off against other countries which have been less assertive. We saw that over the Chinese reactions to the Prime Minister receiving the Dalai Lama, and the Russians are past masters at that game. A multilateral approach is not just a soft option and makes it more difficult for the country on the receiving end of the pressure or the sanctions to divide and rule. I give a few examples of where it has been very successful: the Commonwealth sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa; the wide-ranging international sanctions on the military regime in Burma; and the pressure the European Union is bringing to bear on Ukraine in the run-up to the Eastern Partnership summit later this month. This surely points to our making maximum use of the multilateral instruments and forums that exist for handling human rights. How effective are those instruments and what sort of shape are they in? As many other speakers have said, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights must surely remain the cornerstone of our activity, whether multilateral or bilateral. However, it contains no enforcement machinery and the UN Human Rights Council, established in 2006, has yet to prove itself fully, although its universal periodic review of every member state’s human rights record is an instrument of real value. We need to do what we can to strengthen the hand of the admirable High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Pillay, who visited London recently. In that context, I hope that the Minister will say what response the Government gave to Ms Pillay’s plea for an increase in our voluntary contribution to her office’s work to help reverse the recent reduction in resources at her disposal.

Then there is the Council of Europe, the convention and the court of human rights, which is so often intemperately denounced for excessive interference in our affairs. Do those critics ever stop to consider the work the council’s machinery does in a whole range of countries whose human rights record is well short of perfection? Any action we might take which weakens that machinery would inevitably reduce its effectiveness.

I conclude with a simple thought. The 20th century saw probably the most widespread, dramatic and repugnant abuses of human rights in recorded history. The challenge to us is to ensure that in the 21st century the world turns away decisively from that appalling inheritance and that Britain plays a prominent part in bringing that about.

1.55 pm

Lord Triesman (Lab):

My Lords, I echo the congratulations given to the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and to my noble friends Lady Kennedy of Cradley and Lord Mendelsohn on their outstanding speeches and look forward to their future contributions. I was intrigued to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, has five guitars at home, as do I. It sounds to me as if we have a basis for at least some sort of discussion.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate, which centres on human tragedy and the stance that we should take to it, and for providing the architecture for it: that is, the 1948 universal declaration, and the need to construct foreign policy with Article 18 in mind. Indeed, that was enlarged on by my noble friend Lord Parekh. Her Majesty’s Government—in my view, rightly—have set out their six priorities and their decision to serve on the human rights global machinery. I support these priorities unreservedly, not least because they flow from the voices of victims. These priorities orientate us. However, I hope that we will also explore the contradictions which result from them, as did the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, a few moments ago.

I have a similar objective to that expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, which includes his point about multilateralism. I will focus on capital punishment as an example of a priority. Our strategy is to oppose the use of the death penalty because we promote human rights and democracy and because there are no circumstances in which we believe that it is appropriate or ethically justified. We want to influence people and dissuade them from using capital punishment, including those with whom we enjoy normal, peaceful diplomatic and trade relations, such as our traditional friends the United States, but also countries such as China or Iran. We are also clear about the imperative of developing relationships with those countries.

Iran, with whom we seek a renewed relationship, not least because we wish to reach an accord on nuclear enrichment and end conflict in Syria, has killed at least 120,000 people judicially and non-judicially since the overthrow of the Shah. It routinely executes minors, and nearly half of those suffering the death penalty are under 30. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Kennedy on her important intervention about children generally; the execution of children is part of that. There have been 59 United Nations General Assembly resolutions and countless reports by the human rights commission but they have had more or less no impact.

I support all that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said about the murders at Camp Liberty, North Korea, Joseph Kony, and much else. I also support what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said about Burma, the analysis of Syria of the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, and the remarks made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, about the suppression of people because of their caste. The United Kingdom’s priority is clear and right, yet “no relationship with Iran” is a position that it would be difficult to advocate or sustain in the world of real politics. We lobby at a high level, fund human rights and pro-democracy projects and take trenchant positions on all these issues. However, we cease diplomatic relations only exceptionally and unwillingly. That seems sensible and necessary in most circumstances.

The FCO has a priority to prevent torture and, a few moments ago, my noble friend Lord Clarke illustrated what this means in Iran. Again, the ethical priority cannot somehow mean that we cease to deal with states that employ torture, much as it is repugnant to us. That is not out of indifference or cynicism but because we need relationships to address a wide variety of global and regional problems. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spoke of the problem of dealing with tyrants. I can personally say that you may end up talking for days, as I did in Doha, with people who you would rather see hauled before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, if only you could achieve that outcome.

The FCO also has a priority, which was rightly emphasised by my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland, to end violence against women and girls—a problem which is now frequently a weapon of war, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, so rightly said. We have a detailed policy that repays reading, as will study of what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby has said today. Equally, the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, talked about gay people’s rights. We should prioritise all these issues, just as we prioritise the renewal of the push towards democracy. In this case, we apply few tests of who we will or will not deal with. There is no adequate litmus test available, and even when we hold our noses, we frequently have to prefer to talk.

Like the late Robin Cook, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Patten, also referred today, I ask myself what might guide us in these difficult times and give us a chance to set out a strategy that is neither naive nor bombastic about human rights. What guides the post-Cold War world, a world of multipolarity? There is a great instinct in general to hold nations directly or indirectly accountable for their actions. It is our current trajectory that I want to look at. Do we balance properly the ethical foreign policy that we should adopt, if we can, with the United Kingdom’s national interest and its commitment to human rights? There must be a new disposition between all these.

I conclude that there will never be an unbending standard to judge every circumstance and, equally, that no foreign policy can be humanity blind because it might happen to suit us on a particular day because of a particular commercial interest. If we were to do so it would give full scope to dictators, war criminals, illegal arms dealers and others. It would demand of us only that we looked after our own security and financial profitability. We would have intervened in Libya because it had armed the IRA and not because it was slaughtering its own people. These are the issues that we have to face. We would have turned our backs, in those circumstances, on the 1948 convention.

Does the Minister agree that the core guidelines, which we may need to behave more appropriately now, are perhaps these? First, our foreign policy in these areas should obviously protect our security and that of our allies, while promoting conditions in which we are least likely to be attacked at home or have our people attacked in other parts of the world—and we should do so with our allies in a multilateral way. Secondly, while our choice of means in such circumstances would almost always lead to peaceful means, we must acknowledge circumstances where, for the right and wholly disclosed reasons and with parliamentary consent, wherever possible, we should intervene as a last resort with proportionate steps and reasonable prospects of success. I labour this point because, aside from our own security—the paramount reason—we also have obligations to protect. They are part of our international obligations and often imply preventing, reacting and rebuilding after conflict. I find it hard to conceive of retaining a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, as I wish this country to do, if only the United Kingdom’s interests ever determined the judgments that we made.

My noble friend Lady Howells made the point that human rights must be matched by a responsibility to protect; she is absolutely right. I commend my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, on their comments in this regard. In my final few moments I will commend also the work of the Canadian Government, who have captured this thought. Their international commission on intervention judges the evidence of serious harm, including mass murder and starvation, and whether the state involved is unwilling, unable or opposed to averting such harm. If these conditions hold, the principle of non-intervention yields to the responsibility to protect—something that we should take very seriously. It was close to Robin Cook’s thinking, and I believe that it was close to Tony Blair’s in his speech to the Chicago press club.

In all these cases, what we may need is a realistic checklist that gets us through how we are to deal with despotic, murderous and antidemocratic regimes—regimes for whom war crimes are just a tool that they use from their toolkit—and at the same time oppose the behaviour that they espouse. I commend the Canadian approach as being among perhaps the best architecture that has been designed. It was somewhat lost in the aftermath of 9/11 and it is hardly known or studied in many circles, but it should be. It should also be fully debated and I hope that on some occasion, we may have the opportunity to do so in your Lordships’ House. Let us try to make sure that we are debating the fundamentals of how we proceed alongside the examples of egregious harm.

2.36 pm

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con):

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his tireless efforts to shine a light on the darker corners of humanity. He brings to our attention the plight of those suffering human rights abuses throughout the world, not just today but on a regular basis in your Lordships’ House. Secondly, I take this opportunity to congratulate my noble friend Lady Suttie, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, and my noble friend Lord Finkelstein on their maiden speeches. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, mentioned the phrase “Behind every man” but did not complete it. I have a phrase of my own: behind every powerful woman there is usually a man who wakes up in the morning and says, “Darling, where are my socks?”. Given the in-depth knowledge of the area of human rights among the noble Lords who made their maiden speeches today, I very much look forward to hearing more from them on these issues.

This has been a wide-ranging debate and it is almost impossible for me to respond fully in 20 minutes, so I apologise if I do not address all concerns. As always, the interventions were thought-provoking and wide-ranging. It was incredibly interesting to hear from noble Lords such as my noble friend Lord Cormack, who can through his own experience recall changing situations around the world. I am also grateful for the incredibly thoughtful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, who eloquently detailed the challenges, conflicts, considerations, principles and pragmatisms that all play into our foreign policy—and, of course, human rights as a part of that.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights underpins what we do but, sadly, it is too often disregarded. We take our place in the international human rights community incredibly seriously. That is why we campaigned most recently for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. I am delighted to say that we were elected with 171 votes, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, for his kind congratulations. As the noble Lords know, the Human Rights Council was set up in 2006 and has addressed numerous rights-related situations in countries such as Burma, North Korea, Belarus, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Iran and Sri Lanka, to name a few. The United Nations Human Rights Council also addresses important thematic human rights issues such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and business and human rights.

A number of Human Rights Council resolutions, such as those on Libya, have led to vital action at the UN Security Council. When our term begins in January, we will bring this commitment and ambition, as well as our resources, to support and strengthening the council, and to uphold the independence and effectiveness of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights—something that we believe is of paramount importance. Of course, we will be working alongside countries whose records on human rights give us cause for concern, too. But with membership comes responsibility and we will not shirk from reminding other states on the Human Rights Council of their responsibilities.

The universal periodic review process has played a critical role in facilitating the wider acceptance of international human rights scrutiny. The success of UPR is a priority for the UK; it is often the first time that a state has had the opportunity to carry out an open, self-critical review of its human rights commitments. The majority of states have engaged constructively, and the UPR looks likely to help facilitate wider acceptance of international human rights standards. It is therefore a crucial tool for implementing our human rights priorities. The UK works hard to ensure that other countries approach the UPR process in a transparent and constructive manner, and it is therefore important to us that we are able to demonstrate having taken the process seriously ourselves. The UK’s own UPR was successfully presented in 2012 by the Ministry of Justice, under the direction of my noble friend Lord McNally.

We have pledged to use the membership of the Human Rights Council to work for the protection of the most vulnerable in our societies, responding actively to global challenges and looking ahead to the future of universal human dignity, and to keep human rights at the core of the UN’s work. We will particularly press forward on the six global thematic priorities that the Government have set. Before I go through them, though, I acknowledge the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, of considering LGBT issues as a thematic priority. I will certainly consider that at the time of our review.

We continue to work on our first priority, which is the abolition of the death penalty. We work with the all-party parliamentary group, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, to push forward the debate towards abolition in countries that retain the death penalty. We fund practical initiatives, such as training judges and lawyers and modernising penal codes, to reduce the use of the death penalty. We work for an increase in countries voting in favour of the UN’s biennial resolution against the death penalty, which will be run next in 2014. This demonstrates how, over time, the tide of global opinion is turning against the use of the death penalty.

Another priority is on initiatives to prevent torture. We are running a global campaign to encourage states to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and the optional protocol. The protocol compels states to establish intrusive mechanisms of inspection of places of detection, to shine a light on the treatment of people held by the state. We share the UK’s own experience of implementing the optional protocol through Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, and run projects to help states to set up their own systems to end the scourge of torture.

We use our membership of the HRC to push for more states to take action to implement the UN guiding principles on business and human rights—another thematic priority. This specifically references the principle of the effective abolition of child labour, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. The UK has done this through its own action plan, launched in September by the Foreign Office and the Business Secretary. The plan responds to the call for British business to help the principles flourish in every market, in a way that respects human rights and ensures proper remedy for those whose human rights are harmed by business activity. I hope that this is seen as the start of the Government setting the tone on expectations and standards, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings.

On the specific issue of child labour, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, at the Human Rights Council in March this year the UK co-sponsored the resolution on the rights of children, which further calls upon all states to translate into concrete action their commitment to the progressive and effective elimination of child labour, which interferes with a child’s education and is harmful to a child’s health, both physical and mental, and to their moral and social development. The noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, was right to reference in his maiden speech that market forces too must work for the benefit of the populations of countries that are rich in resources.

Another priority for the Foreign Office is working to ensure freedom of expression, both online and offline. Freedom of expression underpins democracy and is the gateway to many other rights and freedoms. In a networked world we need to ensure that people everywhere, including those not yet connected to the internet, can enjoy the economic and social benefits of a free, open internet, and can do so safely and securely. This is the vision that the Foreign Secretary set out on the London conference on cyberspace in 2011, which has since been taken forward by conferences in Budapest and Seoul, and which we will further pursue at the conference in 2015 in The Hague.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, detailed harrowing examples of the abuse of women. Women’s rights are another priority—tackling one of the greatest challenges of the century, to ensure that the full social, economic and political participation of women becomes commonplace. We work to end impunity for the use of rape as a weapon of war and for wider violence against women and girls. We share our own experiences in tackling problems that the UK faces, along with many other countries, from how to get women on boards to ensuring that no girl has to endure the trauma of FGM or forced marriage.

I take on board what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, said about violence in a domestic situation. The Foreign Secretary, however, has focused his efforts on preventing sexual violence in conflict because he feels that accountability and justice is an area where there is the most glaring lack of political will, and where Governments can make the most difference. The PSVI initiative supports existing and extensive cross-government work on conflict prevention and violence against women and girls. The initiative has made excellent progress in securing great international commitment to tackling sexual violence in conflict. G8 Ministers agreed a historic declaration in April, and in June we secured the first Security Council resolution on this issue in years.

In September at the UN General Assembly, the Foreign Secretary launched the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which has so far been endorsed by 135 countries. The political campaigning has been underpinned by practical action that is already starting to take place in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the DRC, Kosovo, Libya and Mali and on the Syrian borders. I commend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby for referring to the White Ribbon project, to which I was able to lend support only yesterday; it is an incredibly important initiative for men to speak out against violence directed at women.

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, also spoke about the Istanbul convention. The UK is supportive of the principles underpinning that convention but there remain a number of areas that need further consideration before a final decision can be made on whether to sign—particularly the criminalisation of forced marriage and the extension of extraterritorial jurisdiction to the wide range of offences in scope of the convention. As part of this further consideration, the UK Government launched a consultation in December 2011 on whether to create, for example, a new offence of forced marriage. The Government are considering how these and other issues might be resolved, and will make a statement in due course. Should the final decision be that the UK signs the convention, primary legislation will need to be introduced to make sure that the UK law is compliant.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, raised the issue of the abuse of human rights of disabled members of our society. In 2012 we used our role as host nation of the Paralympic Games to highlight the power of sport to deliver the vision of the UN convention. The UK is proud to have welcomed the highest ever number of participating Paralympic teams at the Games, and disability rights were a core element of our joint communiqué on human rights.

The sixth thematic priority, and a personal priority of mine, is one that was raised by my noble friends Lord Selkirk and Lord Patten and the noble Lord, Lord Singh: the freedom of religion and belief. I shall explain what religious freedom means to me. It means the freedom to have a religion, to believe what one chooses to believe, to manifest those beliefs, to show them outwardly, to share them with others, to change your faith or to not have a faith, and to do so without fear of discrimination, attack or persecution. I echo the words of my noble friend Lady Berridge that we place emphasis on both religion and belief. We work in this area in many ways, including in multilateral organisations—which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, is sometimes the most effective way.

Within that, we are committed to working with the United Nations Human Rights Council to implement Resolution 1618. This resolution lays the foundations for combating discrimination against people based on their religion throughout the world. Political consensus is crucial to achieving that. Therefore, in January this year I brought together in London Ministers and senior officials, from the Foreign Minister of Canada to the Foreign Minister of Indonesia and the OIC, to try to take forward a political track to the Istanbul process. A further meeting was held in New York during the UN General Assembly week.

We also engage on this issue through bilateral engagement. I have made freedom of religion a priority in the areas that I have responsibility for, but I also believe that every Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is and should be an ambassador for religious freedom. We saw that with the Prime Minister in Sri Lanka only days ago. Each and every one of us raises and promotes these issues in the countries for which we have responsibility.

Thirdly, we engage in project work with human rights and faith-based organisations around the world, particularly those that bridge sectarian divides and promote dialogue between religions.

Fourthly, given the key role that faith plays in our global politics today, we are equipping our diplomats with the understanding of the crucial role that religion plays in the world today. We are ensuring that experts on freedom of religion and belief sit on the Foreign Secretary’s Advisory Group on Human Rights. I am planning to hold a conference on freedom of religion and belief next year to bring the many strands of this work together.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield and others suggested the appointment of an ambassador for religious freedom. We keep this constantly under review, but we have also been looking at the experiences of other countries that have done this and we have seen that, disturbingly, these ambassadors are sometimes not given access to the countries, or indeed to individuals at the highest level in those countries, to raise these challenges. Therefore, it is important that we make sure that we work in the most effective way in this area.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, that we have greater credibility overseas if our record at home is good—a point made eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked me specifically about meeting Navi Pillay. I do not have an answer to that but I will certainly write to him with an update.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Lords, Lord Parekh, Lord Anderson and Lord Hannay, spoke of CHOGM. There has of course been much debate about the Prime Minister’s decision to go to last week’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka. I believe that the Prime Minister was right to go. As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said, not talking to people is never the answer. By going, the Prime Minister shone a spotlight on the situation there, and he was the first foreign leader to visit the north of the country since 1948. Because of his decision, journalists were granted access that would otherwise have been impossible to gain, and the local people—the families of the missing—were given an international voice.

The PM was bold and blunt in his views. He had a frank and tough meeting with the President, in which he clearly set out the need for Sri Lanka to make further progress in a number of areas, including a credible and transparent independent investigation into allegations of war crimes. If the Sri Lankan Government fail to do this, the UK will fully back an international investigation. The talks also covered a meaningful political settlement with the north, including demilitarisation, and proper implementation of the range of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission recommendations. However, I accept that more needs to be done, not just in Sri Lanka but to ensure that the principles of the Commonwealth charter are applied by the countries of the Commonwealth.

My noble friend Lady Falkner asked about Syria. We are deeply concerned about recent media reports of mass graves being discovered in Sadad. We have consistently made it clear that those who have committed these and other crimes during the conflict will be held to account. We have trained more than 60 Syrian activists to document human rights violations and abuses to assist in any future accountability process. We have consistently made it clear that those responsible for the most serious international crimes in Syria should be held to account, and we believe that the situation in Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court. We will continue, publicly and privately, to make the case for ICC referral. We are pushing for a strong resolution on human rights and accountability to be adopted by the UN.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others raised the issue of Camp Liberty. We remain of the view that the Government of Iraq, as a sovereign Government, are responsible for the situation at the camp. We have called on the Government to take all necessary measures to locate missing residents and ensure the safety of the remaining residents at Camp Liberty.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also raised the issue of Sudan. We continue to make the case to the Government of Sudan and the international community that we expect compliance with arrest warrants for ICC indictees. We regularly lobby Governments and make public statements to this effect—for example, when President al-Bashir recently travelled to Nigeria.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, raised concerns relating to discrimination against the Dalit community. DfID has supported the Indian Government’s Education for All scheme, which has helped to bring the number of Dalit children in school proportionately in line with the general population. We have also supported measures in India’s 120 poorest districts to promote empowerment and access to benefits and services for excluded groups. Dalits have been a large part of that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, gave an incredibly interesting account of her experience in Russia. The promotion and protection of human rights continues to be a key priority in our bilateral relationship with Russia. The UK is unique among EU member states in holding annual bilateral meetings to allow formal discussions about human rights. In addition, we regularly meet human rights defenders and NGOs in Russia, and we fund projects run by Russian NGOs to promote progress in human rights.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, asked about the European Convention on Human Rights. We have agreed, in the context of the coalition agreement, that the obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights will continue to be enshrined in British law.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked about Burma. We are lobbying the Burmese Government for further action to address the humanitarian situation. We are providing £4.4 million in humanitarian aid—the largest amount of bilateral aid—for Rakhine state, and we are continuing to support Kachin state. In July, the Secretary of State for International Development announced a further £13.5 million of UK funding. Unfortunately, I shall not be able to address further questions on Burma and Nigeria.

The noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, spoke about Iran. The UK will continue to hold Iran to account for human rights abuses. To date, we have designated, under EU sanctions, more than 80 Iranians responsible for human rights violations, and have helped to establish a UN special rapporteur. Last autumn, we lobbied for the support of a UN General Assembly resolution on Iran’s human rights, which was supported by an overwhelming majority. As the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary said, increasing our bilateral engagement with Iran will enable the UK to have more detailed, regular and direct discussions on human rights.

I end by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for allowing us to discuss these important issues. Without respect for human rights, security cannot be guaranteed. Without peace and stability, economies will not grow, poverty will endure, the rule of law will crumble and the cycle of poverty, abuse and instability will perpetuate. Preventing this, breaking this cycle and upholding the fundamental rights to which every human is entitled are at the very core of every aspect of our diplomatic engagement, just as I know it is at the core of the work of this House. Once again, I am grateful for the contribution of all noble Lords to this cause.

2.27 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool:

My Lords, it was suggested during Question Time today that your Lordships have no business spending time on non-domestic issues. Twenty-six powerful speeches, including the Front-Bench speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, illustrate why this House should spend time on these issues, why it should bring its insightful, intelligent, well informed and wise contributions to these questions, why we have a duty to use the hard-won freedoms gained over 800 years since the promulgation of Magna Carta, and why we should use our liberties and freedoms to speak for the women in the Congo, the dissidents in Iran, the 300,000 in the gulags in North Korea or the 44 young people who were murdered by Boko Haram while sleeping in a dormitory in northern Nigeria.

Anyone who doubts the relevance or purpose of your Lordships’ House should read today’s Hansard. During my time here, I have felt deeply privileged to be able to work with many of your Lordships who have spoken in today’s debate. In four remarkable maiden speeches, we have heard about the oppression of gay people, about Putin’s Russia, about the need for an overarching strategy on human rights and about child labour.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, reminded us that the welcome modern slavery Bill will appear later this year. More than 200 years ago, William Wilberforce and his friends believed that they had abolished slavery. Interestingly, he also said, “Now we must turn our attention to the Dalits and the caste system”. These old evils still need to be combated, even as new giants emerge. Perhaps in our generation we might make caste history. Wilberforce, whose biographer is our Foreign Secretary, William Hague, once remarked that, having seen the evidence, “we cannot turn away”. Today, there has been no shortage of evidence and, like Wilberforce, we cannot turn away.

During our debate, we heard mention of the assault on the right to belief. It was mentioned in many speeches, including those of the two right reverend Prelates. I agree with Timothy Shah, who said:

“When people lose their religious freedom, they lose more than their freedom to be religious. They lose their freedom to be human”.

Lest anyone doubts the evidence, let them read the 160-page report that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office publishes every year on human rights violations. If a Select Committee produced that report, there would be a mechanism to debate it. It should be a given that every year we should have a full-scale debate on that annual report in both Houses. It should not be left to the vagaries of a ballot. Given the vast experience in your Lordships’ House on all our Benches, it is patently absurd that there is not anInternational Affairs Select Committee, a Foreign Affairs Select Committee, where issues such those that we have been debating today can be examined in detail.

The Foreign Secretary has rightly said:

“While human rights are not the only consideration in forming a nation’s foreign policy, if we allow human rights to suffer while we pursue our legitimate national interest, we will in the long term have failed”.

We have seen remarkable change in our lifetime—the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of apartheid in South Africa and the beginnings of a peace process in Northern Ireland. Since coming to your Lordships’ House, I have been able to go to Burma on four occasions, three of them illegally. Eighteen months ago, I would not have believed that I would be able to address an open air meeting of the National League for Democracy in Yangon. It is a small beginning, a small start and a welcome change.

It was said by Benjamin Franklin that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. We have been vigilant today but, as so many have remarked, we must persist, persist and persist. We must use our freedoms on behalf of those whose freedoms are cruelly denied.

Motion agreed.



Georgetown Presentation by Lord Nicholas Windsor, Royal Patron of the Christian Heritage Centre and The Case for Religious Freedom – and National Register article to celebrate Thanksgiving

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Georgetown Presentation by Lord Nicholas Windsor, Royal Patron of  the Christian Heritage Centre and The Case for Religious Freedom

This link  will take you to the presentation given by Lord Nicholas Windsor, Jan Graffius and David Alton at Georgetown University’s Berkley Centre, Washington DC. The session was hosted and moderated by Professor Tom Farr. The presentation describes the purpose of the Christian Heritage Centre Project, the Collections held at Britain’s Stonyhurst College, and the challenges to contemporary religious freedom.  Please share it with others.

Further details at:

Mary Ellen Bork’s Thanksgiving article in the Catholic National Register:

Lord Nicholas Windsor with his wife, Princess Paola and their children
Lord Nicholas Windsor with his wife, Princess Paola and their children

“The Christian Heritage Centre is both informative and inspiring and having visited ones spirit soars and faith strengthened. The Centre will make changes for many and we should pray for its success “ – Charles Guthrie.  Field Marshall Lord Guthrie , the former head of the British Armed Forces

“It is simply marvellous that the Stonyhurst Collection, the oldest private museum collection in the English-Speaking world, yet one of our least known national treasures, is going to be housed in a new purpose-built museum and education centre. This will undoubtedly bring a wider audience to learn about, and appreciate more fully, Faith and Heritage which has shaped the Britain in which we live in today” – Rt.Revd.Nicholas Reade, retired Anglican Bishop of Blackburn.

The Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst deserves the support of everyone who values Christian truth. Paul Johnson, author of The History of The American People

“Britain’s Christian heritage is central to our culture, our laws, our history, our values: who we are as people. The creation of a Christian Heritage Centre will inspire, educate, and celebrate the rich contribution of Christianity to our national life. Please give it your support.”The Rt Hon. Ann Widdecombe DSG

Project Patron, Rt.Hon. Ann Widdecombe with the old Mill Building (where the Visitors' Centre will be located)  in the background
Project Patron, Rt.Hon. Ann Widdecombe with the old Mill Building (where the Visitors’ Centre will be located) in the background

Details of how you can support the project or make a donation may be found at:



Article by Christopher Graffius


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”


The opening words of the Declaration of Independence form what was a treasonable document. The men who gathered on the 4th July 1776 knew that they were signing what could be their death warrants. As Benjamin Franklin commented: “we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”


Among those who took their lives into their hands that day was one Catholic. Charles Carroll had been banned for his faith from political office, but the revolutionary Congress was different. The story goes that after he signed one of the other congressmen commented that there were many Charles Carrolls in the colonies. Carroll stepped forward and added “of Carrollton”, his home in Maryland, so that there could be no doubt.


Carroll was an American revolutionary hero, but he had been educated by British Jesuits at the English College at St Omers in France. That school, at which it was crime to be educated, became one of the chief repositaries of the treasures of English Catholicism. Treasures that were illegal in England were smuggled out with the pupils for safe keeping. Today they form the world class collection at Stonyhurst College, the descendant of that school in St Omers.


Thomas More’s hats, his crucifix, which he may have had with him in the Tower. The rope that bound Campion to the hurdle, that was worn by Robert Persons, the original political Jesuit, tied round his waist for the rest of his life. The prayer book carried by Mary, Queen of Scots, to the scaffold. The manuscript poems of St Robert Southwell. Relics from the body of St Gordianus, martyred in early Rome and given by a Pope to the persecuted English Catholics, to those of the Japanese martyrs. The “Peddler’s Box”, the trunk with “Massing Gear”, carried around Lancashire by St Edmund Arrowsmith. Jacobite portraits and relics. Many of these would have been seen and reverenced by Charles Carroll the boy, but since the College came home the collection has grown. A first Folio of Shakespeare. Manuscripts from Gerald Manley Hopkins. The sketch book of one of the first British Jesuit missionaries to Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, which begins with drawings of oxen and wagons and ends, as the artist neared death, with images of the crucifixion. Relics of Oscar Romero. The list is virtually endless.


Taken together they form the collective historical memory of British Catholicism and its influence to the widest bounds of the world. To today’s young pupils who have the privilege of seeing them and living with them they speak eloquently of faith, values, commitment and ultimately love. Love so great that it lays down its life in imitation of the Lord. They deserve a wider audience, they are the heritage that transmits the values that are the heart of our community.


They silently preach a message for today. In our cold, consumer driven, selfish world they point to another way. A way that we must rediscover if we are really to “live life to the full”. They challenge, the injustice, the intolerance, the repression that are all to common.


It’s the hope of many that these collections may be given a home open to all. The Christian Heritage Centre will bring them all together to a wider audience. Last week a delegation lead by Lord Alton, and Lord Nicholas Windsor, returned from a fund raising mission to America. They had been to Congress, Princeton and Harvard. They drew audiences of politicians, academics and opinion formers. Many of them reverenced the relics that the group had taken with them. You can also be part of this mission. You can find the details at .


Once you’ve seen what’s in the collection it’s easier to understand a Catholic who would be prepared to stake his life in opposition to an oppressive regime prepared to assert its dominance by military force. Charles Carroll was the longest lived of those who signed that Declaration. He died in 1832. One of his last public acts was to lay the cornerstone of one of the first railways in America.


History is very close.

EWTN "The World Over" with Raymond Arroyo
EWTN “The World Over” with Raymond Arroyo


Shutdown Is Not an Option | National Review Online

‘He must be rejoicing from Heaven at what has been achieved.” Lord Alton was reflecting on the life of Edmund Campion during a drive between the U.S. Capitol and Georgetown University. Campion was a Jesuit priest who was “hanged, drawn, and quartered” for his religious faith in 1581. Alton, a longtime member of the British Parliament, was pointing to the fact that while Campion was killed for ministering as a Catholic priest, today 10 percent of the British population is Catholic, with over 850,000 children educated in Catholic schools. Alton’s is a message of hope and duty.

While he doesn’t pretend that all of these schools are making saints like Campion, they do preserve and pass on a tradition that exists to commit everything “to the greater glory of God,” to form women and men to do all that they can do and to live for others.

David Alton has been in the U.S. telling the stories of English martyrs through the history of Stonyhurst College; 18 of them were graduates of the boys’ school and were martyred after Catholicism was banned in England and Wales in 1571. Alton is visiting here, in part, to introduce Americans to Stonyhurst’s Christian Heritage Centre and the history preserved there. His first stop was St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C., where Cardinal Donald Wuerl kissed a cross that had just travelled from Stonyhurst through Heathrow. It belonged to St. Thomas More and is believed to have been in his possession in the Tower of London as he awaited his execution for putting his service to God before his service to the king. It’s a permanent part of Stonyhurst’s Christian Heritage archives.

With that cross on display at a breakfast with the librarian of Congress in the U.S. Capitol building on the second morning of government shutdown, the political impasse provided the opportunity for a little bit of a retreat for some members of Congress. Both a historic artefact and a religious relic of reverence, the cross was a reminder that religious faith and civic duty mean something. We all have stewardship obligations and choices to make.

Alton is fond of the Churchill pronouncement “All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope.”

But he also quotes C. S. Lewis to me — “They make men without chests” — acknowledging the reality of our cultural state. And this is why he is here in the U.S., to remind us of our common roots and responsibilities.

Campion would certainly not be rejoicing at the state of our culture, or at our relative silence in the face of religious persecution around the world today. Or at the laziness, indifference, and political manipulation with which many Americans have been treating religious liberty even here at home.

Today, while threats to religious freedom are not at all academic matters to business owners, university presidents, and religious leaders who run schools and hospitals and other bulwarks of civil society here in the U.S., people in Pakistan, Egypt, and Nigeria are opening themselves to martyrdom just by going to Mass. “Remaining faithful to conscience and faith is not a theoretical issue if you live in one of the 16 countries listed by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom,” Alton points out. “In each of these countries people of different faiths — from Baha’is to Sufi Muslims — are being persecuted for their beliefs. Uniquely, the only group to be persecuted in each and every one of the 16 countries is Christians.”

How can we be silent? “Is it because we who have free speech and the privilege of living in a democratic society have forgotten who we are?” Alton asks.

He cites the prophet Isaiah: Never forget “the rock from which you are hewn.”

Knowing who we are can make all the difference. “Knowing who you are gives self-knowledge, security and confidence; the absence of this knowledge sows seeds of insecurity and instability,” Alton contends.

“If people don’t know where their faith comes from, if they don’t know the price people have paid, they are not going to hold that faith in very high esteem, very close to their hearts.”

We talk a little bit about Pope Francis and why so much of what he is saying and doing is so fundamental: “If we don’t re-evangelize . . . we’re not going to win the legislative battles. If we don’t change people’s hearts and minds, we’re not going to change the world around us. The heart of the human problem is the human heart. We have to soften hearts and challenge minds.”

Campion died praying for his executioners: “I recommend your case, and mine, to Almighty God, the Searcher of hearts, to the end that we may at last be friends in heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten.”

All the world is a conversion opportunity — as a spiritual matter, as an intellectual and political matter. When we forget this, we shut down.

In the ups and downs of campaigns and headlines, we so often just don’t think things through. The challenges seem too great, the biases too hardened. But what does that lead to? Cheerleading for a so-called Arab Spring that created a situation where one could steal a bulldozer and demolish a church with it, all in plain sight of the military, as Coptic Bishop Anba Angaelos put it during a visit to Washington, D.C. The West has been sobered. Death and destruction have been known to do this.

His Grace was in Washington for a congressional hearing on minorities in Egypt — which wound up being cancelled on account of the government shutdown. Still, the trip to D.C. gave him an opportunity to become “fast friends” with human-rights champion Representative Chris Smith, among others. He plans to return for that hearing once the government is open for operations again. And the trip gave him an opportunity to say on behalf of what he estimates to be 10 to 15 million Christians in Egypt: “Out of pain and suffering comes identity.” He says that the Copts in Egypt “are not broken.” They are “resilient,” and in their challenges they ask only that a new Egyptian constitution respects everyone’s dignity and religious freedom. Here at home, we had better be good stewards of these gifts.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a director of Catholic Voices USA. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

 Also see-

Raymond Arroyo interview on EWTN:

Austin Ruse in Crisis Magazine :

Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal

Joan Desmond in The Catholic National Register

The Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst deserves the support of everyone who values Christian truth. – Paul Johnson, author of A History of the American People

Web site and 2013 brochure:

With George Weigel and Fr.Arne Panula at the Catholic Information Centre in Washington D.C.
With George Weigel and Fr.Arne Panula at the Catholic Information Centre in Washington D.C.

Please share with others who may be interested.

Egypt’s Kristallnacht – Speech in The House of Lords October 2013 and Tribute to Dr.Helmy Guirguis, founder of the UK Copts

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Remarks by Lord Alton of Liverpool at a Memorial Service for Dr.Helmy Guirguis – Founder of the UK Copts – at the Royal Society of Medicine, London, 6.30 pm, March 3rd 2015.


Dr.Helmy Guirguis - founder of the UK Copts.
Dr.Helmy Guirguis – founder of the UK Copts.


Icon of the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded in Libya in February 2015
Icon of the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded in Libya in February 2015

In 1997, when I was raised to the Peerage as a Baron, and entered the House of Lords, one of my young children asked me “Dad, does it mean we get a castle?”.


No, but, I told him, that thanks to Her Majesty the Queen, Garter-King-of-Arms, would be talking to me about my right to a coat of arms.


What should go on a coat-of-arms, my son asked?


Symbols, and a motto which mean something to you and which connect with you, your family, and the beliefs which animate you. So, we talked about what these might be.


Ten years earlier, while a member of the House of Commons, I had been one of the founders of Jubilee Campaign – a charity which, among other things, campaigns for freedom of religion and belief – rights conferred under Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Jubilee had been founded in response to the murder, incarceration and egregious violations of the human rights of countless men and women in the former Soviet Union.


After the fall of the Berlin Wall Jubilee wanted to refocus its work and asked me to travel to Egypt and to publish a report into the discrimination experienced by Egypt’s Copts.


It was the visit which first opened my eyes to the wonderful story of this apostolic church, rooted in the earliest accounts of Christianity. I was privileged to visit St.Mark’s in Cairo and to meet the late Pope Shenouda III.


That visit opened my eyes to the suffering and persecution of the Copts and to the remarkable humanitarian work of men and women like Maggie Gobran, whom I wrote about oin my book Signs of Contradiction.


That visit led me to meet UK Copts – represented so well by Bishop Angaelos –  and to my first encounter with the wonderful Dr.Helmy Guirguis. I have been proud to be associated with them ever since.


My only regret in travelling to the international Coptic Conference in Washington, last year, was that Helmy’s health made it impossible for him to be there with me.


So what has this to do with my son’s question?


When, in 1997, Garter-King-Of-Arms  asked me what symbols I wished to incorporate into my coat-of-arms I told Helmy of my intention to include the Egyptian ankh cross.


The ankh is the Egyptian symbol of eternal life. Some say it represents the giving of life.


Although it has its origins in an antiquity which predates Christianity its symbolism at the heart of the new dispensation represented by the Holy One who came as a child to Egypt and was crucified at Golgotha.


Nailed to His cross is all our suffering, our sins, our mortal failings and our pain. It is the cross which gives life and truly represents eternal life.


Along with the ankh cross, for my coat of arms, I chose two words as my family motto. They are the words which were given to Moses; Choose Life.  They were words which were at the heart of everything which Helmy did and for which he stood.


I am told that in ancient Egyptian mythology the ankh means that once the pharaohs, or, indeed, any other person dies, their heart is weighed on a scale against the feather of truth.


If the heart is heavier than the feather, it means that the person committed too many bad deeds in their life.


I have no doubt that when his heart is weighed on the scale of truth, and his work written into the Book of Life, Helmy’s heart will be lighter than a feather because in all that he did – as a doctor to his patients and as a physician to a sick society – he never abjured the truth. He understood to what suffering the failure to detect the symptoms of this malady would lead.


As a doctor – and, indeed, as a patient – Helmy knew a thing or two about the heart.


In his professional life he clung to the ancient duty of the physician – that if you cannot help you do not harm.


He also knew that the heart of the human problem is the human heart.


That is why he used his considerable talents to promote an alternative medicine to the hatred and sectarianism which seems to characterise life in much of the Middle East today.


He was an apostle of peace, respect, tolerance and co-existence. But he also knew that we had a duty to tell the truth and to stand up for those who are voiceless and powerless.


The consequences of ignoring the signs of disease have been seen most vividly, in the aftermath of Helmy’s death, in the shocking beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya. They went to their deaths as martyrs, with the gentle name of Jesus on their lips.


The most fitting memorial to them; the most fitting memorial to Egypt’s Copts – who in an orgy of violence, reminiscent of Europe’s Kristallnacht, have seen their churches, homes and business desecrated and attacked; the most fitting memorial to members of the ancient churches being slain across the Middle East by ISIS and their fellow travellers; the most fitting memorial to a truly good man, will be for others, from the next generation, to be inspired by the work of Dr.Helmy Guirguis, and to now take up his mantle.


May he strengthen our resolve and deepen our own hearts.  May he rest in peace. 


Icon of the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded in Libya in February 2015
Icon of the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded in Libya in February 2015

Egypt’s Kristallnacht
David Alton

In November 1938, in an orgy of violence which would become known as Kristallnacht, Jewish synagogues, homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked and pillaged. The sledgehammers and petrol left more than 1,000 synagogues burnt and over 7,000 Jewish shops and businesses in ruins. The streets were covered in shards of smashed glass from broken windows.

Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, Berlin, after Kristallnacht in 1938
Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, Berlin, after Kristallnacht in 1938

Compare the charred husk of the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin, in 1938, with pictures of the blackened walls of Degla’s ruined Church of the Virgin Mary, taken recently in Egypt, and you will readily understand why August 2013 represented Egypt’s Kristallnacht.

Degla’s ruined Church of the Virgin Mary, Egypt,  August 2013
Degla’s ruined Church of the Virgin Mary, Egypt, August 2013

Compare the terror of 1938 with the fear of Copts as members of their community have been left dead, others assaulted, and their 118th Pope, Tawadros II, who is now under protection having had death threats made against him.

Pope Tawadros II
Pope Tawadros II

In 1938 The Times commented that: “No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday.”

In August 2013, in an almost identical vein, The Times reported how “Dozens of churches, homes and businesses have been set alight and looted in Egypt, forcing millions of Christians into hiding amid the worst bout of sectarian violence in the country’s modern history. Some Coptic Christian communities are being made to pay bribes as local Islamists exploit the turmoil by seeking to revive a seventh-century tax, called jizya, levied on non-Muslims.”

The Sunday Times described how in one village “First they daubed the Christians’ shops and homes with a red cross. Then the mob stormed the police station before turning its wrath on the church.”

More than 90 churches, monasteries and church buildings have been attacked across the country. The Times said there had been incitement, that Imams in the town of Fayoum reportedly urged supporters to go out and attack churches and Christians.

In Cairo, Franciscan nuns saw the cross over their school gate torn down and replaced by an al-Qaeda flag while the school was burnt down and three nuns were frog marched through the streets while mobs showered them with abuse. One nun said “They paraded us like prisoners of war.”

Joe Stork, acting Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch reported that “Dozens of churches are smouldering ruins, and Christians throughout the country are hiding in their homes, afraid for their very lives”

One of those who died was a young Christian deacon, Wahid Jacob, whose funeral was held last week. He had served the St.John the Baptist Church in Asyut until August 21st, when he was kidnapped. His captors demanded 1.2 million Egyptian pounds ($171,000) – an impossible ransom for his impoverished family. Their inability to pay up led to his execution. The priest who conducted Wahid’s funeral said that the young man’s body, found dumped in a field, was badly tortured. These unconscionable sectarian crimes follow years of indifference to the regular reports of the abduction and forced conversion and marriage of Christian girls; of accompanying violence and rape; discrimination, beatings and abuse.

Attacks on the Copts, who number around 10% of the 85 million Egyptian population have occurred throughout the country, and are well documented in Upper Egypt’s Minya, Assiut and Sohag; in Beni Suef in the Nile Delta; and in the governorates of Giza and Cairo. Although the Tamarod coalition which, on July 3rd, brought the removal of Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood Government had the support of millions of Egyptians – including secularists, intellectuals, students, women, moderate Muslims, and the army – it is the Coptic community who have borne the brunt of these revenge attacks.

The puritan-tendency in the Muslim Brotherhood have blamed Christians for the military coup and their media outlets have whipped up hate. The hatred is then recycled by key Muslim Brotherhood leaders in their speeches to their supporters. Happy for the Christian minority to be used as a scapegoat, the security forces have been largely indifferent to this suffering.

When it comes to the Copts the perpetrators enjoy impunity and can terrorise at leisure. The Economist reported that “nowhere had the police thought to reinforce security, and nowhere did they intervene promptly or with sufficient force.”

This combination of impunity, terror and blackmail prompts the question, where is the solidarity from Christians and non-Christians alike which such events demand? African slaves, abandoned to a life of exploitation, poignantly ask the same question in the words of the African-American Spiritual – “were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

In the aftermath of last week’s events – and well aware of the indifference which has been shown to the fate of Christians throughout the region – it’s the same question which Coptic Christians have been asking of those who have voices but who do not raise them; of those who have resources but who do not use them; and those who have freedom and power but fail to exercise it.

All of us ask should ask ourselves what we said and what we did when they burnt the churches, terrorised the people and killed the Copts. It took the outgoing British Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks – always mindful of the events to which Kristallnacht led, to point to our indifference to the assault on the Copts which he described as “a tragedy going almost unremarked” and is the “religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing”.

Yet, not all consciences have been still and not all voices have been silent. At a protest outside the White House, in chants which echoed those used against Lyndon B. Johnson, in the context of Vietnam, critics of the Obama administration’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood demanded “Obama Obama don’t you care? Copts are dying over there”.

Recall that when Mubarak was removed from office President Obama said that “Egypt will never be the same.” Was the Egypt of the Muslim Brotherhood what he really had in mind? What is his red line for the Copts or, is it true that he has run out of red ink?

Too many in the U.S. who call themselves Progressive, or who can be counted amongst their cheer leaders in Britain, have characterised the Morsi Government and the Muslim Brotherhood as lawful and worthy of support and would have them return to power. The New Statesman says “Either Britain supports democracy abroad or it doesn’t”. The Egyptian military are painted as usurpers and illicit. Where here is any intelligent or truthful assessment – let alone moral indignation – of the tyranny and violence which has been part and parcel of the ideology promoted by the Muslim Brotherhhod and their fellow travellers?

This isn’t just about what passes for democracy. The holding of an election – like the one which ushered in the Third Reich after Kristallnacht – is not the only test of what makes for a democratic society. The rule of law is the first test and the protection of a country’s minorities and women, is the second.

The reality is that the Brotherhood was disastrously incompetent in Government and attempted to bring in a wholly undemocratic Constitution which would have denied vast swathes of the Egyptian population – especially its women and its minorities – their lawful rights. Does that make a country democratic? As Egypt descended into total anarchy was the army supposed to simply stand by and watch it happen?

Despite welcome signals from the new Government of redrawn Constitutional protections it is also reported that it will continue to provide Sharia as the “principal source of law” – and so a raft of civil rights, freedoms, including protection for minorities and equal opportunities for women, will have no guaranteed basis in law.

Egypt’s future can only be based on a secular Constitution where human rights, including the rights of minorities and the right to freedom of religion or belief (including the right not to believe), are respected.

Above all, Egypt’s future will depend on the rule of law. As Human Rights Watch has pointed out, there can be no peace or stability in Egypt if the authorities fail to intervene to prevent the attacks or to bring the perpetrators to justice, or if they ignore the violent rhetoric which whips up hatred. Over the past few years we have regularly pointed to the significant numbers of Copts who have been fleeing Egypt.

In a climate of fear and intimidation, coupled with historic and long-standing discrimination, this exodus is entirely understandable. But if this represents the only future for Copts it will be a tragedy for Egypt and for the Copts’ Muslim neighbours alike. An Egypt which is unable to accept difference and unwilling to promote tolerance will be an increasingly unbearable place for all of its other citizens.

That’s why Egypt’s Kristallnacht matters so much.

David Alton is a member of the British House of Lords and honorary President of UK Copts Association.

Some earlier remarks in February 2103: Egypt’s Second Revolution?

Egypt's new Constitution discriminates against Christians, women, Shias, Buddhists, Bahais and secularists.
Egypt’s new Constitution discriminates against Christians, women, Shias, Buddhists, Bahais and secularists.

Having seen their ideals and dreams left lying amongst their abandoned banners thousands of demonstrators have returned to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, attempting to rekindle their dream of a modern Egypt and a tolerant democracy.

But many other factors are also in the dangerous mix and eruption of widespread violence and discontent – with sixty left dead over five days. A State of Emergency has been declared in several Egyptian cities with the chaos triggering disastrous economic consequences – a collapsing currency and confidence. Sweeping and draconian powers have been given to the police to detain citizens for up to 30 days without any judicial review and to hold trials before special courts.

Economic collapse is the last thing which Egypt needs. 87% of the Gross Domestic product is debt; 65% of the population cannot read or write; around half the population live on the poverty line; and 30% of young people are unemployed. If ever you wanted proof that the devil makes mischief for idle hands it can be seen on Egypt’s streets – and if ever there was a time for a government which understood economics and social justice this is surely that time.

3 Coptic Churches were burnt down last week
3 Coptic Churches were burnt down last week

Instead, with this melt down of Egyptian society we may well be on course for a military coup.
Offering a taste of the pretext which the army would give for seizing power, General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, Chief Commander of the Egyptian Armed Forces and Defence Minister issued a dire warning that “Egypt is at risk of collapse”.

As the army, the Muslim Brotherhood, the security forces and the Opposition all reposition themselves, what has brought Egypt to the brink of civil war?

The key is the sense of betrayal felt by many Egyptians as they watch radical Islamic Salafists increasing their grip on President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government. Demonstrators have begun to refer to Morsi as “Morsilini” – a play on the name of Italy’s fascist dictator.

Their anger is particularly directed at Egypt’s new constitution which institutionalises discrimination against women, minorities and secularists. One of those who drafted it, Sheikh Yasser Borhamy proudly announced that the new constitution would usher in wholly unprecedented controls and “place restrictions on freedom of thought, expression and creativity.”

It is a paradox that the Mulsim Brotherhood is a strong and well organised movement but is a weak a wholly ineffectual government. Adding paradox upon paradox, it is Morsi who, having precipitated the cataclysmic fissures which have brought Egypt to this sorry pass, is now calling for dialogue.
And does he not have the eyes to see that all over the world vibrant, thriving, societies function and succeed precisely because of their diversity and tolerance not because of the suppression of freedom of thought, expression or creativity?

Is this the beginning of a second Egyptian revolution?
Is this the beginning of a second Egyptian revolution?

Bishop Kyrillos William, Administrator of the Coptic Catholic Patriarchate of Alexandria, says that the new constitution threatens human rights: “We were waiting for a constitution that represents the whole of Egypt, but instead we have one that only represents one group of people.”

Bishop William joined Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor and Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Giza in warning against the constitution and voiced concern about its impact on women. It will force non-Muslim women to wear Islamic headscarves and allow women who are “sexually mature” to marry – a clause to legitimise the arranged marriages of young teenage girls. A young Coptic woman said :“I can no longer stand the insults and the spitting in my face because I don’t wear hijab. I have become a stranger in my own country.”

The new constitution implicitly allows child labour and Shiite Muslims, Baha’is, Buddhists and others are not even recognised as existing.

Mursi has been dubbed Mursilini - after the Italian dictator.
Mursi has been dubbed Mursilini – after the Italian dictator.

This further entrenches the unrecognised state of war which exists between Shia and Sunni Muslims and which is being played out across North Africa and the Middle East. If unchecked, that inter-Muslim war will manifest itself in Europe too.

Egypt and Iran represent those two opposing positions and Egypt is in real danger of becoming a mirror image of Iran.

The tightening of Sharia Law, the imposition of restrictions on the media and the judiciary and the curtailing of many civil liberties would put Egypt on course for Iranian style theocratic dictatorship. As in Iran, the radicals have begun an all out assault on secular values and on the Christian minority. Last week alone, Egypt’s ancient Coptic Christian community, who comprise around 10% of the population, saw three of its churches attacked and burnt and homes and shops destroyed.

Around 1,000 Islamists were reported to have attacked the predominantly Christian village of el-Marashda in Upper Egypt. The Christian families were ordered not to leave their homes – although, in a hopeful sign, the village Imam expressed his solidarity with the Christian community and called on Muslims to protect their Christian neighbours.

60 have died in the violence, many more injured and others held by the security forces
60 have died in the violence, many more injured and others held by the security forces

The West has been hopelessly indifferent to the plight of the minorities in the region and wide-eyed and naive in characterising the Arab Spring as a relentless march towards democracy and pluralism. Notwithstanding David Cameron’s remarks in Libya Last week, from Iraq to Syria, the Lebanon to the Gulf, the reality has been a horror story for the besieged Christian communities.

For years the west has turned a blind eye. It has sold arms and courted the dictators and regimes who govern countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia while showing complete indifference to their violations of human rights. In Syria, the UK is aiding and abetting groups who have targeted Christians – in one grotesque incident beheading a Christian man and feeding him to the dogs. Will this be an improvement on Assad?

And what is life like in those countries which are now ruled by Islamists?

Gholamreza Khosravi Savajani Facing the Death Penalty in Iran
Gholamreza Khosravi Savajani Facing the Death Penalty in Iran

Last week in Iran, the prosecutor for the mullahs’ regime in Sari announced the amputation of the fingers of a person charged with robbery. Two days earlier, in Shiraz, they publicly amputated the fingers of a 29 year old man. Ali Alghasi, Shiraz public prosecutor, called the amputations a “serious warning” to all who “cause insecurity”. He emphasized the importance of: “decisiveness and intolerance”. But amputations are only a part of the story in a country which specialises in crushing dissent and fomenting an atmosphere of fear.

Earlier in the week, State media reported that a 27 year old prisoner was publicly hanged in Kerman along with two prisoners in Ilam and Shahroud, one prisoner in Khorramdarreh and three prisoners in Qazvin – all of whom were executed.

As Egypt’s Morsilini tries to emulate Iran, and a second revolution unfolds, the West should be very wary of the company it keeps and not rush to legitimise regimes whose values are inimical to our own.

human rights

Speech In The House of Lords – Tuesday October 29th

2013.Arab Spring

Question October 29th 2013
5.57 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield for initiating this debate. I have a non-pecuniary interest as president of UK Copts. Indeed, my remarks will focus predominantly on the situation in Egypt, following on from what the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, has just said.

Before starting, I must say in parenthesis how much I agree with what the noble Lords, Lord Selkirk of Douglas and Lord Anderson, said about the importance of upholding Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I commend to the Minister the excellent report of the All-Party Group on International Religious Freedom or Belief, of which I am an officer, entitled Article 18: An Orphaned Right, which sets out many of the arguments eloquently expressed today by the noble Lords.

Hostility and even violence against Christians is not new in Egypt, but the turmoil that followed the overthrow of President Mubarak and the subsequent removal of President Morsi has led to unprecedented violence. Just a few days ago, as the members of a community prepared to celebrate a wedding, they sorrowfully returned to their church to bury four of
29 Oct 2013 : Column GC584
the guests, including two little girls: Mariam Ashraf Seha, aged eight, and Mariam Nabeel, aged 12. They were shot dead as two men with automatic weapons opened fire on guests outside the Virgin Mary Church on the west bank of the Nile. Another 17 people were wounded. The most senior cleric at Al-Azhar University, the world’s primary seat of Sunni Islamic learning, described the killings as,
“a criminal act that runs contrary to religion and morals”.
These killings come in the wake of a summer of violence. Writing about the plight of the Copts and the other ancient churches of the Middle East, Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at the University of Oxford, recently wrote:
“It is easy for them to feel abandoned and betrayed by the Christian-based cultures of the West. When will this Western silence end?”.
In November 1938, in an orgy of violence that would become known as Kristallnacht, Jewish synagogues, homes, hospitals and schools were ransacked and pillaged. The sledgehammers and petrol left more than 1,000 synagogues burnt and more than 7,000 Jewish shops and businesses in ruins. The streets were covered in shards of smashed glass from broken windows. If noble Lords compare pictures of the charred husk of the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin, in 1938, with those of the blackened walls of Degla’s ruined Virgin Mary church, taken two months ago in Egypt, they will readily understand why August 2013 represents Egypt’s Kristallnacht. One can also compare the terror of 1938 with the fear among Copts as members of their community have been left dead and others assaulted. Their 118th Pope, Tawadros II, is now under protection, having had death threats made against him.
In 1938, the Times commented:
Reports in the Times and Sunday Times in August 2013 are in an almost identical vein, with the latter paper referring to an event in Cairo where Franciscan nuns saw the cross over their school gate torn down and replaced by an al-Qaeda flag. The school was burnt down and three nuns were frog-marched through the streets while mobs showered them with abuse. One nun was reported as saying that,
“they paraded us like prisoners of war”.
Joe Stork, deputy director for the Middle East at Human Rights Watch, reported that,
“dozens of churches are smouldering ruins, and Christians throughout the country are hiding in their homes, afraid for their very lives”.
It took the outgoing British Chief Rabbi, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks—always mindful of the events to which Kristallnacht led—to point to our indifference to the assault on the Copts, which he described as a tragedy “going almost unremarked” and as,
“the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing”.
That is why Egypt now needs a constitution, an issue being considered as we meet, that protects minorities, women—as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, a few moments ago—and secular groups. It is easy to get into denunciatory mode about the role of armies, but as Egypt saw attempts to impose a theocratic
29 Oct 2013 : Column GC585
state, and the country descended into total anarchy, were those who love their country supposed to simply stand by and watch it happen? Egypt’s future can only be based on a secular constitution where human rights include the rights of women and of minorities and the rights of religion and belief—including the right not to believe—and where all those things are respected.
The 50-member committee tasked with amending the suspended 2012 constitution has, according to the Ahram news website this week, initially adopted an article 47 which stipulates “absolute freedom” of belief for Egyptian citizens and endows the state with the responsibility to ensure free practice of religion. It also adopted a transitional article that will cancel existing restrictions regulating the building of new churches. All this is very welcome, although there is pressure to restrict this to the three monotheistic beliefs, which would exclude Baha’is, for instance. I hope that that will be resisted and will be interested to hear from the Minister whether we have raised that issue directly with the Egyptian authorities.

In a climate of fear and intimidation, coupled with historic and long-standing discrimination, the significant exodus of Copts from Egypt that is now under way is entirely understandable. However, if this represents the only future for Copts it will be a tragedy for Egypt and for the Copts’ Muslim neighbours alike. An Egypt which is unable to accept difference and unwilling to promote tolerance will be an increasingly unbearable place for all of its citizens. That is why Egypt’s Kristallnacht matters so much.
6.03 pm

Pope Francis visits Korea, where Christianity has had a history of persecution. This post tells the story of the thousands who died for their faith – and the story of the Coming of Christianity to Korea.

Posted on Updated on

Also See:

Reuters report on Christianity in North Korea

In North Korea, a church renovated, missionaries jailed

Tue, Aug 12 22:30 PM BST

By James Pearson

SEOUL (Reuters) – Tucked between trees and paddy fields in a quiet suburb in the west of Pyongyang, Chilgol Church is one of four state-operated churches in the capital of a country that espouses freedom of religion but effectively bans it.

In recent months, the Protestant church has been renovated – its rusted iron roof replaced with new tiles, and its faded brown brick walls repainted yellow, according to a North Korean propaganda video. At the same time, North Korea has sentenced two foreign missionaries to hard labour and along the border with China, both countries have cracked down on religious groups.

As Pope Francis visits South Korea this week in his first trip to Asia, religion in North Korea is under the spotlight.

People who regularly travel to the North Korean capital describe its churches as showpieces for foreign residents and tourists. Many foreigners are invited to sit in front-row pews, they say, but are prohibited from mingling with a congregation hand-picked by the state.

North Korea’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion provided it does not undermine the state, but outside of a small handful of state-controlled places of worship, no open religious activity is allowed.

“To be a Christian in North Korea is extremely dangerous, and many Christians who are discovered end up in the prison camps or, in some cases, executed,” said Benedict Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which campaigns for religious freedom.

“The regime demands absolute loyalty and devotion and sees religion as undermining this,” he said.

North Korea turned down an invitation from the South Korean Catholic church for members of its state-run Korean Catholic Association to attend a papal mass next week in Seoul, citing the start of joint U.S.-South Korean military drills, due to begin on the same day.

A United Nations report earlier this year cited estimates that between 200,000 and 400,000 of North Korea’s 24 million people are Christians. The number is impossible to verify because most Christians cannot worship openly.

An overwhelming 99.7 percent of defectors from North Korea said in a survey late last year that there was no religious freedom in the country. Only 4.2 percent said they had seen a Bible when they lived there, said the survey of over eight thousand defectors by the South Korea-based Database Centre for North Korean Human Rights.

In May, the isolated country detained U.S. tourist Jeffrey Fowle for leaving a Bible in the toilet of a site visited by his tour group, and U.S. missionary Kenneth Bae is serving a 15 year hard labour sentence on charges of attempting to bring down the government.

Another missionary, South Korean Kim Jeong-wook, was sentenced to life with hard labour in June after a North Korean court found him guilty of espionage and setting up an underground church.


Religion was once considered part of the North’s unification policy, with the strategy of trying to align with religious leaders in the South who were battling the country’s military rulers at the time. But the success of South Korean religious groups in helping to oust its own military dictatorship may have caused Pyongyang to treat its official relationship with religion more carefully.

“Part of North Korea’s fear of Christianity stems from the successful challenge which Christians like Kim Dae-jung and Cardinal Stephen Kim made in ending the military dictatorship in South Korea,” said Lord David Alton, chairman of the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea.

As head of the Korean Catholic Church, Cardinal Kim helped mobilise South Koreans against South Korea’s military dictatorship in the 1980s, alongside former President and democracy activist Kim Dae-jung, a fellow Roman Catholic.

“With the imminent arrival of Pope Francis in Seoul, they (Pyongyang) will also be reflecting on the role which John Paul II played in ending Eastern European communism,” Alton said.

However, North Korea’s founding president Kim Il Sung was the grandson of a Protestant priest and his mother, Kang Ban Sok, was a devout Christian whose first name came from an early Korean translation of the biblical name Peter.

The Chilgol Church was built in her honour, but sits 300 metres (yards) from a propaganda museum and statues dedicated to her as the revolutionary mother of the man who became father to the state.

As at any church, a softly-spoken vicar may shake hands and chat with visitors as they leave, but officials carefully scrutinise the church after services and count Bibles to make sure none have gone missing, regular visitors say.

In the 1980s, the North, under pressure to change with the deepening of economic problems and main ally China’s growing openness, began looking to foreign religious groups as a means to forge links with the outside world.

The government gave official status to religious groups and allowed the publication of the Bible, and in 1988 the main churches for the Catholic and Protestant faiths, Jangchung and Pongsu, were built in Pyongyang. The Chilgol Church and a Russian Orthodox church were set up later.

But there is no genuine religious freedom in North Korea, the U.S. State Department said in a report late last month. State media dismissed the report as an attempt by the United States to “tarnish its image”.

But fealty to the Kim family that has ruled North Korea for over half a century is paramount.

“They have attempted to replace religion with a cultish dynastic ideology,” said Alton. “But by outlawing religious freedom they have denied their society an engine for social and economic change.”

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Tony Munroe and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

As Pope Francis visits Korea the North Koreans send a missionary to a forced labour camp and according to a United Nations Report thousands of Christians suffer crimes against humanity.

Putting a new roof on Chilgo church in Pyongyang is a maldroit attempt by the North Korean regime to suggest that it respects Christian beliefs and religious freedom. Replacing a decaying rusted roof should be set alongside the sentencing of two missionaries to hard labour and the imprisonment of thousands of North Korean Christians in forced labour camps. A United Nations report says Pyongyang’s treatment of Christians constitutes crimes against humanity while a celebrated international law firm believes it amounts to genocide.

Chilgol is where Kim Jong Un’s great grandmother was an Elder and where she worshipped. It’s not Chilgol’s roof he should be replacing but policies which persecute Christians who have the same beliefs as his great grandmother.

As Pope Francis arrives in South Korea Kim Jong Un should announce an amnesty for imprisoned believers and commit his country to upholding Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees religious freedom. If he did so he would win universal approbation instead of condemnation.

New Pilgrimage
Korean Bishops Embark on Pilgrimage dedicated to Martyrs

Year of Faith Event Commemorates Those Who Gave Their Lives for the Gospel

Followed by The Coming of Christianity To Korea – also see “Building Bridges” (Lion, 2013)

SEOUL, September 17, 2013 ( – Last Tuesday, Korean Bishops embarked, for the first time, a pilgrimage on foot to the Martyrs’ Shrine in Seoul, South Korea. The Year of Faith event marked the Month of Martyrs celebrated in September to commemorate those who gave their life for the Gospel.

St.Andrew Kim, the first Korean Catholic priest, martyred at the age of 25, and St.Paul Chongst_andrew_kim
The Feast of the Korean Martyrs is celebrated on September 20th and commemorates 103 Christians killed during persecutions in the country that went on from 1839-1867. According to Fides News Agency, the Korean Bishops embarking on the pilgrimage were accompanied by over 300 priests, religious, and lay people who reflected on the spirit of martyrdom.

The pilgrimage began with the opening prayer in the chapel at the Songsin Theological Campus, The Catholic University of Korea, in which some pieces of the remains of Saint Andrew Kim Dae-gon (1821-1846) are preserved, the first Korean priest and martyr, canonized by John Paul II in 1984.

The Bishops made a pilgrimage to martyrs’ shrines, following this itinerary: site of the Left Podo-Cheong – police headquarter, execution site of Korean martyrs; the Myeongdong Cathedral, in whose crypt there are the relics of 9 martyrs; Seosomun Martyrs’ Shrine, built on the site where 44 out of the 103 Korean martyrs, many Servants of God and other Catholic martyrs in the earlier Church in Korea sacrificed their lives; Danggogae Martyrs’ Shrine where 10 Korean Catholics were martyred on this hill; Saenamteo Martyrs’ Shrine, where 11 priests were killed; Jeoldusan Martyrs’ Shrine, place of martyrdom during the Byeong-in persecution in 1866. In the underground sepulchre of the church there are the relics of 28 Martyrs, a museum and a large outdoor statue of Saint AndrewKim Dae-geon.

(2) Text of JPII Homily at Canonisation
Mass for the canonization of Korean martyrs, Homily of John Paul II, 6 May 1984

(MAY 2-11, 1984)



Youido Place – Seoul
Sunday, 6 May 1984

“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory”? (Luc. 24, 26)

1. These words, taken from today’s Gospel, were spoken by Jesus as he was going from Jerusalem to Emmaus in the company of two of his disciples. They did not recognize him, and as to an unknown person they described to him all that had happened in Jerusalem in these last days. They spoke of the Passion and death of Jesus on the Cross. They spoke of their own shattered hopes: “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luc. 24, 21). These hopes were buriedwith the death of Jesus.

The two disciples were downhearted. Even though they had heard that the women and the Apostles, on the third day after his death, had failed to find the body of Jesus in the tomb, nevertheless they were completely unaware that he had been seen alive. The disciples did not know that at that precise moment they were actually looking at him, that they were walking in his company, that they were speaking with him. Indeed, their eyes were kept from recognizing him (Ibid. 24, 16).

2. Then Jesus began to explain to them, from Sacred Scripture, that it was precisely through suffering that the Messiah had to reach the glory of the Resurrection. The words alone however did not have the full effect. Even though their hearts were burning within them while they listened to this unknown person, nevertheless he still remained for them an unknown person. It was only during the evening meal, when he took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them that “their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Ibid. 24, 31), but he then disappeared from their sight. Having recognized the Risen Lord, they became witnesses for all time of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Through them, through all the Apostles, through the men and women who were witnesses of the life and death of Jesus Christ, of his Gospel and Resurrection, the truth about him spread first to Jerusalem, next to all Judea, and then to other countries and peoples. It entered into the history of humanity.

3. The truth about Jesus Christ also reached Korean soil. It came by means of books brought from China. And in a most marvellous way, divine grace soon moved your scholarly ancestors first to an intellectual quest for the truth of God’s word and then to a living faith in the Risen Savior.

Yearning for an ever greater share in the Christian faith, your ancestors sent one of their own in 1784 to Peking, where he was baptized. From this good seed was born the first Christian community in Korea, a community unique in the history of the Church by reason of the fact that it was founded entirely by lay people. This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution. Thus, in less than a century, it could already boast of some ten thousand martyrs. The years 1791, 1801, 1827, 1839, 1846 and 1866 are forever signed with the holy blood of your Martyrs and engraved in your hearts.

Even though the Christians in the first half century had only two priests from China to assist them, and these only for a time, they deepened their unity in Christ through prayer and fraternal love; they disregarded social classes and encouraged religious vocations. And they sought ever closer union with their Bishop in Peking and the Pope in faraway Rome.

After years of pleading for more priests to be sent, your Christian ancestors welcomed the first French missionaries in 1836. Some of these, too, are numbered among the Martyrs who gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel, and who are being canonized today in this historic celebration.

The splendid flowering of the Church in Korea today is indeed the fruit of the heroic witness of the Martyrs. Even today, their undying spirit sustains the Christians in the Church of silence in the North of this tragically divided land.

4. Today then it is given to me, as the Bishop of Rome and Successor of Saint Peter in that Apostolic See, to participate in the Jubilee of the Church on Korean soil. I have already spent several days in your midst as a pilgrim, fulfilling as Bishop and Pope my service to the sons and daughters of the beloved Korean nation. Today’s Liturgy constitutes the culminating point of this pastoral service.

For behold: through this Liturgy of Canonization the Blessed Korean Martyrs are inscribed in the list of the Saints of the Catholic Church. These are true sons and daughters of your nation, and they are joined by a number of missionaries from other lands. They are your ancestors, according to the flesh, language and culture. At the same time they are your fathers and mothers in the faith, a faith to which they bore witness by the shedding of their blood.

From the thirteen-year-old Peter Yu to the seventy-two-year-old Mark Chong, men and women, clergy and laity, rich and poor, ordinary people and nobles, many of them descendants of earlier unsung martyrs – they all gladly died for the sake of Christ.

Listen to the last words of Teresa Kwon, one of the early Martyrs: “Since the Lord of Heaven is the Father of all mankind and the Lord of all creation, how can you ask me to betray him? Even in this world anyone who betrays his own father or mother will not be forgiven. All the more may I never betray him who is the Father of us all”.

A generation later, Peter Yu’s father Augustine firmly declares: “Once having known God, I cannot possibly betray him”. Peter Cho goes even further and says: “Even supposing that one’s own father committed a crime, still one cannot disown him as no longer being one’s father. How then can I say that I do not know the heavenly Lord Father who is so good?”.

And what did the seventeen-year-old Agatha Yi say when she and her younger brother were falsely told that their parents had betrayed the faith? “Whether my parents betrayed or not is their affair. As for us, we cannot betray the Lord of heaven whom we have always served”. Hearing this, six other adult Christians freely delivered themselves to the magistrate to be martyred. Agatha, her parents and those other six are all being canonized today. In addition, there are countless other unknown, humble martyrs who no less faithfully and bravely served the Lord.

5. The Korean Martyrs ave borne witness to the crucified and risen Christ.Through the sacrifice of their own lives they have become like Christ in a very special way. The words of Saint Paul the Apostle could truly have been spoken by them: We are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies . . . We are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh”.

The death of the martyrs is similar to the death of Christ on the Cross, because like his, theirs has become the beginning of new life. This new life was manifested not only in themselves – in those who underwent death for Christ – but it was alsoextended to others. It became the leaven of the Church as the living community of disciples and witnesses to Jesus Christ. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians”: this phrase from the first centuries of Christianity is confirmed before our eyes.

Today the Church on Korean soil desires in a solemn way to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the gift of the Redemption. It is of this gift that Saint Peter writes: “You were ransomed . . . not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ”. To this lofty price, to this price of the Redemption, your Church desires, on the basis of the witness of the Korean Martyrs, to add an enduring witness of faith, hope and charity.

Through this witness may Jesus Christ be ever more widely known in your land: the crucified and risen Christ. Christ, the Way and the Truth and the Life. Christ, true God: the Son of the living God. Christ, true man: the Son of the Virgin Mary.

Once at Emmaus two disciples recognized Christ “in the breaking of the bread”. On Korean soil may ever new disciples recognize him in the Eucharist. Receive his body and blood under the appearances of bread and wine, and may he the Redeemer of the world receive you into the union of his Body, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

May this solemn day become a pledge of life and of holiness for future generations. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and is living in his Church today. “Yes it is true. The Lord has risen”. Amen. Alleluia!

With thanks to – Libreria Editrice Vaticana (1984)

(3) Background info. on some of the martyrs
Saint Paul Chong Hasang

St. Paul Chong Hasang(1795-1839) was one of the lay leaders who have participated in the establishment of the early Korean Catholic Church. He was also the second son of Chung, Yak Jong, a martyr who was killed during the Shin-Yu Persecution (1801). During this persecution, the Korea’s only priest, Chu, Moon Mo and many prominent leaders of the early Korean Catholic Church were martyred. After these incidents, it seemed impossible to reconstruct the devastated Korean Catholic community. It was St. Paul Chong Hasang who gathered the scattered Korean Catholic members and ignited their hearts with the raging flames of faith. Furthermore, he reorganized the structures and activities of the Korean Catholic church and initiated a movement for the Beijing Bishop to send priests to Korea.

To accomplish this mission, from 1816, he has crossed the China borders nine times, overcoming many dangers and fiercely cold weathers, totaling 2000 Km of round trips. He entered the China territory as a lowly servant to the Korean diplomatic members who have made their annual tributary missions to China to exchange gifts with the Chinese Emperor. By using these opportunities in Beijing, St. Paul Chong requested many times that the Beijing Bishop send priests to Korea. As many of his attempts failed, he directly pleaded the case to Pope Gregory X. Finally, on September 9th, 1831, the Pope proclaimed the legitimacy of the Korean Catholic Diocese to the World.

The followings are St. Paul Chong Hasang’s main achievements:

First, he was the leader of the early Korean Catholic Church during the persecution period, during which he provided the essential momentum to establish the Korean Catholic Diocese with progressive and worldly vision.

Second, he contributed greatly to the development of the Korean Catholic Church by dedicating his life to accommodating and assisting the priests who were sent to Korea after the establishment of the Korean Catholic Archdiocese.

Third, he was one of the seminary students of Bishop Imbert to become a priest. However, during the Gi Hye Persecution in 1839, the bishop and St. Paul Chong Hasang were martyred, unfortunately he was unable to actualize his dream of becoming a priest.

Fourth, he wrote a document declaring the position of the Korean Catholic Church that the Catholic faith is good for the nation but not a threat, the Sang-Je-Sang-Su. In this document, he firmly pleaded to the persecutors to stop persecuting Catholic members. The document, Sang-Je-Sang-Su, is a short writing of only two thousands words but, it is a well written Catholic doctrine explaining why the Korean government should not persecute Catholics.

Fifth, his martyrdom became the testimony of his faith toward Christ and through his eternal glory, he became the pinnacle of the Korean Catholic faith.

St. Paul Chong Hasang was martyred at the age of forty-five on September 22, 1839 during the Gi Hye Persecution. Two months later, his mother, Yu Cecilia, passed away during the imprisonment and the following month, his younger sister, Jung Hye was also martyred. The three martyrs were beatified on June 6th, 1925 and were canonized, declared as saints, on May 6, 1984 by Pope John Paul II.

Korean martyrs

The lives of a few more of these martyrs, from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea.

Saint Kim Ob-I Magdalene (1774-1839)
Saint Kim A-gi Agatha (1787-1839)
Saint Han A-gi Barbara (1792-1839)

Kim Ob-I Magdalene and Han A-gi Barbara were arrested together in September 1836. It is not certain whether Kim A-gi Agatha was captured with them or at her own home. In any event, the three of them were taken into custody on the same day.

In prison they found themselves in the company of several other Catholics. They were Nam Myong-hyok Damian, accused of hiding the bishop’s vestments, Kwon Tug-in Peter, accused of making and selling crucifixes and holy pictures, Pak A-gi Anna, who remained in prison despite the apostasy of her husband and children and Yi Ho-yong, Peter’s sister Yi Agatha.

The first to be questioned was Pak A-gi Anna. In spite of the torture she remained unbowed.

“So what if my husband and son have apostatized! I choose to keep my faith and die for it,” she lightly answered the police. Next was Han A-gi Barbara. No less brave than Pak A-gi Anna, her body was a bloody mess when they had finished with her. While Han A-gi Barbara was undergoing torture, Kim Ob-I Magnalene have witnessed her faith by explaining Catholic doctrine to the police commissioner. Next Kim Agatha was called.

“It is true you believe in the Catholic Church?”

“I don’t know anything but Jesus and Mary.”

“If you could save your life by rejecting Jesus and Mary, wouldn’t you reject them?”

“I would rather die than reject them.”

And in spite of the tortures Agatha could not be persuaded to change her mind. Seeing this the police commissioner had them moved to prison. When the other Catholic prisoners saw Kim A-gi Agatha arriving they cheerfully greeted her.

“Here comes Agatha who doesn’t know anything but Jesus and Mary,” they said, congratulating her on her bravery.

Because of her inability to learn the doctrine and prayers Kim A-gi Agatha had not yet been baptized. She was the first to be baptized in prison during the persecution.

Baptism gave her new strength and with it she went on to overcome terrible torture and punishment.

After all the investigations and trials, death sentences were handed down on Nam Myong-hyok Damian, Kwon Tug-in Peter and Pak A-gi Anna on May 11, 1839. The next day Yi Kwang-hon Augustine and Pak H.I.-sun Lucy were also sentenced to death.

It took three more days of discussion before Kim Ob-I Magdalene, Han A-gi Barbara and Kim A-gi Agatha were given the sentence for believing in Catholicism and refusing to give up that belief.

Finally May 24, 1839, arrived. The events of that day are described by Cho Shin-ch’ol Charles as follows “On the appointed day ox carts, with crosses taller than the average person erected on them, were brought to the jail. When all was ready guards brought the condemned prisoners out and tied them to the crosses by the arms and hair. A foot rest was put under their feet and the signal given to depart.

When they arrived at the steep hill on which the Small West Gate is situated the guards suddenly pulled away the foot rests and the drivers urged the oxen to run headlong down. The rad is rough, with many stones. The carts lurched, causing extreme agony to the prisoners who were hung on the crosses by their arms and hair. The execution ground is a the foot of the hill. The guards took the prisoners from the crosses and tore off their clothes. The executioners tied their hair to the wooden beam and proceeded to cut off their heads.”

The nine martyrs received their crown at three o’clock in the afternoon, the same time as Jesus breathed his last on the cross several tens of centuries. In accordance with the law the bodies were left at the execution site for three days.
Korean martyrs 2

In the court record of the time it is written:

“On April 12, Yi Kwang-hon Augustine, Kwon Tug-in Peter and others, in all none criminals, were executed for following the false religion.”

Bishop Imbert wrote as follow:

“With difficulty we reclaimed the bodies at dawn on April 27. We buried the bodies of the martyrs at a place I had prepared earlier. I would have liked to have dressed the bodies in fine clothes and anointed them with expensive perfume, in the European manner. However, we are poor and to dress the bodies in this way would have been a burden on the Catholics, so we just wrapped them in straw matting. Now we have many protectors in heaven. When the day of religious freedom comes to Korea, as I know it will, these bodies will be a precious heritage.”

Saint Kim Ob-I Magdalene, Saint Kim A-gi Agatha and Saint Han A-gi Barbara were beatified on July 5, 1925 and together they were canonized on May 6, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.

Saint You Chin-gil Augustine (1791-1839)

St. Yu Chin-gil Augustine came from a family of government officials. Among the Korean martyrs, he was one of three who held government posts and the father of the 13-year-old martyr, St. Yu Tae-ch’ol Peter, the youngest of the 103 Korean Martyr Saints.

He was known as a man of deep contemplation. Curious about the origin and meaning of natural phenomena, especially philosophical and religious truths on the origin of man he spent much of the night examining the texts of Neo-Confucianism looking for answers. However, the more he studied the classics the more dissatisfied he became with the Tae-geuk-eum-yang (traditional Korean explanation of reality). His search led him on to investigate the teachings of Taoism and Buddhism. What is the origin of the universe? Is it the Li (basic principle) that Neo-Confucianists talked about or is it the Kong (emptiness) of Buddhism or the Mu (nothingness) of Taoism?

In his youth he heard of the Catholics who had been arrested and killed. He began to wonder if the books they had studied could be of any help to him. One day he came upon an old chest hidden away in a corner of the house. Inside it was lined with sheets of paper on which words like “spirit of life”, “spirit of understanding””and “soul” were written. Such terms had not appeared in any of the books he had read. On tearing off the sheets and putting them together he found the parts of the book called the Cheon-ju-sil-ui (True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven).

The first Catholic writings had been brought into Korea by envoys or interpreters who had gone on official business to Beijing. Since Yu Chin-gil’s family members had visited China as interpreters they were among those who brought back such books. However, during the persecution of 1801, when people were ordered to destroy all books on Western Learning, Yu’s family used the book to repair a tattered storage chest.

Yu Chin-gil went over the torn pages a number of times. They touched on the questions that had bothered him. But the few torn pages were not enough to satisfy him. So in the hope of finding a complete copy he began to inquire as to where he could meet Catholics. One day he met Yi Kyong-on Paul who was the younger brother of Yi Kyong-do Charles and Yi Soon-I Lutgardis who had been martyred in 1801. They had a long conversation and found that they were of the same mind. Yu borrowed True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven and other books on Western Learning. He discovered the one who created and supervised the world. It was not the basic principle that Neo-Confucianists talked about nor was it the Kong of Buddhism or the Mu of Taosim. It is the Lord who resides in Heaven. Humans have not only bodies but also souls, so when people die their bodies are disintegrated but their souls are immortal and subject to the final judgement of God.

He got down on his knees and marvelled.

“The true nature of humans is not to grow and get fat but to burnish their soul till it becomes bright and beautiful. This indeed is the correct truth.” He felt as if the eyes of his soul opened and he began to see the sun shining through dark clouds.

He went back to Yi Paul from whom he learnt Our Father and Hail Mary as well as the Ten Commandments. Soon he was ready to enter the Church. Through a meeting of Western and Eastern thought, Yu Chin-gil solved the question that had troubled him most. He was introduced to Chung Ha-sang Paul and other Catholics.

At that time, following the persecution of 1801 when Father Chu Mun-mo, Chinese priest sent from Beijing, was martyred, there was not a priest in Korea. The Catholics who had survived were struggling to re-establish the Church and to have another priest sent in from China. Even though he had not yet received baptism, on the instructions of Chung Ha-sang Paul, he recited morning prayer and evening prayer each day and faithfully followed the Ten Commandments.

In October of 1824 the winter diplomatic delegation was preparing to go to China. Yu Chin-gil did not want to miss this opportunity, so he made every efforts to be included as an interpreter and to have the noble-born Chung Ha-sang Paul to accompany him disguised as a servant.

Korean martyrs3

The delegation safely arrived in Beijing. Avoiding their companions, the two Catholics slipped off to meet the Bishop of Beijing. In Chinese, Yu asked him for baptism. The Bishop was delighted to receive visitors from so far away but felt he should question Yu Chin-gil to find out how much he knew about the teachings of the Church. Yu Chin-gil replied with the answers exactly as they were in the catechism. Why are humans born into the world? To know and honor God and to save their souls…” The Bishop was amazed that such zealous and well-instructed believer could come out of a Church that was being persecuted and had no clergy. “This is indeed a miracle of God,”” he exclaimed.

Yu Chin-gil was baptized during a special Mass. When the priest recited, “Receive and eat this. It is my body which will be offered up for you,”” he felt as if the blood of Jesus was flowing through his own veins.

He returned to his lodgings but was unable to sleep. He felt as though his heart was shining brightly in the dark room. He was moved by a deep religious experience. He knelt down and prayed.

“God, I thank you for the wonderful way in which You have led me to baptism. Send priests to our land so that the people there who live in darkness might have the joy of receiving the Eucharist. May this foolish servant, no matter what suffering or persecution is to come, give witness to You by offering my life in Lord’s work of opening the eyes of our nation. Give me the deep faith, strength and courage that I need. Amen.”

The Korean envoys learned from the priests in Beijing about practical sciences and Western inventions. In their discussions with the Western priests they became familiar with many aspects of Western learning. They were particularly surprised to learn that China was not the center of the world nor the most enlightened nation in the world. They were surprised to hear that humans were not created as nobles or commoners, but the division was a social system by which the nobles oppressed the commoners. Humans were all equal before God and all brothers and sisters in Christ, the Son of God. With words like equality, universal love and freedom ringing in his ears, Yu Chin-gil Augustine felt as if the teachings of the Chinese sages had come crashing down around him. It was as if he had heard the roar of thunder and seen Jesus rise from Golgotha. It was a sign of faith and a discovery of God. Even before he had set out for Beijing he had a faith that did not fear death, but after meeting the Western priests his understanding had deepened and his eyes had grown brighter.

Korean Martyrs 10 St__Nam_Chong-sam_John_B__(Kim_Tai,_90x72,_1984)

Korean Catholics, because of their faith, were to lead a profound change in the consciousness of the Korean people. In a nation which did not know such a God, they were to sow seeds which would alter lives. This was due to their own love of truth and the providence of God. Yu Chin-gil, Augustine and Chong Ha-sang Paul asked the priests to see the bishop who welcomed them and asked about the need of the Church in Korea. Yu Chin-gil Augustine told him of the difficulties they had to overcome in order to meet the bishop. Their Church was in a pitiful state. For almost 20 years it was without a priest. Yu Chin-gil Augustine was fortunate in being able to come to China and receive baptism, but there were many catechumens in Korea who were unable to receive baptism and many Catholics who could not receive Confirmation, Confession, the Eucharist or the other sacraments. The bishop was moved by what they said. He replied regretfully that, because of the persecutions in China, priests could not go into that country freely either and so he had no one to send to Korea. However, if they wrote directly to the Pope explaining the situation the bishop would do all he could to support their request. Yu Chin-gil Augustine and Chong Ha-sang Paul took courage from the bishop’s promise to help them. They returned to their lodging and composed the following letter requesting priests. Knowing that if this letter was discovered by the Korean authorities it would lead to another persecution, they signed it with the name “Ambrose”.

Holy Father, With troubled heart we greet Your Holiness and seek your help. Since Fr. Zhou Mun-mo was martyred, the spread of the Gospel has been blocked by persecutions. About one thousand believers remain in hiding and can do little by way of witness or evangelization.

No matter how much truth the teaching of the Korean Church contains, if the Church continues in its present form that truth will be wasted. Because our brains are dull the teaching of the Church do not bear fruit and the grace of God is being blocked. Those dying from old age or sickness cannot receive the Last Rites and go to their graves in sorrow. Those they leave behind endure in grief and are tired of life. Sorrow and pain are gradually eating into our hearts. Therefore, despite the dangers involved, we have on a number of occasions asked the Bishop of Beijing to help us. The bishop sympathizes with us in our concern and would like to send priests to give new life to souls that have fallen into sin, but he has no one available.

Having explained the situation in Korea in this way, they suggested that there might be missionaries in Macao who could come to their assistance. They went on to state the way that the priests should come, if they came by boat, how many sailors they would need, what dangers to avoid, the best places to land and how to handle any officials they might encounter.

When they had finished the letter to the Pope they gave it to the bishop. The bishop, in turn, sent it to the representative of the Congregation for Evangelization in Macao, Fr. Umpierres, who translated it into Latin and sent it on to the Pope on December 3, 1826. On their return to Korea, Yu Chin-gil Augustine and Chong Ha-sang Paul gave a full report to Nam Myong-hyok and the other leaders. News of the letter they had sent to the Pope gave new hope and courage to the fragile Church. When Yu Chin-gil Augustine returned home good news awaited him. He now had a son whom he named Tae-ch’ol Peter.

Due to appeals by You Chin-gil Augustine and his companions, Pope Gregory XVI, on September 9, 1831, established Korea as a Vicariate Apostolate separate from Beijing and appointed Bartholomew Bruguiere of the Paris Foreign Mission Society as its first bishop. This initiative was due to the letter of 1826 which so moved the Pope.

Bishop Bruguiere, who had been working in Bangkok, Thailand, received news of his appointment as first bishop of Korea sometime after July 25, 1832. Unfortunately, in his efforts to enter Korea, Bishop Bruguiere fell ill in Yodong while traveling towards Korea and died on October 20, 1835. This news soon reached Korea. You Chin-gil Augustine and his companions were much saddened, but determined to keep up their efforts to help other priests to enter the country. Meantime, You Chin-gil Augustine acted like a priest and converted many prominent people and scholars. However he couldn’t convert his own wife and daughters although his son followed him in faith. His 13-year old first son, You Tae-ch’ol Peter, became the youngest of the 103 Martyr Saints of Korea.

You Chin-gil Augustine was arrested at home in July of 1839. Many of his relatives begged him to renounce his religion, but he refused to do so. They reminded him of what would happen to his family, position and property, but You Chin-gil Augustine told them that it was more important to save souls than to take care of bodies, although he was sorry to cause trouble for them. The police chief interrogated. “As a government official, how can you adhere to a religion prohibited by the government? Reveal where the Catholics and the books are hidden.”You Chin-gil Augustine did not reveal anything, and so he was severely tortured on five occasions, and his flesh was torn apart.

The police chief asked You Chin-gil Augustine about Bishop Imbert and two other missionaries. Augustine told him that they came to Korea to teach Korean people about God and to help them save their souls. He said that the missionaries didn’t seek their own glory, wealth and pleasure. The police chief questioned who brought them to Korea. You Chin-gil Augustine said that he did. The police chief then brought in Bishop Imbert and questioned them together. The bishop told You Chin-gil Augustine that the government already knew that Fathers Maubant and Chastan were in Korea.

However, You Chin-gil Augustine refused to reveal the names of the Church leaders in Korea. His legs were twisted and tied with ropes, and were bleeding profusely.

Police interrogation continued. “This is not the sort of crime a stupid and low class person like you could do on your own. Who among the Catholics masterminded this? Since you have abandoned the beautiful customs and ritual of your country and accepted the treacherous ways of the foreigner, even if you were put to death ten thousand times, would the punishment not be too light? This is a solemn interrogation. So answer carefully without any deceit.” They stressed that since Catholic teaching was false, treacherous and anti-social, those who brought foreign priests into the country had committed treason.

However, You Chin-gil Augustine answered them calmly. “I have already told the investigating officers all that I did. Ten years ago I joined Chong Ha-sang Paul and his group in studying about the Catholic Church. When I reflected on what I learned, I realized that there are various sacraments and procedures in the Church which can be performed only by a priest. Since God is the supreme Lord of heaven and earth, we have to believe in Him and praise Him. The only crime I committed is to deceive the king since this teaching is prohibited in our country. I have already spent three months in jail. Among the Catholics I know, some have suffered the death penalty, some are held in prison and the rest have been scattered like the wind. Since I was born and have lived in the capital how could I know anything about the people in the country? If I have committed any great crime, I’m alone the responsible.” The police chief asked again. “How did you come to brake the law of the country and fall into these traitorous acts?” He replied. “how can you compare suffering the death penalty with going to hell after death? Which is the worse?” You Gin-gil Augustine said and did not want to argue with them further. So, he said. “I have nothing to say further. My only sin was to deceive the king.”

After this, You Chin-gil Augustine was tortured on two further occasions. His flesh was torn apart and his bones terribly crushed. But his faith did not waver and received the death sentence.

On September 22, 1839, You Chin-gil Augustine and Chong Ha-sang Paul were taken outside the Small West Gate in Seoul. On the way to the place of execution You Chin-gil Augustine showed no sign of fear. It was as if he had no interest in the things of the world and was lost in contemplation. With serene faces he was beheaded. You Chin-gil Augustine was beatified on July 5th, 1925 and canonized on May 6th, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.

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Saint Kim Song-im Martha (1787-1839)

In the “Diary of the Persecution of 1839″, Saint Kim Song-im Martha is referred to as Pup’yong House, a title referring to the fact that she was married to someone from Pup’yong.

Kim Song-im was a 50-year old pagan widow. Her husband was of a very uncompromising temperament and they did not thave a peaceful relationship. This was before Kim Song-im became a Catholic. The situation became so bad taht she had no choice but to separate from her husband. She left quietly and went to live in Hanyang. There she met and lived with a blind man who made a living by telling fortunes. At this stage she was over fifty but she still had not learned about the Catholic faith.

One day she heard about the God and His Only Son, Jesus, from a Catholic who was living in the same house. With this encounter she began to believe in God and her faith grown eventually.

Life with her blind husband had been difficult but when he suddenly died Kim Song-im Martha’s future looked bleak. Some Catholic came to her aid. Martha began working in the houses of the Catholic firneds to repay their help. It was during this period that her faith grew deeper and she repented of her past sins, her inability to put up with her first husband and her subsenquent living by superstition.

At times Martha felt deep sorrow but in her total dependence on the Lord she came through her depression The concern and Christian example of the other Catholics made her realize and confirm how great is the love of God.

One day Martha was with Yi Magdalena, Yi Theresa and Kim Lucy talking about the persecution, the courageous martyrs and the happiness of Heaven. They were so deeply moved by the love of God that all decided to give themselves up to the government authorities to profess their faith.

They wanted to do mortification and sacrifice following the cross of Jesus Christ. The Hisotry of the Catholic Church in Korea says: “Voluntary surrrender is not in accordance with the ordinary rules. However, it might have been evoked by divine grace, or God might have given His tacit approval to them, because the women were steadfast in their faith and wanting to be witness of God by being martyrs. There are other laudable examples in church history, such as St. Plollina, St. Aurelia and others.”

By the end of March or in the beginning of April of 1839 these courageous women went to the police station and told the police to put them in prison because they were Catholics. To the unbelieving policemen they showed their rosaries. The police tied them up and put them in prison. Therefore, it can be easily understood that these pious women courageously endured all tortures and pains for the love of God.

The police chief interrogated the women.

“Do you believe that the Catholic religious in the true religion?”

“Of course, we do. Otherwise we woudln’t be here.”

“Deny God.”

“We can never deny God. Even if we have to dies.”

” Are you not afraid of turtures?”

“You are wasting time in persuading us to deny God. We surendered ourselves for the sake of God. How can we deny Him” We will die if required by the law of the country, but we can never deny God.”

They were repeatedly and severly tortured. The courageous women were sent to the higher court, where they were interrogated atain.

“Do you still believe that the Catholic religion is the tru religons?”

“Yes, we do. We worship God, and we are determined to die for Him.”

The police chief tortured the women more severly than others to punish them for surrendering themselves. But they didn’t succumb to him. They were finally sentenced to death.

According to the government Sungjongwon Diary, these four pious women and four otehr Catholics were beheaded outside the Small West Gate on July 20th, 1839. Martha was 53 years old, when she was killed for her faith.

She was beatified on July 25th, 1925 and canonized on May 6th, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.

Won Kwi-im Maria (1819-1839)

Won Kwi-im Maria was boarn in 1819 in Yongmori, Kyuanggun. She lost her mother when she was a child, and followed her father, who wandered around begging for food. When she was nine years old, one of her relatives, Won Lucy, who was a very devout Catholic, took her and taught her prayers and the catechism. She also taught Maria embroidery for her lifelihood. Maria was very intelligent, genial and pious. Her aunt was proud of Maria’s devotion and faithfulness. Maria was baptized at the age of 15. Soon after that she received an offer of marriage. But she refused to be married because she wanted to offer herself to God. The next year she put her hair up in a style which indicated that she was a married woman.

Maria was accused of being a Catholic by a neighbor and was arrested. She looked a little discouraged when she first was put in prison. But she thought that everything was according to God’s Will, and regained her usual peacefulness. Mary was interrogated by the police chief.

“Are you a Catholic?”

“Yes, I am, as you say.”

“Deny God, and you will be saved.”

“I want to worship God and save my soul. If I have to die, I would rather die for God to save my soul.”
Maria’s legs were twisted and she was beaten with a cudgel. Many of her bones were dislocated, but her faith was not shaken.

According to the government document Sungjongwon Diary, Maria and seven other Catholics were beheaded outside the Small West Gate on July 20th, 1839. Maria was 22 years old, when she was crowned with martyrdom.

She was beatified on July 25th, 1925 and canonized on May 6th, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.


Saint Kim Barbara (1805-1839)

Saint Kim Barbara was one of those who died of disease while in prison. According to Hyon Sok-mum Charles in the “Diary of the Persecution of 1839″, over sixty people died of torture and disease in prison.

In fact, while the pain of torture was terrible, every day prison life was even worse and unbearable. There were many who bravely witnessed through all forms of torture, but finally gave in because of the hunger and thirst. Given no more than two fistfuls of rice a day the prisoners were often reduced to eating the dirty straw they lay on. Also, with a large number of people crammed into the small cells, it was inevitable that disease would break out and spread very quickly. Bishop Daveluy, who would himself later die as a martyr, wrote of the prison situation: Our Catholics were packed in so tightly that they could not even spread out their legs to sleep. Compared to the suffering of imprisonment the pain of torture was nothing. On top of everything else the stench from their rotting wounds was unbearable and in the heat typhoid would break out killing several in a few days.

People like Kim Barbara suffered the extremes of prison life. Those in prison worried most whether they would live long enough to claim the glory of martyrdom from the executioner’s sword.

Kim Barbara was born to very poor family in Kyonggi Province. Her family was Catholic, but not very devout. At the age of thirteen Kim Barbara was sent as a servant to the wealthy Catholic family of Hwang Maria. It was there she spiritually met God and her devotion for Jesus grew. She was forthright and diligent, inscribing in her heart the teachings of the Lord. Very much aware of the Lord’s grace in her life, she was determined to remain a virgin.

One day her father came to tell her that a match had been made for her with a young Catholic man.

“It is very good match and we have already agreed to it so you must now prepare for marriage,” he told her.

“It is my wish to preserve my chastity for the Lord.”

“If husband and wife are both believers there are no obstacles for a faithful life and this match will be advantageous for you, so do not be so obstinate,” her father responded and she had no choice but to agree to the marriage.

However, it turned out that her husband was a pagan and all her efforts to convert him were of no use. She had several children of whom she only managed to baptize a daughter. Differences in faith created many difficulties between the couple and these problems were never resolved. After her husband’s death she was able to devote herself to prayers and good works.

With the arrival of foreign priests in the country she was able to lead a more fervent and happy spiritual life. Barbara was arrested in March, 1839, and subjected to torture, but she refused to apostatize or reveal the name of other Catholics. During the three months of her prison life she suffered from torture, hunger, thirst and disease. On May 27th, 1839, Kim Barbara died of typhoid fever lying on the dirty mat of her cell at age of thirty-five. She was beatified on July 5th, 1925 and canonized on May 6th, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.

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Saint Kim Rosa (1784-1839)

In June 1839, Cho Pyong-ku who had a pathological hatred for Catholics took control of the Korean government. On July 5th, a decree came down to completely eradicate the Church. The first to be martyred after this decree were eight Catholics who were already in prison. Of these Kim Rosa was the first to have been arrested.

Kim Rosa was born in a non-Catholic family in 1784, Hanyang. She was married, but she and her husband subsequently separated. After the separation Kim Rosa went to live with a Catholic relative and this was her first contact with the Church. Although it was late in her life she happily applied herself to learning the doctrine. She was intelligent and could communicate well so she was able to make others understand the value of her belief. She taught her mother and older brother the truths of the faith helping them to repent of their past. Thus the family was able to live in harmony, practicing the teaching of the Church.
Kim Rosa lived according to her faith, examined her conscience frequently, repented her sins and prayed constantly. She had high respect for priests and did all she could to help them. She was a model to other Catholics.

On January 16th, 1838, in the middle of the night, the police surrounded her house but she did not show any concern. Happy that at last her time had come, she went to prison calling on the names of Jesus and Mary. She never betrayed her faith, but testified to all in the prison. Even the guards were impressed by her attitude. However, she could not avoid the fury of the government. When she first appeared before the judge he displayed all the instruments of torture before her and said,

“Criminal Kim Rosa, before we use these instruments to break your leg and lacerate your flesh, give up your God and report the names of other Catholics.”

“Judge! I cannot give up my God. He is the Creator and Father to all of us. He loves virtue and punishes sin, so how could I abandon Him? Harming others is also a sin. A long time ago I decided to shed my blood for these truths. Do as you please.”

“Listen to me, criminal. Your religion’s doctrine has been forbidden by our king, yet you still insist on belnging to that Church?”

“My body is now in the hands of the king but before that it belonged to God. We are all God’s sons and daughters. How is it that Your Excellency does not know this simple fact?”

The judge was furious and had her tortured before sentencing her to death. The sentence was carried out on July 20th, 1839. She was fifty-six years old. Kim Rosa was beatified on July 5th, 1925 and canonized on May 6th, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.

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The Coming of Christianity To Korea

In 1984, Pope John Paul II visited the flat sands of the Han River and there forty seven Korean women, fort seven Korean men, seven French priests and three French Bishops, all martyred for their Christian faith, were canonized as saints. It was the first time that such a ceremony had been performed away from Rome. Those chosen were a representative group from among thousands who lost their lives refusing to renounce their religious beliefs.

John Paul described the Korean church as “a community unique in the history of the church.” Although her story is one of great suffering and endurance that is not what makes the coming of Christianity to Korea unique: it is unique because of the manner of its coming. It was a church formed without foreign missionaries and by lay people.

The first news of Christianity came to Korea in the seventeenth century. It entered via the caravan which travelled each winter to China – where, to Peking, goods, gifts and slaves would be taken in tribute to its powerful neighbour. Returning travelers brought news of agriculture, astronomy and mathematics – part of the early “scientific diplomacy” practiced by the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.

The Cambridge scholar, historian and Fellow of Jesus College, Mary Laven, in her superb “Mission to China” charts the late sixteenth, early seventeenth century encounter of the remarkable Italian Jesuit, Matteo Ricci, with China. These were the ideas with which Korean travelers would connect.
Laven forensically analyses the challenges which faced Ricci and his compatriot, Michele Ruggieri, and details the more than two thousand conversions and the widespread dissemination of the Christian narrative which followed Ricci’s arrival in the Orient.
On reaching China the Europeans initially shaved their heads and dressed as monks but soon realised that by identifying with Buddhist and Taoist idolatry they were failing to reach the literati – the educated Confucian elite. So, Ricci chose instead to dress and behave as a Confucian scholar – engaging China’s culture and leadership through science, books and reason – fides et ratio.
“The Chinese have a wonderful intelligence, natural and acute” he wrote…”From which, if we could teach our sciences, not only would they have great success among these eminent men, but it would also be a means of introducing them easily to our holy law and they would never forget such a benefit.”
Unlike his more aggressive Portuguese and Spanish counterparts, whose presence in Macao became a source of conflict with the Chinese authorities, Ricci’s admiring embrace of Chinese culture, language and customs, gradually made him persona grata in many circles.
Ricci’s publication of his world map, the Mappamondo, along with translations of Western classical scholarship; his knowledge of astronomy and mathematics; his decision to import hitherto unknown musical instruments, such as the harpsichord, along with Venetian prisms and mechanical clocks, gained him acceptance and, despite occasional attempts to close the missions, the ultimate forbearance of the Emperor.
His legacy included astronomical instruments and installations brought by Jesuits to Beijing, which remained untouched even during China’s disastrous Cultural Revolution and may be seen to this day, beautifully preserved at Beijing’s Ancient Observatory. An even more enduring memory has been Ricci’s admirable willingness to find ways through difficult situations and his innate respect for Oriental culture and civilisation.
His reasoned approach also bore spiritual fruit – with the Jesuit’s work blessed by healings and miracles. In his diary, Ricci wrote: “From morning to night, I am kept busy discussing the doctrines of our faith. Many desire to forsake their idols and become Christians”.
Ricci brought the hugely admired Plantin Bible to China – eight gilded folio volumes with printed parallel texts in Aramaic, Syriac, Hebrew, Greek and Latin. His True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven was printed and distributed widely, drawing heavily on Aquinas but also appropriating Confucian ideas to bolster the Christian cause. He brilliantly re-positioned the important Chinese custom of ancestor worship by tracing everything back to “the first ancestor” – the Creator, the Lord of Heaven.
Among Ricci’s seventeenth century writings were his Catechism and a treatise “On Friendship” building on Confucius’ belief, expressed in the Analects, that “To have friends coming from distant places – is that not delightful?” Simultaneously Ricci introduced his readers to Cicero’s assertion that “the reasons for friendship are reciprocal need and mutual help.” Amicitia perfecta – perfect friendship – was, for Ricci, the highest of ideals. The Chinese came to value him as a true friend.
On his death, on May 11th 1610, he was uniquely accorded a burial site in Beijing by the Emperor – which, according to Laven was “an extraordinary coup, which testified to the success of nearly thirty years of careful networking and diplomacy.”
In 1644, thirty years after Ricci’s death, the Crown Prince of Korea returned to Seoul from Peking with five baptised Chinese eunuchs and three baptised Court ladies.

There are also accounts from the same period in Korean records mentioning England, France, and Catholicism. Books on Christianity became prized by certain young Koreans and some of Christianity’s radical teaching about the innate value of every person began to be discussed in a country where poverty was rife, worsened by the punishing strain of Manchu tutelage. The population topped five million but more Koreans died of famine and epidemics in 1671 than during all of Japan’s repeated raids and invasions. In the decades following people stole clothes from graves, babies were abandoned, and the starving were eating the dead. Floods added more misery.

It was in this climate that a young Korean intellectual, Yi Pyok, read about Christianity from Chinese books circulating among a group of friends. In 1777 he brought them together to make further study. They met in a Buddhist monastery happily known as The Hermitage of Heavenly Truth.

They concluded that the Confucian ideals of personal goodness, mutual forbearance, reverence for ancestors, meekness, dignity, and respect for the aged – the Confucian “way” – which permeates Korean culture- and, to this day, make Koreans such wonderful people – sat very comfortably with the Catholic tradition of the Christian faith.
Curious Korean youths were eager to plumb the depths of this religion, impressed by a doctrine where all were loved equally by God; and where they were struck by the Jesuit demands for justice for the poor and an end to slavery.

On a subsequent winter embassy to Peking one of Yi Pyok’s young associates, Yi Sunghun, travelled to China with his father and sought out the Christian community. He was baptized by a Jesuit and took the name Peter, returning to Korea in 1785.

Korea’s first priest, Father Zhou Wenmo from China, entered the country during the same period and ministered until 1794. There would not be another priest for 35 years. Yet without missionaries or priests, belief in Christ spread rapidly, first among the nobles and educated, then protected by these aristocrats, among thousands of poor.

Within a year of Yi Sunghun pilgrimage to Peking, in 1786 a secret church had been established in Pyongyang. The authorities raided the house church and discovered a prayer group. The owner of the house, Thomas Kim, was so badly injured during interrogation that he died of the injuries.

That same year, 1786, belief in Christ had been banned. Notwithstanding its Asian antecedents Christianity was perceived by most powerful Koreans as “western learning” and as such treacherous, dangerous. It omitted ancestor worship and was therefore considered “opposed to human morality”.

State hostility was harsh, even toward the royals and members of the nobility who had converted. In 1790 there were 4,000 believers in Korea, and while there were executions every year, by 1800 the number of believers had risen to 10,000. In 1801 more than 300 Christians were executed.

One fearful Christian penned a letter to Jesuits in China appealing for military protection. The letter was intercepted and brought to Korea’s dowager Queen. Immediately she decreed that to hold the evil learning was high treason. Capital persecution now became policy.

Some Christians died in prison. Many others recanted their faith. One who had renounced his beliefs and then returned to the faith and given himself up, was sentenced to “25 blows of the big paddle”. The beating left him insensible and a few hours later dead. Yi Sunghun (who had been baptised as Peter Yi), would, like his name sake, also, under pressure, repudiated his faith but then re-embraced it and in 1801 was martyred along with three hundred others, including two royal princesses.

Many of the ordeals faced by prisoners are described in Martyrs of Korea by the late Msgr. Richard Rutt ( a noted Korean scholar and one time Anglican Bishop of Korea, Canon Rutt became a priest of the Plymouth Diocese and was given the title Monsignor by Pope Benedict XVI) : “a cord was passed under the thighs, crossed over the front then held taut by men on either side who applied a sawing motion that cut through the flesh like a cheese-cutter, right to the bone”. Prisoners were given boiled millet twice a day. Those who could not buy or acquire more food were reduced to eating the foul straw and lice. Many who had not recanted under torture, cracked because of prison.

Intermittently, itinerant priests arrived in the country – most were executed. For 35 years the fledgling church was without a single priest. Only one sacrament could be given – and thousands came forward to be baptised.

In 1834, a French priest, Fr Pierre Maubant, who had been working in Sichuan in Western China, volunteered to go to Korea to minister to the country’s Christians.

Border guards along the Yalu River would not allow Europeans to enter so Fr Pierre waited until the river froze. In January 1836 he crossed into Korea, taking two weeks to walk to Seoul where he was greeted by a Chinese priest called Fr Pacifico. From there he arranged for three young men to be smuggled out to Macao to study as seminarians. He was joined by another Frenchman, Fr Jacques Chastan, and in 1838, a third, Laurent Imbert, who became the first bishop of the Korean diocese.

To conceal their features the three men wore capacious Korean mourning costumes and very wide-brimmed hats. They carried out their duties at night, three priests for thousands of believers. Within weeks 2,000 had been baptised bringing the total number of Korean Christians to 9,000. Two years later, with two other priests, he was decapitated. Hundreds of Korean Christian suffered the same brutal fate, including many members of the same family: fathers along with their sons and daughters, wives and mothers.

Typical was Peter Yu, aged 13, who was tortured on 14 occasions. In his defiance he even picked up shreds of his own flesh and threw them before his interrogators. He was strangled in the prison in October 1839. 150 years later he would be among those canonized by John Paul II.

Perhaps most famous among the Korean martyrs is St.Andrew Kim, born on August 21st 1821. His parents had become Christians. His father, Blessed Ignatius Kim, was martyred in 1839. Andrew was baptized at the age of fifteen.

He was one of the three seminarians who had been secreted out of Korea by Fr Pierre Maubant five year earlier in 1836. The British consul in Shanghai had arranged shelter for him and having, in 1844, become the first Korean to be ordained as a priest and having experiencing all sorts of adventures attempting to return to his homeland, later that year he crossed the Yalu River. By the autumn of 1846 Father Andrew Kim was on trial. He impressed the judges with his eloquence and good manners, and they might have considered a lenient sentence. But during the trial two French warships, commanded by Admiral Cecile, appeared off the Korean coast. The admiral sent insulting letters to the King, demanding an accounting for the deaths of the three French clergy, and saying he would return the following year. This soured the mood against those who colluded with foreigners. Fr Kim’s fate was sealed

Andrew Kim, aged just 25, was arrested, stripped naked, and decapitated. On 16th September 1846, he was taken to the Han sands and beheaded, proclaiming as he died:
“This is my last hour of life, listen to me attentively: if I have held communication with foreigners, it has been for my religion and for my God. It is for Him that I die. My immortal life is on the point of beginning. Become Christians if you wish to be happy after death, because God has eternal chastisements in store for those who have refused to know Him.”

It required eight strokes of the sword to kill Andrew Kim. Customarily his head would have been displayed on a pole for three days but the authorities were afraid of the public reaction. They buried Kim immediately.

Forty days later his relics were recovered and in 1984 he was among those canonized by John Paul II – one of at least 8,000 Korean martyrs from the time the first house church was planted in Pyongyang.

Pyongyang, -which is located on a majestic S-curve of the Taedong River– would become known as “the Jerusalem of the East” because of the scale of Christian conversion which followed the Great Revival of 1907 – would itself be the scene of another hugely significant martyrdom.
It occurred in 1866 – twenty years after the execution of Andrew Kim and during a year of increased persecution. What happened links Korea’s Christian story to a small chapel in South Wales and also to one of North Korea’s most hopeful contemporary stories, the creation of a university of science and technology, of which the author is a trustee. The tale is recounted by Stella Price, with whom I was in North Korea in 2011, in her “Chosen for Chosun”. It is the story of a remarkable Welshman.
Robert Jermain Thomas was born in Rhayadar South Wales in 1839. He enlisted with the London Missionary Society and in 1863 he went to Peking where his wife, Caroline, died of fever.
In 1865 Thomas met two Korean traders who told him that there were about 50,000 Catholics in Korea, and they recounted the story of how Koreans had spread the Christian message and baptised many others. .
Funded by the Scottish Bible Society Robert Thomas decided to take bibles to the beleaguered Catholic community. He obtained work as an interpreter on the American schooner the General Sherman and as the boat traveled around Korea Thomas handed out Bibles. Near Pyongyang the boat became involved in an altercation with the Korean army and Thomas leapt overboard with his Bibles and, while calling on the name of Jesus, he handed them to the angry crowd which had gathered at the river side.
It is said that he handed out more than 500 Bibles before being captured and executed, giving his lat one to his executioner. The authorities ordered the people to destroy the Bibles they had received. However, some removed the pages and used them as wallpaper in their homes. It was from these people that a Presbyterian congregation would be formed. One of its leaders was Thomas’ executioner, who, having picked up Thomas’s own bible, and impressed by the Welshman’s courage and ardor, read the Scriptures and later asked for baptism. The executioner’s son would, in turn, become an Elder of the Presbyterian church – the Thomas Memorial Church.
After Thomas’ execution Pyongyang was subsequently visited for two weeks in 1890 by the American Presbyterian, Samuel A.Moffett. He returned the next year with James Scarth Gale and in 1893 returned to establish a mission station – which, despite attempts on his life, opened in 1895. By 1935 the 120 acre Presbyterian campus consisted of secondary academies for boys and girls; a college; industrial shops; a facility for the provision o vocational training for abandoned wives and widows; a seminary; a Bible school; a foreign school; the Union Christian Hospital and the West Gate Presbyterian Church.
Thomas’ church was destroyed by the Japanese during their occupation of Korea. It is, however, the site where Pyongyang University of Science and Technology ( PUST) now stands. Its founder and President, Dr. James Kim, believes it is “the hand of God bringing two histories together.”

After the ferocious wave of persecutions in 1866 a trade treaty was concluded with the United States. This Treaty of Amity and Trade, concluded in 1882, included a clause requiring toleration and protection for Christian missionaries. Proselytising was still forbidden but missionaries were permitted to embark on educational and medical initiatives. This is turn led, in 1884, to the arrival of Horace Allen, the first American missionary in Korea, to be followed by Horace Underwood in 1885. These Presbyterians were followed by Methodists, including Henry Appenzeller.
The Korean King, Gojong, allowed Allen to establish previously unknown Western medical facilities – initially known as The House of Extended Grace and later as the House of Universal Helpfulness – and to train Koreans in Western medicine. Gojong granted Appenzeller permission to open a school- Pai Chai Hak Dang – and Underwood created an orphanage – later becoming Gyeongsin High School. Mary Scranton, meanwhile, with the support of Queen Min, created Korea’s first school for girls at Ewha Hak Dang. From these seeds, some of the great Korean schools and universities would germinate and grow.
Christianity was also having a fundamental impact on the mores of Korean society. Despite the clash over ancestor worship (which often arose from a mistaken belief that Koreans deified their ancestors rather than venerating their memory) there was much which Koreans had embraced in Christian teaching and which revolutionised feudal attitudes towards women and children. From the outset, in the eighteenth century, the Catholic Church allowed widow to remarry ( normally not permitted in East Asia); it prohibited concubinage and polygamy; it forbade cruelty to or desertion of wives; and . Catholic parents were taught that each of their children – girls and boys – was a precious gift from God – not merely the first-born son. Along with the other denominations which arrived in Korea it insisted that girls should be educated as well as boys. The Church also placed a prohibition on the traditional arranged child marriages.
Beyond all this activity a new danger was, however, looming – one which would shape contemporary Korea and the role of the Christian community: the invasion of the peninsula and its occupation by Japan. The Japanese would rule Korea from 1905 until 1945 and the refusal of many Christians to worship the Japanese emperor would lead to more martyrdom – and ruptures within the Christian community as those who collaborated were ostracised. This, in turn, would lead to the identification of Christianity with Korean nationalism and independence and increase its standing, reputation and reach within the Republic of Korea during the post war years.
Open discontent with Japanese rule erupted on March 1st, 1919, with a Proclamation of Independence and the emergence of the March First Movement which saw many street demonstrations led by Christians and followers of the Cheondogyo native Korea religion challenging Japanese rule. The predominantly Catholic Ulmindan (Righteous People’s Army, a movement for independence) was formed and a Methodist, Syngman Rhee – a future South Korean President – formed a Korean Government-in-exile. Hatred of the Japanese was consolidated as seven million people were either exiled or deported and Japan sought to culturally assimilate Korea’s people – even banning the Korean language. As the world came to terms with the enormity of Japanese ambitions, and became embattled in the Second World War, in Korea worship at Shinto shrines became mandatory, and any attempt to preserve Korean identity or culture was asphyxiated.
A similar asphyxiation – this time of religion itself – would follow the withdrawal of the defeated Japanese from the peninsula accompanied by the severance of Korea, divided by the Korean War, at the 38th parallel.
In 1945, at the end of Japanese occupation there was still a thriving Christian presence in Pyongyang although different factions had emerged – some had chosen to collaborate with the Japanese, others were persecuted. That year Presbyterian Ministers Yoon Ha-yong and Han Kyong-jik, formed the Christian Social Democratic Party, the first political party in North Korea. Communists raided a planning meeting at a church in Yong-am-po, resulting in the death of twenty three people. Meanwhile, in Pyongyang, Kim Hwa-sik, a Christian leader was arrested with forty others, as they met to create a Christian Liberal Party.
The Communists then enrolled a Protestant Minister, Kang Yang-uk, Kim IL Sung’s maternal uncle, one of the Christian Ministers who had told believers to worship at Shinto shrines during Japanese rule. In 1946 they helped him establish his pro-Communist Christian League. By 1949 those who refused to collaborate and to join the League were being rounded up and thrown in jail. Simultaneously, church property (along with 15,000 Buddhist temples) was being confiscated and schools and other church-run projects sequestrated. Divisions and denominational rivalries – and the mistaken belief that they could simply remain quiet and survive – had blinded many Korean Christians to the enormity of the threat which Communism posed. Typical of the consequence was the massacre which occurred in a cave at Wonsan, where the mass murder of 530 religious and political dissenters, many of them children, occurred. A journalist who visited the site in October 1950, as the North Korea army retreated, described the carnage, a mass grave of twisted bodies, many of them women and children, all shot in the back of the neck.
Another foretaste of what awaited Christians in the new Communist State was the fate of some of the Christian clergy captured during the hostilities.
In 1955 one of the most vivid accounts of these depredations appears in a harrowing account by an Australian Columban missionary priest, Fr.Philip Crosbie.
“March Till They Die” is the story of his imprisonment between 1950 and 1953.
Unlike seven of his Columban colleagues who died in prison, Philip Crosbie survived to tell his story.
Those who paid with their lives included the Chicago born Msgr. Pat Brennan and Fr.Tony Collier, who worked with Fr.Crosbie at the mission station of Chunchon.
During his epic ordeal Fr.Crosbie and others imprisoned with him, were marched from place to place, given starvation rations, and frequently left exposed to the elements.
One of his companions was Msgr. Thomas Quinlan who originated from Thurles in Tipperary – one of a pioneering group of Columban missionaries who went to Korea from Ireland – and Fr.Frank Canavan from Galway. Another was a Maryknoll priest, Bishop Patrick Byrne.

Others on the forced march included a captured group of Carmelite nuns along with French nuns from the Community of St.Paul of Chartres, and their provincial superior, 76-year-old Mother Beatrix.
They were later joined by other prisoners: members of the British and French Legations in Seoul; the Anglican Bishop, Cecil Cooper, and the Reverend Charles Hunt; members of the Methodist mission; Herbert Lord, head of the Salvation Army in Korea; and a clutch of South Korean politicians. Later they were joined by a group of American Prisoners of War.
The title of Fr.Crosbie’s book is drawn from the remarks of a North Korean major.
When Commissioner Lord protested that many of the group was elderly or infirm “…but they will die if they have to march” the Korean major responded “Then let them march until they die.”
Following his capture in July 1950 Fr.Crosbie saw many deaths and terrible suffering. Among the fatalities was Mother Beatrix – who had given more than fifty years of her life caring for the sick, the poor and orphans in Korea.
When she could walk no further and lay by the roadside one of the guards shot her dead.
On November 18th, Mother Mechtilde – a Belgian Carmelite succumbed and was followed, on November 25th, by that of Bishop Byrne.
Fr.Crosbie records his burial “The only sign of his rank was a light cassock of black silk, with red buttons and piping. The buttons under their covering of red cloth were of metal. Some day they may help to identify the remains.”
Charles Hunt and Fr.Canavan died a few days later.
The remaining prisoners were marched ever onwards – and their peregrinations took them to the River Yalu (close to where the American journalists would be arrested in 2009), to the Chinese border, and back again to Pyongyang. Some, including Msgr Quinlan, Bishop Cooper and Herbert Lord, survived and were eventually freed.
Msgr. Quinlan would return to South Korea in 1954 as Regent to the Apostolic Delegation.

In 1953, on May 25th, Fr.Crosbie was handed over to an official of the Soviet Union, taken to Moscow and was freed. Staff at the Australian Embassy welcomed him: “And so”, he wrote, “I came to freedom.”
Movingly, describing his return to “laws that respect an individual’s freedom while providing for the good of the State; …a land where the Muses are not completely chained to the chariots of politicians; where books and newspapers are freely published, and I can freely read them. …All this I prize; but I have gained a still greater and more precious freedom. It is the freedom to believe in God and openly profess my faith.” Philip Crosbie prized his regained freedom but he also observed that the cruelty and atrocities had not only flowed in one direction and he had seen enough to know that the South Koreans had blood on their hands, too.
He concluded his account with a prayer for those who did not live to see freedom; and a prayer for those who had captured and abused them: “May there be none of us who will not find Him at the end!”
Kim IL Sung’s antagonism towards Christianity stemmed from his embrace of Marxism and his belief that Korean Christians and his American opponents in the Korean War amounted to one and the same thing. Although his mother, Kang Pan-sok, was a Presbyterian deaconess, in his writings Kim IL Sung frequently criticized religion. North Korean literature and movies caricature religion as a negative force and as unscientific while the Juche philosophy of self reliance has been presented as an alternative.
In Article 14 of his 1948 Constitution, Kim IL Sung did, however, decree that “citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea shall have the freedom of religious belief and of conducting religious services.” By 1972 this had been modified to permit “freedom to oppose religion” (Article 54) of the 1972 constitution, which amounted to open season – and open hostility – on religious adherents.
Further modification came in 1992 with Article 68 granting freedom of religious belief and the right to construct buildings for religious use and religious ceremonies. It, too, was tempered by a prohibition on any person using religion “to drag in foreign powers or to destroy the state or social order.” Social order, of course, refers to every aspect of the tightly controlled apparatus of the state.
So, regardless of the theoretical constitutional provisions, what is known about the fate of the Jerusalem of the East and of North Korea’s Christian believers?
Comprising around 47,000 square miles and around 23 million people North Korea has an unknown number of religious believers – although the Government claim there are around 10,000 Protestants, 4,000 Catholics, 10,000 Buddhists and 40,000 Chendogyo practitioners.
Religious Intelligence UK suggests different numbers: 64.3% professing atheism; 16% followers of Korean Shamanism; 13.5% Chendoists; 4.5%. Buddhists; and 1.7% (406,000) Christian.
In Pyongyang there are four Christian churches which are heavily controlled by the State: two Protestant churches —the Chilgol (dedicated to the memory of Kim IL Sung’s mother, Kang Pan-sok) and Bongsu churches— the Changchung Roman Catholic Church, opened in 1988, and a new Russian Orthodox Church, opened in 2006. No Catholic priest has been permitted to serve in North Korea for more than sixty years, and North Korea has refused to normalise its relations with the Holy See – which would send an immediate signal to the world’s one billion Catholics that North Korea wants friendly relations with Catholic people.
Since 1988 there has been some attempt to use the churches to open dialogue beyond North Korea’s borders and agencies such as the Catholic relief organisation, Caritas, have been permitted to bring food and medicine into the country. However, the officials who run the Korean Christian Federation are Party officials whose job is to control not to enable. But, in a hopeful move, it is reported that five North Koreans have been selected by Cardinal Nicholas Chung Jin-Suk to study at Seoul’s Incheon University. It would be a highly significant step forward if they are permitted to return to the North once ordained.
Such pastoral provision was “an unfulfilled dream” of the widely admired and revered late Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-Hwan – the great champion of Korean freedom and democracy. It is an aspiration which, during each of our visits, Lady Cox and I have repeatedly raised with the officials who control religious belief. In another conciliatory move the North Koreans have also extended an official invitation to Dr.Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, to visit the country.
Another development has seen the visit of some South Korean Protestant pastors to the North and they have been permitted to hold regulated services in their churches and to carry out extensive refurbishment and to build a small seminary. The students pursue a five-year course and are then admitted to the Korean Christian Fellowship as pastors upon graduation.
The author has visited all four churches and has spoken to the congregation at the Changchung Catholic church and met with members of the congregations at the other churches. At Changchung I met Jang Jae On, the Communist Party official who regulates religious belief.
Much about these “Potemkin” – or show churches – is aimed at creating an illusion of religious freedom but, not-withstanding the illusion, the author has had conversations with a handful of North Koreans who have favourably mentioned their family’s religious antecedents and understood the value and importance of religious belief.
Wholly unverifiable reports suggest that there may be several hundred permitted family worship centres and many more underground unregulated house churches.
In Anju, a town about 80 kilometers north of Pyongyang, visited by the author, the mayor said that Catholics meet in the rubble of their church, destroyed during the Korean War, and have continued to do so every Sunday without pastors.
However, it is those Christians who refuse to be controlled by the State whose fate is the most disturbing.
Becoming an illicit Christian is a serious crime. Some who have escaped say that they had never seen a church or a Bible before leaving the country. Many are in camps or prison – where they are kept in horrific conditions, fed on starvation rations. Deprived of sleep they are crammed into overcrowded cells. They are unable to even lie down straight.
In 2011 there were further reports of the execution of Christians in North Korea. At least 20 other Christians were arrested and sent to Camp No. 15 in Yodok.34 . In several meetings, I raised this case with North Korean officials, but was told that these reports were “lies” and that the execution of Christians was “impossible”
The United Nations estimate that 400,000 people have died in the camps in the past 30 years. Ironically, many of the barbaric practices which characterise the camps were pioneered by the Japanese during their occupation of the Korean Peninsular. After the Korean War, the Communist regime in the North and the military dictatorship in the South used many of the same methods to stamp out dissent.
Since being elected Chairman of the British Parliamentary All Party Group on North Korea seven years ago I have chaired several open hearings at Westminster where we have taken evidence and heard first hand accounts from North Koreans who have escaped from prison camps – and these have included Christians.
Yoo Sang-joon was a North Korean Christian defector who came to Westminster eight years ago. Having seen his wife and children die during the famine he has become an Asian Raoul Wallenberg, bravely re-entering North Korea and helping people flee across the border. This led to his arrest by the Chinese, who as a result of international representations showed clemency and repatriated him to South Korea rather than the North as they had originally intended.
On one occasion we were addressed by two diminutive North Korean women who, speaking through an interpreter, recounted their experiences in North Korean prison camps. From time to time their stories were interrupted as the women wept.
Jeon Young-Ok is 40. When she was a little girl her mother took the family across the Tumen River to try and flee to China. They were caught and her father and brother imprisoned. Her mother died of a heart disease and left her three children alone. Years later, now married with three children of her own, Jeon managed to make furtive forays from North Korea into China to secure money and food for her children. Twice she was apprehended and jailed.
Movingly she told the parliamentary hearing: “I couldn’t bear to die with my children in my arms. As long as I was alive I couldn’t just watch them die.” Many of her compatriots were among the 2 million who starved to death during the 1990s famine.
In China Mrs.Jeon remained at risk “nowhere was safe.” If she was caught the Chinese would send her back. And this is exactly what happened to her. Caught in 1997 and again in 2001 – she was sent to Northern Pyeong -an Detention Camp.
“I was put in a camp where I saw and experienced unimaginable things. We were made to pull the beards from the faces of elderly people. Prison guards treated them like animals. The women were forced to strip. A group of us were thrown just one blanket and we were forced to pull it from one another as we tried to hide our shame. I felt like an animal, no better than a pig. I didn’t want to live.”
Jeon Young-Ok added: “They tortured the Christians the most. They were denied food and sleep. They were forced to stick out their tongues and iron was pushed into it.”
Despite all this, she harbours no hatred for her country and shows extraordinary fortitude and equanimity: “The past is not important but these terrible things are still happening in North Korea. These camps should be abolished forever.”
Those camps were created at the conclusion of the Korean War when many Christians fled from the Communist North and from what they knew would be the beginning of another period of phenomenal persecution.
Chastened and strengthened by the suffering which had preceded the emergency of the South’s Republic of Korea came a determination that they would not settle for a military dictatorship or for a degraded form of totalitarianism. Christianity has, therefore, been the leitmotif against which South Korea’s social and political policies have been formed. In particular, during the 1970s a theology called Minjung evolved. Minjung is formed from Chinese character min which means people while the character jung means the mass. When combined the phrase translates as the common people.
Minjung theology interprets the Bible, history and the political challenges of the
moment in relationship to their working out and impact on the common people not
on the rulers, the politically powerful or economic elites. Jesus’ appearance in
history is a defining moment for the common people – and betokens the need for
justice, mercy and compassion for the common people. During the 1970s
dictatorship of General Park the theology manifested itself in the emergence of
several Christian initiatives such as the Catholic Farmers Movement and the
Protestant Urban Industrial Mission, which campaigned for better remuneration
and working conditions for agricultural and industrial workers; a period of
widespread social unrest. It was also a key influence on two men who served prison
sentences for their democratic beliefs and who would be future Presidents o the
Republic of Korea, following the restoration of democracy in 1988, Kim Young
Sam, a Presbyterian, and Kim Dae Jung, a Catholic.

The story of Christianity on the Korean peninsula seems to be the perfect proof of Tertullian’s ancient assertion that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church”. The shedding of so many lives did not deter Koreans from embracing Christianity. As St.Augustine Yu, who was martyred along with his wife, son and brother, said: “Once having known God, I cannot possibly betray him.”
As the Christian faith was passed from father to son, from mother to daughter, some families would produce four generations of martyrs. One of those who would die for his faith was John Kim Bo Hyeon. His life ended in prison while preaching his faith to his fellow inmates. His grandson, Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, born in 1922, and doubtless inspired by the heroic witness of his grandfather, would become Korea’s first Catholic Cardinal, outspoken defender of human rights, and fearless opponent of military dictatorship. His Cathedral church in Seoul, Myeongdong Cathedral, where some of the relics of the early martyrs are preserved and honoured, would become the scene of the twentieth century showdown between democracy protestors and the military dictatorship of South Korea
Perhaps his family history was also the necessary preparation for his service as Apostolic Administrator of the Pyongyang Diocese of North Korea – which he was never allowed to visit and where the church would be violently suppressed by the Communists in the aftermath of the Korean War.
But on a happier note, I allowed myself a wry smile that as I arrived for my third visit to North Korea with my colleague (Baroness) Caroline Cox in 2010, aboard an Air China plane, the piped music which accompanied our landing was Isaac Watts’ Christmas hymn, “Joy to the world! The Lord has come! Let earth receive her King.” Along with the sight of diplomats from the once Marxist Russia arriving to worship at Pyongyang’s Russian Orthodox church, I couldn’t help reflecting on twists in ideological and social history. Although Marx was wrong in suggesting that religion is “the opium of the people” perhaps the rest of that much cited quotation does has great application and resonance in the story of Korea where: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of the soulless condition.”

Korean martyrs

The following text was compiled by the late Monsignor Richard Rutt, one time Anglican Bishop of Korea and later Catholic priest of the Plymouth Diocese. Published by the Catholic Truth society it is no longer in print.

Msgr.Richard Rutt
All booklets are published thanks to the
generous support of the members of the
Catholic Truth Society
Land of Morning Calm ……………………………………………………4
A Chinese culture …………………………………………………………5
Confucianism ………………………………………………………………6
Buddhists and shamans …………………………………………………7
Science and democracy …………………………………………………8
A Church founded without missionaries ………………………….9
The First Martyrs ………………………………………………………….12
A woman in charge …………………………………………………….13
Arrest and torture ……………………………………………………….15
Execution …………………………………………………………………..17
1801, The Year of the White Cock ……………………………….19
Thirty-five years waiting for a priest ……………………………..20
French missionaries ………………………………………………………23
A pastoral bishop ………………………………………………………..26
1839, The Year of the Yellow Pig ………………………………..27
Three men and four women, 24 May 1839 …………………….28
One man and seven women, 20 July 1839 ……………………..29
The maker of straw shoes …………………………………………….30
Father of a priest …………………………………………………………31
The good shepherd gives up his life for the sheep …………..32
Strong women ……………………………………………………………35
Three male martyrs and three more women ……………………37
Boy martyr ………………………………………………………………..38
Paul’s mother …………………………………………………………….39
Winter martyrs …………………………………………………………..39
Strangulations …………………………………………………………….40
Five men and five women ……………………………………………41
Rebellions and poor harvests ……………………………………….45
Saint Andrew Kim …………………………………………………………47
Eight friends ………………………………………………………………52
A twenty-year lull ………………………………………………………54
1866, The Year of the Red Horse…………………………………..56
8,000 martyrs ………………………………………………………………..59
Princess Mary …………………………………………………………….60
The martyrs’ heritage ………………………………………………….61
Flowering of the Church in Korea ………………………………….63
Korean Martyrs inscribed in the list of Saints …………………63
103 Martyrs of Korea Canonised 6 May 1984 …………………67
The Korean names in this story are pronounced with consonants as in
English, vowels as in Italian. The sound for ö varies from that of o in
‘word’ to that of o in ‘song’; and the sound for ü resembles that of oo in
‘book’. The surname Ch’oe sounds like chwè.
Canon Richard Rutt worked as missionary in Korea for 20 years. He is
now attached to St Mary Immaculate, Falmouth, Cornwall. (Honorary
D.Litt. of the Confucian University, Seoul. Joint author with Keith Pratt
of Korea: a Historical and Cultural Dictionary, London 1999.)
Korea in the late 18th century was a land of peace and
prosperity. There were poor people in plenty, but the
harvests were generally good, there was no trouble
from abroad, and the King maintained a benevolent rule
that kept the court free of the bloody strife to which it
was so liable.
The country was beautiful. Even in the broadest of
rice-growing plains, the horizon was lined with blue
peaks: distant mountains covered with luxuriant forest
trees, among which Siberian tigers roamed. In spring
apricot and peach blossom canopied the villages, while
the hills were veiled with bright purple azaleas. High
summer brought bright green foliage, autumn a rich medley
of gold, scarlet and purple. In winter the bald rocks
and dark pines were draped in frost and snow. Bamboo
delighted poets at all times of the year.
The common people’s houses, both in the cities and in
the villages that nestled on the sunny slopes of the hills,
were built of cob and stone with mushroom-shaped roofs
of barley thatch. The houses of the gentry were more elaborate,
built of wood with grey tiled roofs turning up at the
eaves in Chinese style, with windows of white paper
stretched on delicate wooden lattices; but without upper
storeys. Similar graceful roofs covered Confucian temples
near the towns, and Buddhist temples hidden in the deep
mountain valleys. Nearly every beauty spot had its kiosk
or pavilion, where in spring and autumn local men would
hold picnics at which they all composed Chinese poems.
A Chinese culture
Every educated man could turn out verses in Chinese
rhyme and metre. Education was indeed restricted to mastering
the classical Chinese language – pronounced in a
Korean fashion – in order to read Chinese literature and
Chinese history. All serious books and papers were written
in Chinese, and Korean personal names were modelled
on Chinese names: surname first, given name afterward,
two or three syllables in all. As in China, there
were very few surnames, and married women retained
their maiden names.
The king was theoretically a vassal of the Chinese
Emperor and sent tribute to Beijing every year. Apart from
this annual embassy and a few tightly controlled annual
markets at border towns, the country had no relations with
foreigners. Like China and Japan, Korea was a closed land,
allowing neither foreigners in nor its own people out.
Yet the Koreans were a distinctive non-Chinese race
with their own language, distantly related to Manchu and
other north-east Asian languages. In the 15th century a
gifted king had created an alphabet that all but the most
underprivileged knew, but only women and labourers
used very much. Chinese was the only writing for men –
save that they too enjoyed the popular novels and songs
that could be written only in Korean.
With Chinese writing came Confucianism, which provided
Korea’s whole philosophy, morals, manners and politics.
Confucius himself was a Chinese sage who flourished at
the beginning of the 5th century BC and taught a ‘way’
based on personal goodness, mutual forbearance, reverence
for ancestors and respect for seniors. Confucian temples
were simply halls for honouring ancestors and great sages.
There were no priests or monks: the head of the family or
community officiated at ancestral sacrifices, and there was
no other form of worship, though there were meetings for
instruction of the young and for discussion of principles.
There was a concept of Heaven, which meant both the sky
and a vaguely defined universal deity. Some scholars, both
oriental and Western, have thought that this Heaven was
another name for God, but the records of the 19th-century
martyrs’ trials show that this was not the opinion of most
Koreans at that time.
The state was carefully constructed on a Confucian pattern.
The king’s power was absolute, and since there was
no parliament, there could be no political parties. There
was, however, an unwieldy bureaucracy that provided the
only career possible for a gentleman. Financial corruption
and factional strife were endemic. One group would accuse
another of treason or of Confucian heresy, and when the
accusation was upheld, the losers were banished to remote
corners of the country or barbarously executed. One of the
reasons for 18th-century prosperity was the success of a
strong king in putting an end to most of these bloodbaths.
Buddhists and shamans
The heart of Confucian morality was the family. It was
a moral duty to marry and have children – celibacy was
very wrong in Confucian eyes. Family ancestral sacrifices
were the core of Confucian religious practice, and
were seen as vital for the unity of the nation. The ceremonies
were stately and solemn, strictly non-emotional.
They were important for bonding men in both local and
national society; but women were excluded. Even had
they not been excluded, they found little comfort in the
stark rituals. Buddhism, on the other hand, had many
prayers, rosaries and ceremonies with incense and
lights, which were all more appealing to women. In the
Middle Ages it had been the state religion, but the
power and politicking of monks had been so abused
that since the 16th century no Buddhist temples or
monasteries had been allowed in urban areas. The relatively
small numbers of monks and nuns withdrew to
the mountains, where women of all social classes
flocked for picnic and pilgrimage.
There was also a third religious strand: shamanism.
Every village would have at least one shaman, usually a
woman, a medium who would call up spirits in nightlong
ceremonies in clients’ homes. The noise of her gongs,
songs and dances went on from dusk to dawn. This was a
primitive faith with no formalised doctrine, but with a
strong hold on the people.
As for Christianity, well-read men had sometimes
heard of it. Since the Churches of the Reformation had
not yet begun missions in East Asia, for Koreans
‘Christian’ meant ‘Catholic’. They knew there were some
Christians in China; but Christianity had been virtually
extinguished in Japan, and was kept out of Korea because
of respect for Confucius.
Science and democracy
Korea’s unified society, apparently so contented and stable,
had in-built flaws, of which none was more keenly felt than
the rigid class structure. The educated gentry enjoyed everything
that was good in life. They had the privileges of an
aristocracy and used their position to extort all they could
from the labourers and the poor, who survived at subsistence
level. Outdoor folk plays gave vent to their sense of injustice,
and the gentry themselves wrote satirical poems about
it, but the social system seemed indestructible. Illegitimate
sons were most likely to nurse discontent, because the social
class of a gentleman’s son was determined by the rank of his
mother. While the sons of a rich man’s wife would be gentlemen,
their half-brothers, born to his concubines, would be
slaves. There were many such illegitimate men, highly conscious
of injustices of all kinds, and from time to time they
raised rebellions. Thoughtful people realised that the class
system needed to be changed.
Intellectual change was coming too. At the beginning
of the 17th century, western scientific ideas had begun to
interest the Chinese, not least because of the mathematical
and astronomical skills of the French Jesuit mission in
Beijing. Western ideas began to enter Korea when
Chinese books, some of them Christian, were brought
back in the baggage of men who had been with the annual
embassy to Beijing at the winter solstice. Not all Koreans
were impressed; but many became interested in the new
mathematics, better agricultural methods, novel building
techniques and developments in machinery. In a society
that had always treasured the ancient above all, some of
the younger scholars started valuing what was new. There
was no organised movement, but 20th-century historians
named the new wave ‘practical learning’.
A Church founded without missionaries
One of these young intellectuals was 30-year-old Yi Pyök.
He was intrigued by what he read in books from China
that were circulating among his friends. He discovered
that the God of the Christians loved all men equally. This
very reasonable doctrine might lead to changes in social
justice. Perhaps he overestimated the stress placed on this
point by the Catholic Church of that period, but it led him
to further study of the Christian religion, and in 1777 he
gathered a few friends of his own age for group study.
Such quasi-retreat seminars were typical of the time. They
met in a small Buddhist monastery south of the River Han
near Seoul, auspiciously named Ch’önjin-sa ‘Hermitage of
Heavenly Truth’. Politically they were all connected with
an old faction that was now in the political wilderness and
had no influence at court. Among them were two brothers,
Chöng Yakchong and Chöng Yagyong. Yagyong was
eventually to be recognised under his pen name, Tasan, as
the greatest thinker of the day.
They needed more books from China. One of the
group, 28-year-old Yi Sünghun, a relative of Yi Pyök and
brother-in-law of the Chöng brothers, had so far spent a
quiet life studying at home; but in 1784 his father was
sent as envoy on the annual winter embassy to China.
Sünghun was thus able to gain a place in the great caravan
that made its way over the northern mountains and
across the Manchurian plain to Beijing. Members of the
embassy always had plenty of time for sightseeing in the
capital, and Sünghun contrived to visit the French missionaries.
The Catholic mission was now in the hands of
the Lazarists (the Company of the Mission, also called
Vincentians) under the Portuguese Bishop Alexandre de
Gouvea. Sünghun contacted an ex-Jesuit, Fr Jean
Grammont, who had stayed in the city after the Jesuit
Order was suppressed by the Pope a year earlier. He gave
the young Korean some books, crucifixes and other
objects, and baptised him with the name of Peter before
he returned to Korea at the beginning of 1785.
Yi Pyök and his friends were fascinated by what they
now read. Within twelve months they set up a secret church
in Seoul at the house of Kim Pömu, one of the royal interpreters
of contemporary Chinese, who was a member of the
Hermitage group. (The site of his house is now part of the
Catholic cathedral compound in Seoul.) Peter Yi (Sünghun)
began baptising them, beginning with Francis Xavier
Kwön, a man of about 50. Yi Pyök became Peter, Kim
Pömu Thomas, and Chöng Yakchong Augustine. Since
Korea knew nothing of a seven-day week, they kept the 7th,
14th, 21st and 28th of each Chinese lunar month as Sunday.
By 1787 they realised a Church needed clergy.
Choosing Francis Xavier Kwön as bishop, they also chose
a few as priests and began to celebrate mass, confession
and confirmation. A few months later they began to have
doubts and suspended these ministries until they could
consult Bishop de Gouvea through a friend on the annual
Beijing embassy. The bishop’s reply came in 1790. They
had to dismantle their makeshift and invalid priesthood.
They must also renounce all Confucian rites. The bishop
promised to send them a real priest as soon as he could.
Persecution began when they were discovered at prayer
in Thomas Kim’s house. This socially aberrant behaviour
led to them all being questioned. The names of the gentlemen
were not published, but, as an interpreter, Thomas
was not a gentleman. He belonged to the so-called ‘middle’
or professional class that included doctors, architects,
artists, astronomers and others. He was questioned under
torture, found guilty of impiety to the state and banished
to Tanyang in the central mountains. On the way there he
died in the city of Wönju from the injuries he had
received during his interrogation. Today he is regarded as
the first martyr of the new Church.
A young man named Yun, whose home was in the far
south-west of the country and who was in Seoul successfully
working his way through the state examination
process, had joined the group at Thomas Kim’s house in
1784. He was baptised as Paul. In 1789 he joined the
embassy to Beijing and while he was there received the
sacrament of confirmation from Bishop de Gouvea. On
returning home he destroyed the ancestral tablets in the
family’s Confucian shrine, and when his mother died in
1791 he had her buried without Confucian rites. He and
an elder cousin named James Kwön were arrested for this
impiety that threatened the whole structure of the nation.
They were taken to the provincial capital at Chönju and
beheaded. At least eight other men were martyred in the
south-western regions before 1799. To become a
Christian was dangerous.
Defections were to be expected. Yi Pyök, Chöng
Yagyong, Francis Xavier Kwön and even the first baptised,
Peter Yi, were among those who withdrew, persuaded by
their families. Many Korean Catholics today are convinced
that some of them returned later, but we can be sure of
Peter Yi only. He was destined for martyrdom.
A woman in charge
Bishop de Gouvea did not forget his promise. He
despatched a priest in 1791, a Fr Wu; but Fr Wu was
unable to enter Korea and returned to Beijing, where he
died two years later. Then in winter 1794 Fr Zhou Wenmo,
baptised James, managed to reach Seoul. He celebrated
mass for the first time at Easter 1795. Alexander Hwang, a
brilliant young son-in-law of the Chöng family, served as
his interpreter and Korean tutor. As a Chinese in Korean
dress, Zhou would attract no attention, but when he spoke
his accent would betray him as a foreigner and the fact that
he was a priest would have led to his arrest. For the next
seven years he worked secretly among the 4,000 or so
Christians in the capital and surrounding countryside, making
his base in the house, or rather in the woodshed, of a
woman called Columba Kang. He made her a catechist.
The Korean word for catechist literally means ‘leader of
the congregation’ and catechists had a broad pastoral role
in teaching, organising, guiding and encouraging the
faithful. Columba became the most powerful member of
the Church, because she controlled access to Fr Zhou, and
she alone always knew where he was.
She had become a Christian in her home region in the
Naep’o district south of Seoul, near the west coast, one of
the first districts to be evangelised and one that produced
more martyrs than any other. Her husband divorced her
because of her Christian faith and she moved to Seoul
with her mother-in-law, daughter and stepson, all
Christians. She had independent means and partly
financed Fr Zhou’s journey from China. As catechist, she
recruited and trained women workers and generally oversaw
the Christian women. She converted two royal
princesses: Princess Song, a sister-in-law of the King, and
Princess Song’s daughter-in-law, Princess Sin. Astute and
capable, Columba kept Fr Zhou’s presence secret until
1801, when he was arrested. She and four of her helpers
were arrested too and fiercely tortured.
Fr Zhou was executed by the elaborate and sickening
ritual of ‘decapitation and display’. The two princesses
were convicted of having dealings with a foreign male,
adopting evil teachings and leaving the palace precincts.
They too were executed. Columba was beheaded at the
West Gate prison on 3 July. She has not yet been beatified,
because the documentation is incomplete, but the Korean
Church is now forwarding her cause, together with the
causes of 16 other martyrs. Even though more Korean
women than men have been canonised, the canonisation
of Columba Kang would bring more attention to the powerful
role of women in the story of Korea’s martyrs. In
periods of persecution women are always vital to the
strength of the Church: they train their sons and daughters
to be ready for martyrdom. Columba did more. She was
for seven crucial years the chief organiser of the Church.
Arrest and torture
The martyrs were treated as ordinary malefactors. They
were arrested by the police, who bound them with red
cord and took them to the Police Prison, often called in
English the Thieves’ Prison. This appalling place was an
unpaved yard – usually mud or dust – surrounded by sheds
with fronts of stout wooden bars, built against the walls.
Men and women were separated, but otherwise all prisoners
were packed in together, with no protection against
freezing cold in winter or scorching heat in summer.
Prisoners were allowed into the central open space during
daylight hours. At night they were forced into the sheds,
where they usually had no room to stretch or to lie down.
Once the doors were closed they were not opened until
dawn for any purpose at all. There was no sanitation.
Disease was rife. Prisoners were given a pitifully small
ration of boiled millet twice a day, though some were
able to buy or bribe extra food. Others ate foul straw and
lice. It was said that some Christians who bore tortures
with fortitude collapsed and apostatised under the strain
of prison conditions. Others often claimed that imprisonment
was harder to bear than torture.
After interrogators had compiled the evidence against
the prisoners under the police procedure, which might
take many days, those who were not released were sent to
the Criminal Court Prison. This was similar to the Police
Prison, though sometimes less crowded.
Interrogations were normally accompanied by torture.
Merciless beating was administered with a variety of paddles,
besoms, scourges, rods and wands, each inflicting its
own peculiar kind of pain. Savage beating caused bloodshed
and there are accounts of martyrs whose flesh fell off
in shreds, even of bones being exposed. Wooden blocks
and ropes were employed to bend leg and arm bones, even
to break them and dislocate joints. Pointed bamboo rods
might be stuck into the victim’s flesh. In another torture a
cord was passed under the victim’s thighs, crossed over
the front and then held taut by a man on either side who
applied a sawing motion that cut through the flesh like a
wire cheese-cutter, right through to the bone. Such tortures
would be repeated over many days, even weeks. Few
martyrs, if any, escaped being tortured again when they
were brought to the execution ground.
Some executions were carried out by strangling. This was
usually done in the Police Prison. The prisoner was placed
between two posts. The rope was passed round his neck, the
ends crossed at the front. Each end was then wound round
one of the posts and drawn tight by an executioner. Most of
the martyrs were, however, beheaded at an execution ground
outside the Little West Gate of the city. The condemned person
was tied by hands and hair to a large cross erected on a
bull-cart, and deliberately driven by a rocky and steep road,
calculated to make the journey as painful as possible. At the
site there was a block at which the victim was made to
kneel. The head was cut off with a huge sword. Several
blows were needed to finish the work. (During the decapitation
of St John Pak the executioner actually withdrew after
striking a few blows in order to whet his blade. Then he
returned and finished severing the head.)
When the authorities wanted to make the public more
widely aware of an execution, it was not performed at
one of the relatively small execution grounds, but at a
place where a far larger number of spectators could be
assembled. At Seoul that usually meant the broad sands
of the Han River, near the big flat island of Yöüido and
the army training camp, a mile or so further west than
the regular execution ground.
The procedure was called ‘displaying the head before
the military camp’. It was a military function, with one of
the commandants of the capital garrison in attendance at
the head of a hundred or so soldiers. A tall stake was
erected on the sands for each of the condemned. The man
was brought to the place, bound in a rough wooden chair,
carried by two soldiers with an escort. On arrival he was
stripped to his floppy white trousers, and his topknot
unravelled (Buddhist monks alone did not wear topknots).
An arrow was thrust downwards though the top
and lobe of each of his ears. His face was dashed with
water and lime, his hands tied in front of his chest. Two
poles were put under the rope binding his wrists and one
pole pushed under each armpit. Two men, one in front
and one behind, took the ends of these poles, lifted the
victim and carried him three times round the arena, to the
execration and insults of the crowd. A soldier attached a
banner to the top of the stake, inscribed with the crime in
Chinese, while another read out the sentence. The man
was then ordered to kneel back to the stake. His hair was
gathered in a bunch and tied to the stake to stretch his
neck so that his head was ready for severing. A small
troop of soldiers then performed a slow dance round the
stake, chanting and brandishing heavy sabres, with which
they struck his neck. Several blows were needed to sever
it. As the head rolled off, another soldier picked it up and
presented it on a tray to the presiding commandant. The
head was then displayed on a stake, as a warning to the
public, and left there for three days. It was forbidden that
anyone should touch the corpses. This ritual execution was
used for all foreign missionaries and for other Christians to
whom the authorities wanted to draw attention.
1801, The Year of the White Cock
Three hundred Christians were executed that year in an
outburst of violence that has gone down in history as the
‘Persecution of the White Cock Year’, because the
Koreans numbered their years according to the twelve
Chinese ‘zodiacal’ animals. Although there had been
martyrdoms nearly every year since 1791, there was no
policy of seeking out Christians until the Year of the
White Cock, 1801, when a change of policy followed the
accession to the throne in 1800 of a ten-year-old boy.
When a child became king, the senior Queen
Dowager acted as regent until he was of an age to rule
for himself. Since there were no other royal families in
Asia for the kings to marry into, they had to marry
women of their own country, which inevitably gave
political power to the families from which the queens
came. In 1800 the Queen Dowager was from a family in
the conservative tradition, which disapproved of
Christians because they were favoured by those who
followed the ‘practical learning’ vogue. Christianity was
already being called ‘Western teaching’. She ordered
that Catholics should be sought out, and executed if they
would not apostatise.
Things were made worse by the incident of the ‘silk
letter’. During the year Fr Zhou’s 25-year-old tutor,
Alexander Hwang, wrote a letter on a roll of silk to the
Bishop of Beijing, asking for the Pope to send military
assistance to the Korean Christians. The letter (now in
the Vatican) was intercepted, Hwang was executed,
and there was further reason for the government to
attack Christians.
Peter Yi – the man who had first brought Christian
books to the scholars at the Hermitage of Heavenly Truth
27 years before, but apostatised – returned to the faith and
was among those martyred in the Year of the White
Cock. So was Augustine Chöng.
Thirty-five years waiting for a priest
For its first ten years (1784-1794) the Korean Church had
no sacrament but baptism. Now again it had no priest.
This time it would have to wait for thirty-five years. Soon
the young king married a woman from the Andong Kim
family, which was sympathetic to the liberalising intellectuals.
Persecution eased, but the frontiers remained tightly
closed. There were probably 7,000 or 8,000 Christians
throughout the country, mostly in Seoul and the southwestern
provinces, drawn almost entirely from the gentry
and professional classes.
A natural leader appeared among them: Peter Yi’s
cousin, Paul Chöng Hasang, son of the martyred
Augustine Chöng. Paul’s brother also was martyred in
1801. His mother and sisters, though reduced to poverty,
brought him up as a devoted Christian and provided him
with an excellent home education. At the age of 20 he got a
post as a servant on the annual embassy to Beijing. He was
able to do this again on nine subsequent occasions, and
thus to maintain contact with Bishop de Gouvea. In spite of
his youth, he was appointed catechist and effectively
became the lay pastor of all the Christians in the country.
He persisted in efforts to get another priest from China,
and very nearly succeeded with a Fr Shen in 1826, but that
plan came to nothing. Korea still had to wait for a priest.
In 1823 Paul was introduced to a man four years his
senior named Yu, a remarkable scholar and famous bookcollector.
One day Yu had noticed that the paper used to
line a drawer in his furniture had scraps of philosophy
printed on it. Intrigued, he succeeded in stripping all the
fragments from the cabinetwork and found he had part of
a treatise on the true meaning of God, written by Mateo
Ricci, the greatest of the China Jesuits. In his attempts to
find someone who would explain more about Ricci’s
ideas, Yu met Paul Chöng. They became firm friends. Yu
held a senior post in the royal interpreters’ bureau and
frequently went on the annual mission to Beijing. Paul
found a place as a servant on the embassy in 1824 and
they both went to see Bishop de Gouvea. While they were
there, Yu was baptised, taking the name of Augustine.
Soon his authority in the Korean Church was less only
than that of Paul Chöng.
On one of these Beijing journeys Paul and Augustine
got to know a servant in his twenties named Cho, an
able man with an unusual spiritual history. For a while
he had been a Buddhist monk. Paul and Augustine
recognised his qualities and encouraged him to become
a Christian. He was baptised and confirmed in Beijing,
with the name of Charles. On return to Korea he became
a trusted helper, willing to undertake difficult and dangerous
The instruction of new Christians continued with zeal.
Every year saw more manuals and prayerbooks arriving
from China, including stories of saints. Saints’ names
were always given at baptism, in Chinese form and with a
seeming preference for the names of martyrs – Lucy,
Agnes, Sebastian, Protase and the like. Korean Christians
knew they might need the help and example of earlier
Christian martyrs.
In 1825 Paul and Augustine, with some others, sent an
earnest letter for help to Pope Leo XII. It was received
two years later, but nothing came of it until Pope Gregory
XVI, as part of his revival of world missions (he established
some 70 new dioceses and vicariates), created the
Korean Vicariate Apostolic in 1831. This was the first
step towards creating a Korean diocese.
The new vicariate was entrusted to the Paris Foreign
Missions Society, which had been working in east and
south-east Asia for two centuries. Barthélemy Bruguière,
a priest who had been two years in Bangkok, was
appointed Vicar Apostolic and ordained bishop. He set
out for Korea overland from Thailand in 1831. A young
priest called Jacques Chastan, recently arrived at Penang
in Malaya, was detailed to join him. Then Fr Pierre
Maubant, who was working in Sichuan (western China),
volunteered to join the Bishop as he passed through
Sichuan on his way to Korea.
Before any of them could get there, however, a
Chinese priest named Pacifico Yu, who was studying in
the Chinese College at Naples, volunteered to work in the
new vicariate. Paul Chöng, Augustine Yu and another of
the gentry class, Sebastian Nam, helped him to enter the
country in 1833. Sebastian lived with Fr Pacifico in Seoul
and took care of him.
Meanwhile Bishop Bruguière and Fr Maubant travelled
the length of China by separate routes. They met in
Manchuria and stayed in a tiny Christian village they
thought was a suitable place from which to attempt crossing
the Korean border. While waiting there the bishop fell
ill and died on 20 October 1835, broken by the exertions
of the journey. He was 43 years old. Fr Maubant, a strong
man in his twenties, went on alone. No European could
get through the frontier guardposts. The only way he
could enter Korea was to wait till the depth of winter and
struggle over the River Yalu when it was frozen. Helped
and guided by Paul Chöng, Fr Maubant crossed the ice at
night in January 1836.
He had to disguise himself as a mourner, because
mourners wore huge umbrella-like straw hats that hid
their faces and his brown beard would show he was not a
Korean. Travelling on foot in severe winter weather, usually
at night and in constant risk of discovery, he took 15
days to reach Seoul, where he was greeted by Fr Pacifico,
Sebastian Nam and others. Immediately he was swamped
with pastoral work, travelling among the scattered flock
in the two central provinces, often accompanied by
Charles Cho, he who had once been a Buddhist monk but
now became the Frenchman’s guide and interpreter.
People who had not been able to make their confessions
for thirty-five years could do so at last. Some made their
confessions in written Chinese, others had to use interpreters.
On Holy Saturday they celebrated the Vigil of
Easter in the cramped space of an ordinary Korean house
– a clandestine liturgy lasting five hours.
Fr Maubant’s most important achievement was the
selection of three teenage boys to become seminarians:
Francis-Xavier Kim, Andrew Kim and Thomas Ch’oe.
Accompanied by Fr Pacifico (who never returned), they
were smuggled out of Korea in 1836 and sent to the Paris
Society’s seminary at Macao. Paul Chöng, Augustine Yu
and Sebastian Nam saw them out of the country.
The other French priest, Jacques Chastan, had reached
the northern frontier in 1833. He was the same age as
Maubant. He had come by sea routes from Penang to
Macao, thence to Fujian, and finally by a fishermen’s boat
to Manchuria. Though he came within sight of the mountains
of Korea, he could find no way to cross the frontier.
He therefore withdrew and worked for about two years in
Shandong until he could get a message to Fr Maubant,
who was by then in Seoul. Fr Maubant arranged for
couriers to meet and help him; but they then had to wait
until the Yalu froze. Fr Chastan crossed the ice on the last
day of the year 1836, arriving in Seoul in January 1837.
During the summer both priests managed to give a few
weeks to language study, though they never dared stay
long in one place. They had to acclimatise themselves to
rough food, especially the standard meal of turnip pickled
in brine, served with rice and thin soup. Dried persimmon
fruit served them as iron rations, for they were constantly
travelling on foot, sleeping by day, saying mass and
doing pastoral work at night. Fr Maubant fell ill. Fr
Chastan rushed to see him in Seoul and gave him the last
rites. Miraculously, he recovered, and after three months
rest returned to the punishing work that had brought him
low. They had some 6,000 Christians to look after.
During 1837 they heard over 2,000 confessions and baptised
1,237 new Christians.
A pastoral bishop
Communications with Europe were very slow. At length
Laurent Imbert, a priest of the Paris Missions who had
been working in Sichuan, western China, since 1820, and
knew Pierre Maubant, was appointed bishop for Korea,
and ordained in May 1837. By November he had arrived
at Mukden (now Shenyang) in Manchuria. In mid-
December, he crossed the frozen Yalu and on New Year’s
Day 1838 he met Fr Maubant in Seoul. Fr Chastan was
away in the south, and did not meet the bishop until May.
Between the bishop’s arrival and November 1837,
2,000 were baptised. By the end of the year there were
9,000 Korean Christians. Imbert soon recognised that
Paul Chöng would make a good priest. He even went so
far as to start teaching him some Latin and a little theology.
In spite of the enormous difficulties, there were
gleams of hope.
The bishop’s life scarcely differed from that of his
priests. He rose at 2.30 a.m. At 3.30 he began baptising,
confessing, confirming, celebrating mass and caring for the
Christians, who rarely dared to be seen coming and going
in daylight. He suffered from hunger, because he often
could not eat until his pastoral work was finished for the
day. He went to sleep at 9 in the evening. ‘A life so hard’,
he wrote, ‘we hardly fear the sword-blow that must end it’.
1839, The Year of the Yellow Pig
The premonition was apt. A new king had come to the
throne in 1834, one whose in-laws were opposed to what
they called ‘western learning’ – meaning Christianity.
Christians had to be more careful, and by the time the
bishop arrived, persecution was intensifying. Peter Yi, a
catechist, had been imprisoned for four years but not executed.
He died on 25 November 1838 in the Criminal
Court Prison. His sister Agatha had been arrested in
February 1836 and was still held in prison. Pressure on
Christians increased during spring and summer 1839, the
Year of the Yellow Pig. A stern new decree against
Christianity was published in April.
We have records of some 140 martyrs during the
whole year, in Seoul and several southern provincial
cities, but this can be only part of the whole story.
Dispossessed Christians were taking refuge in the further
parts of the country. Already some of them were becoming
potters, because makers of earthenware traditionally
travelled from place to place in search of suitable clay,
setting up earth kilns in waste places and moving on
when they had exhausted local clay deposits. Itinerant
potters were to remain a feature of the Korean Catholic
Church for two hundred years.
In mid-May Protase Chöng, a man of 41, was arrested
and questioned by a kindly magistrate who persuaded
him to deny his faith. Protase went home, but could not
rest. A few days later he presented himself to the police,
demanding to be re-arrested. They refused to take him
seriously. He redoubled his demand. Finally they beat
him severely and threw him into prison, where, a few
hours later, he died during the night.
Three men and six women, 24 May 1839
On 24 May Agatha Yi was beheaded with eight others,
including the catechist Augustine Yi, on an execution
ground outside the Little West Gate of Seoul. The police
had found a silver mitre (whose workmanship astounded
them), a chasuble and a Latin prayerbook in the catechist’s
house. This discovery strengthened the government’s
determination to find the illegal foreign entrants.
Most of that day’s martyrs were of the gentry class.
Lucy Pak had rich relations in the royal palace. Damian
Nam, however, declared that he would be happy to enter
heaven with no other rank than ‘Damian Nam of the
Scapular Confraternity’. Anna Pak was devoted to the Five
Wounds of Christ. Agatha Kim was such a simple soul that
she could only repeat the names of Jesus and Mary. She
was baptised in prison. The others were Magdalene Kim,
Barbara Han and Peter Kwön, whose beatific smile was
said to have survived on his severed head.
A day or two later there were three deaths in the Police
Prison. One of these was 14-year-old Barbara Yi. The
others were Barbara Kim and Joseph Chang the herbalist.
One man and seven women, 20 July 1839
Executions continued throughout the summer. The
next canonised names are those of a man and seven
women beheaded on 20 July. The man was John Yi,
brother of Augustine Yi, martyred in May. John had
been baptised in Peking when he was there as a member
of the annual embassy.
The eldest woman was Rosa Kim, a convert widow in
her mid-fifties, who calmly murmured the names of
Jesus and Mary as she was arrested. Anna Kim was a
few years younger. Maria Wön was only 20. She had
been orphaned at 9 and was brought up as, Christian. She
was determined to stay a virgin. For that reason she
dressed her hair like a married woman’s and earned a
living by needlework. When neighbours delated her to
the police, she tried to run away but failed – she had
some difficulty in coming to terms with her situation.
Magdalene Yi had never seen Seoul before she left her
pagan father’s house in the countryside to find a
Christian family to live with in Seoul. She followed her
father to Seoul without his knowledge, and by leaving
bloodstained shreds of her clothing in the woods on the
way, successfully persuaded her family that a tiger had
killed her. Her father soon learned the truth, but forgave
her. Lucy Kim had a fine head of hair, which she sold in
prison in order to buy thin soup for other starving prisoners.
She had joined with Theresa Yi, Martha Kim and
Lucy Kim in a pact to surrender themselves to the
authorities and seek martyrdom. The judges gave them
extra tortures to punish their presumption.
Agnes Kim also died that day. She was the younger
sister of Columba Kim, a remarkable woman who was to
die a fortnight later.
The maker of straw shoes
On 3 September another man and five women were
beheaded outside the Little West Gate. The man was
John Pak, a maker of straw shoes who had often said he
needed to die a martyr in order to atone for his sins,
striking his shin with the mallet of his trade as he said it.
He had sent his wife away to stay with relations the night
before he was arrested.
The eldest of the women was Maria Pak, whose sister
Lucy had died on 24 May. Barbara Kwön and MariaYi,
wife of Damian Nam, had each made her house a masscentre
for Bishop Imbert. Barbara Yi had insisted on marrying
a Christian, and had put off a pagan suitor by staying
abed for three years pretending to be unable to walk.
She had then married a Christian, but he had died after
only two years. Her sister Magdalene and her aunt
Theresa had been beheaded on 20 July, her young niece,
also called Barbara Yi, had died in prison at the end of
May; and she left her mother Magdalene Hö in jail, waiting
for martyrdom.
Father of a priest
A week later, on 12 September, Francis Ch’oe, aged only
34, father of the lad Thomas who had been sent to the
seminary in Macao with two other boys in 1836, died in
prison. Francis had been baptised when young. He had a
fiery temperament, which he succeeded in controlling, so
that the impression he left on others was one of generosity
and gentleness. When he realised persecution was growing,
he hid his pious medals and other devotional objects,
but did nothing to hide his Christian books. He said the
images must be protected against sacrilege, but the books
were his manuals of strategy in the coming battle.
When police came to his home in the country to fetch
him, he entertained them overnight – and gave new
clothes to one of them whose clothes were threadbare.
Then he persuaded a group of nearly forty Christians to
go to prison with him, saying it would be better to die by
the sword in Seoul than to starve in the country – for there
was a famine that year. Only three of the forty stayed to
the end. When asked to renounce his Christian faith,
Francis replied that if asked to live without eating, he
would try, though it would be very difficult; but it was
impossible for him to pretend not to believe in God. At one
point he was asked to put on the bishop’s vestments. He
refused, and they were put on another prisoner. Francis
straightway prostrated himself before the man. When
asked whom he was reverencing, he replied, ‘The crucifix’.
The questioner raised his hand to strike Francis; then
thought better of it.
The officers goaded a repulsive thief to insult and
pester him, even to opening and hurting the sores from
his beatings. Francis bore everything with such resignation
that the thief exclaimed, ‘He really is a Christian.
You other Christians! Do as he does!’
On 11 September he was beaten with 50 blows – having
been beaten every second day since the beginning of
August. The next day he died in prison, disappointed that
God had not allowed him to shed his blood, but accepting
the Divine Will.
The good shepherd gives up his life for the sheep
So many of his flock were being imprisoned, tortured and
executed that Bishop Imbert wondered whether he and
the two priests should try to leave the country, in order to
save the laity. The three Frenchmen met near Suwön, but,
deciding that any plan to leave Korea would be impracticable,
they separated on 3 July and went into hiding.
On 10 August a new Christian named Andrew Chöng
came to the bishop in the middle of the night, saying a
messenger had come from Seoul, where the government
had changed its mind and would now treat him with due
honour. Imbert realised at once that his hiding place had
been betrayed. He wrote straightway to his two priests,
then went to meet the ‘messenger’ in a nearby village.
The messenger turned out to be an apostate called Kim
Yösang. The bishop went with him to Seoul. There he
was soon bound with the red cord of arrest, and taken for
questioning with the usual tortures. He had persuaded the
police to allow Andrew Chöng return to his own home.
Anxious now to find the two priests, the police
deceived two more Christians, one of whom went along
with the ruse so far as to meet the bishop, from whom he
was able to take a note for Fr Maubant and Fr Chastan,
written in Latin. The note said: ‘In extreme circumstances
the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep, so if you
have not already left, come with the officer Son Kyejong,
but do not let any of the Christians follow you. Imbert,
Bishop of Capsa.’ (Capsa was his titular see, because
Korea was not yet a diocese.)
The letter soon reached Fr Maubant, who sent it on to
Fr Chastan and at the same time wrote to Son, telling
him that Fr Chastan was away, but they would both
arrive in about ten days. Jacques Chastan received the
message on 1 September. He at once sat down and wrote
a farewell letter to his family in France, giving thanks to
God for calling him to be a martyr. When the two met,
near the town of Hongju, they both wrote further letters
on 6 September, to the Maubant family, to the Roman
Propaganda and to the Paris Foreign Missions Society.
They reported to Cardinal Fransoni of the Propaganda
that the mission had about 10,000 Christians. They also
reported 1,200 baptisms, 2,500 confirmations, 4,500 confessions,
4,000 communions, 150 marriages, 60 anointings
of the dying, and 600 catechumens under instruction.
For three men this was a huge accomplishment,
especially when the necessary travelling and the language
difficulties are taken into account. They both then
wrote letters to their Christians, exhorting them particularly
to ensure that Christians married Christians.
From Hongju they were taken on ponies to Seoul. On
12 September they were in Seoul with their bishop, all
three being interrogated by the Criminal Court. They were
beaten on the 15th and 16th and again on the 19th. They
were finally sentenced late on the 21st, and executed on
the sands by the Han that evening. The whole ritual of
military decapitation with display of the heads was gone
through. When Fr Chastan received the first sword blow it
fell on his shoulder and he started up, but immediately fell
back on his knees. Otherwise they remained still till they
died. Not until three weeks later were Christians able to
disinter the three bodies surreptitiously and take them
away. Many decades later they were enshrined in the crypt
of Seoul cathedral.
Late in the afternoon of the next day Paul Chöng and
his fellow-worker Augustine Yu were beheaded outside
the Little West Gate.
So the leadership of the infant Church was destroyed
in two days. Bishop Imbert, realising that this would happen,
had committed the Church to the care Charles Hyön,
a gifted catechist of the professional class.
Strong women
Four days after Paul and Augustine were killed, nine
other Christians were martyred outside the Little West
Gate on 26 September. The six women among them had
been under arrest for many weeks – Magdalene Pak for
six months. She and Agatha Chön had connections with
the palace, where she had lived and worked. Perpetua
Hong had been in prison for over four months, Columba
Kim since June and Julietta Kim since July. Magdalene
Hö was the mother of Barbara Yi and Magdalene Yi, who
had been beheaded on 20 July and 2 September.
The life of women, especially those of the gentry class,
was severely circumscribed. They rarely travelled, indeed
rarely left the house and were not allowed in the streets in
daylight. Most of them could not read Chinese characters.
They were conventionally regarded as unintelligent. The
truth was very different. In spite of their manner of life,
women were often of strong character, perceptive, and
influential in the lives of the men.
Their steadfastness is illustrated by their response to torture.
It was allied to a meekness and dignity that were in
themselves virtues for Confucians too. Most of these
women had been looking forward to martyrdom, some for
many years. Perpetua Hong had long said she wanted ‘to
wear the red dress (of martyrdom)’. When they came to
interrogation they surprised the questioners by the cogency
of their arguments for believing in God and Christ.
Columba Kim made a great impression by her poise
and lack of fear. She had been imprisoned with her sister
Agnes, who had been beheaded three weeks earlier. They
were aged 26 and 23. Their questioners were so exasperated
by their constancy that the women had been stripped
of all their clothing and put into a men’s section of the
Police Prison, with a suggestion that the ruffians already
there were welcome to treat the women as they liked.
After two days they were given back their clothes and
returned, untouched, to the women’s prison. When they
were next under torture Columba complained about this
incident with calm dignity. She said she would not complain
about treatment that was legal, but she and her sister
had been treated illegally. The court was appalled and
sent a report to higher authority. Some of the prison staff
were punished with severe bastinado.
Columba could be satirical too, as she was in describing
the nonsense involved in believing that the souls of the dead
would come and enjoy the meal prepared for them in the
Confucian ancestral sacrifice ritual. She won admiration for
her intelligence and courage, but these virtues could not
spare her; nor would she have wished that they might.
Also in September another Lucy Kim, 70 years old and
generally known as ‘the hunchback’, died in prison.
Three male martyrs and three more women
On 26 September three more men were executed with
the six women: Charles Cho, Sebastian Nam and
Ignatius Kim. They represented the second level of
leadership in the Church
Charles Cho and Sebastian Nam had been among those
who went on the embassies to Beijing. Charles, who went
every year, had helped to arrange for the foreign priests to
enter Korea and had acted as guide for Maubant in his
pastoral journeys. On his return from China at the beginning
of 1839, he had received a vision of Christ with St
Peter and St Paul, which he had interpreted as a promise
of martyrdom. When he was taken from the cross on the
cart that took him to the execution ground, Charles Cho
noticed some of his relations, not Christians, present there
in great distress. He gave them an affectionate smile.
Sebastian Nam had been Fr Pacifico’s helper and was
an experienced leader in the Church. He also was taken
through the treachery of a Christian.
Ignatius Kim, whose own father had been martyred in
1814, was father of the boy Andrew Kim who had gone
to Macao in 1836 to study for the priesthood. Ignatius
broke under torture, but was still condemned to punishment
for having let his son go abroad. When he was
returned to prison, the others encouraged him to reassert
his faith. This he did three times, under increased torture;
and so died a martyr.
On the last night of the month two more women died
in prison, both of them sick with disease contracted from
the conditions under which they were detained: 57-yearold
Catherine Yi and her 33-year-old daughter Magdalene
Cho. Catherine had been reduced to poverty by her persistence
in the faith and earned a meagre living as a seamstress.
She realised her ambition of dying a virgin.
Boy martyr
Augustine Yu’s family, of whom only two had accepted
their father’s faith, was outlawed and banished from the
capital. Before then, however, his younger son Peter, aged
13, had become the youngest of the martyrs who would be
canonised 150 years later. This remarkable boy had begun
to hope for martyrdom long before. After his father was
arrested he had gone to the police early in August and
urged them to arrest him. They did so and proceeded to
question him with torture on 14 occasions. At least once he
picked up shreds of his flesh from the ground and threw
them defiantly before the judges. To many of the onlookers
it seemed that he was happy throughout the five horrific
weeks, hoping to be beheaded. In the event he was strangled
in the prison on 31 October.
Paul’s mother
Paul Chöng’s mother, Cecilia Yu, was 79 years old. The
police arrested her on 19 July and subjected her, old as
she was, to 230 strokes of the wand in her first 5 interrogations.
She wanted to join her beloved Paul in martyrdom,
but because of her age the authorities would not
behead her. She resigned herself to dying in prison, and
lingered on until she fell asleep on 23 November, quietly
murmuring the names of Jesus and Mary. Her daughter
Elisabeth was still alive in prison for her faith.
Winter martyrs
On the day Cecilia died, 23 November 1839, the State
council issued an even stronger edict against Christianity.
On 29 December, seven more martyrs were killed.
Benedicta Hyön was sister to Charles Hyön, the catechist
who had become leader of the new generation. Their
father had died for the faith in 1801. Magdalene Yi was
an impoverished lady of the gentry class who had
watched her mother die in prison. Peter Ch’oe, father-inlaw
of Charles Cho, was a man of the professional class
who after a dissolute youth had become a Christian and
tamed his wild ways. Magdalene Han was married to a
distinguished scholar who had been baptised in articulo
mortis. Cecilia Yu’s daughter and Paul Chöng’s sister,
Elisabeth Chöng, had always lived in poverty and was
accustomed to earn her pittance by needlework and weaving.
She was the fourth member of her family to be executed.
Bishop Imbert declared she should have been made
a catechist. As she left the prison on her way to execution,
she exhorted those she left behind to pray always for
the poor and for the suffering. Barbara Cho was the wife
of Sebastian Nam, who had died among those killed on
26 September. She was also cousin of Paul Chöng and
had kept house for Fr Pacifico. Barbara Ko had been a
toddler when her father had been martyred in 1801. She
left her husband Augustine Pak in prison, awaiting his
inevitable death before long.
January 1840 saw four martyrs strangled in the Police Prison.
On the 9th the two victims were women. Theresa Kim
was an aunt of the boy Andrew Kim who had gone to
Macao to study for the priesthood four years earlier. Her
husband Joseph Son had died in prison for the faith in
1824 in the country town of Haemi. She had provided a
home for Fr Pacifico till he went with the three boys to
China. Later she joined Bishop Imbert’s household. She
was strangled after nearly six months’ imprisonment.
Agatha Yi, who died the same day aged only 17, had
been imprisoned in April, with her father Augustine
(beheaded in April) and her mother Barbara Kwön
(beheaded in September).
Later the same month, the same brutal death put an
end to the sufferings of two more men. The first was
35-year-old Andrew Chöng, the naive convert who had
fallen into the trap set by the apostate Kim Yösang to
capture Bishop Imbert. Andrew had been duped again
into betraying some new converts; but he woke to the
truth when Kim tried to persuade him to betray Fr
Maubant and Fr Chastan. In his distress at that time
Andrew spoke of giving himself up to martyrdom. The
priests dissuaded him; but he was soon caught and subjected
to rigorous tortures. Five months later he was
strangled on 23 January 1840.
His companion in martyrdom, Stephen Min, was killed
a week later. He was nearly 60, a childless widower,
reduced to staying in other peoples’ houses, earning a living
by hand-copying books. His sufferings climaxed in
40 strokes of the paddle, at every one of which he cried
‘A rascal fit only to die!’ Yet in those last weeks of misery
this rather solemn soul managed to persuade two
apostates to repent: Dominic Yi and Cosmas Yö – both of
whom were executed before Stephen himself.
Five men and five women
Ten martyrs died on 31 January and 1 February 1840 –
five men and five women.
Paul Hö was a soldier of the city garrison. At first he
broke down under the torture, but soon he recovered his
courage and was subjected to depraved tests by the
guards, who made him eat and drink filth to prove his
fidelity to Christ. He died while being tortured by beating
with the heavy paddle.
The other nine were beheaded at Tang-Kogae, another
place of execution outside the western walls of the city.
The five women were all at least acquaintances, if not
friends. Maria Yi was sister of Magdalene Yi, beheaded
with six others on 29 December. Magdalene Son was the
wife of Peter Ch’oe, who had also been martyred on that
December day. Barbara Ch’oe was their daughter, whose
husband Charles Cho had been martyred in September.
Magdalene was another seamstress, and both she and her
daughter each arrived in prison with a tiny daughter. Both
children were sent away into the care of others.
The fourth woman, Agatha Kwön, was a stranger case.
She died at the age of 21 and was the daughter of
Magalene Han, who had been beheaded outside the Little
West Gate at the end of December. Magdalene’s husband
had been converted on his deathbed. They had arranged
for Agatha to be married at the age of 12. Marriage at this
age was more common than not, and the bride and groom
were not expected to cohabit until some years later. This
bridegroom’s family, however, was too poor even to take
Agatha to live in their house and she was confided to his
relations. When Fr Pacifico arrived in Korea she entered
service in his household. He became very fond of her,
and approved her wish to break off her marriage and live
as a virgin. Their relationship became too close and gave
cause for scandal. Fr Maubant talked to her and she
became overwhelmed with penitence, claiming that only
martyrdom would expiate her sins. Kim Yösang, who had
betrayed Bishop Imbert, sank further into depravity by
trying to persuade her to go off with him, but she was
steadfast. She entered the prison with some happiness.
The guards were sorry for Agatha and set her free, but
she soon returned voluntarily to the prison. Her martyrdom
was a singular triumph at the close of a life of frailty
and great trials.
The fifth woman was Agatha Yi. She had been married
to a eunuch. Bishop Imbert advised that she should leave
him, but her mother was too poor to support her. She
moved in with Agatha Kwön and was arrested with her.
Of the four men, two were brothers aged 39 and 42:
Peter and Paul Hong from Sösan district in the central
province, grandsons and nephews of two martyrs of 1801.
Both were catechists and had helped shelter Fr Maubant
and Fr Chastan in spring and summer 1839. The dastardly
Kim Yösang fingered them as he did the bishop and the
two priests.
Augustine Pak was 48, a member of the professional
class, cultured and kind, but very poor. His wife Barbara
Ko, whose own father had been martyred in 1801, had
been beheaded in November. Augustine had been one of
the group that arranged for the three Frenchmen to enter
the country and Bishop Imbert had made him a catechist.
It is recorded that he was insulted and tortured even by
other prisoners. The torturers left him unable to use either
arms or legs.
The last of the group was John Yi, 31 years old. He was
of the gentry class, a widower without children. He had
accompanied Fr Maubant on pastoral journeys. During
1839 he had been at pains to offer relief to imprisoned
Christians; and he had led the group that secretly removed
the bodies of the three French martyrs from the Han River
sands at the end of September. Six days before he died he
wrote a lengthy letter of advice to his fellow-Christians, trying
to strengthen their faith. He advised them particularly to
practise the Stations of the Cross frequently and to have
recourse to the prayers of the Ever-virgin Mary.
Barbara Ch’oe and Paul Hong could not be executed
with the others, because no one could be beheaded on the
same day as a close relation. Paul had a brother, and
Barbara her mother, among the condemned. Seven of the
group were therefore beheaded on 31 January, but these
two and John Yi on 1 February.
The list of those canonised for the persecution of the
Year of the Yellow Pig ends with Antony Kim strangled
on 29 April 1841, after 15 months in prison.
Rebellions and poor harvests
For the next six years there were few martyrdoms. The
royal in-laws were Kims again, favourable to modern
learning, and the police stopped searching out Christians.
The Church however could not lower its guard. Most
Christians were hiding in the countryside, and all had
been impoverished. Few remained who belonged to the
gentry. Not only had they lost all their priests; they had
lost their Korean leaders too. Three men remained who
could give some leadership, but they were less gifted than
Paul Chöng and his companions: Fr Chastan’s servant,
Charles Hyön; Fr Maubant’s servant, Peter Chöng; and
Thomas Yi, a grandson of the very first Korean to be baptised
in Beijing, Peter Yi, martyred in 1801.
The state of the whole country was now far from being
as prosperous as it had been when Peter Yi collected
Christian books in Beijing for the scholars of the
Hermitage of Heavenly Truth. Government by the royal
in-laws had been corrupt; the kings had lacked charisma;
there had been too many poor harvests; and a succession
of uprisings, led by illegitimate sons and other malcontents,
showed the general malaise of the nation.
The Paris Foreign Missions Society and the Office of
Propaganda in Rome appointed John Joseph Ferréol as
Vicar Apostolic for Korea. He arrived in Manchuria by
sea and reached Shenyang (then called Mukden) in 1840.
He was unable to get further for four years. Had Paul
Chöng still been alive, things might have been different.
Christians were still able from time to time to get on the
embassies from Seoul to Beijing, but the network had been
broken. Ferréol withdrew beyond the Mongolian border
and stayed with the little Christian community that had
sheltered Bishop Bruguière five years earlier. Not until
1842 was contact established with Charles Hyön. The way
would soon be open. The route would again be over the
frozen Yalu River, in the coldest, darkest part of the year.
By this time the three boys who had been sent to the Paris
Missions seminary in Macao should have finished their
studies there. Francis-Xavier, alas, had died. The other
two had fared well, and it was judged expedient to think
of their return. They were to be put as interpreters on two
French naval vessels that were planning to visit Korean
waters, with the intention of complaining about the execution
of the three French nationals in 1839. The vessels
were under the command of Admiral Cécille – a name
that was destined to bring more sorrow than help.
Andrew Kim was to accompany two French priests, one
for Manchuria and one for Korea. The plan had to be
changed. Andrew and the two priests eventually went to
Manchuria in a Chinese junk, arriving there at the end of
October 1842. Andrew and the priest for Korea, Fr
Maistre, began planning to enter Korea disguised as beggars,
but the Vicar Apostolic of Manchuria quashed the
plan as unworkable.
Andrew then planned to go alone. At the end of the
year he got himself to a place on the road to Beijing where
he was likely to meet the winter embassy as it passed
through from Seoul. There were frustrating delays, but he
finally succeeded and met a Christian Korean named
Francis Kim, from whom he learned how the persecution
had raged, and that there was now a lull. On 24 January
1843 Korean Christians in the embassy said Fr Ferréol
should not attempt to cross the border. Andrew had hairraising
adventures, suffering much from cold and hunger;
but he had to return to his superior. Again they waited for
many months. There was some consolation when, on the
last day of 1843, the Vicar Apostolic of Manchuria
ordained Fr Ferréol as third Vicar Apostolic of Korea. On
17 October 1844 Andrew was ordained to the diaconate.
A fortnight later the bishop, accompanied by Andrew,
reached the Korean border again. They met Francis Kim
as the embassy went through. Francis was insistent that
no foreign missionary should attempt the crossing, but
Andrew went on alone and succeeded in crossing the
frozen river. He left a vivid account in Latin of his journey,
through gullies and alleys, through snow-bound
mountains and over frozen streams, constantly aware that
he might be discovered and questioned. If he were
caught, it would be impossible to hide for long the fact
that that he had illegally left and re-entered the country.
At P’yöngyang he met Charles Hyön and Thomas Yi,
and his journey under their guidance to Seoul was a little
easier. Andrew had brought some money with him
(explaining how he came by it would have been hard if he
had been arrested on the way) and he soon bought a
house in Seoul. He could now move about fairly easily,
and Bishop Ferréol instructed him to investigate sea routes
in and out of Korea. He bought a wretched little boat and
gathered an ad hoc crew of inexperienced sailors. In this
craft he and Charles Hyön set sail across the Yellow Sea,
intending to reach Shanghai. A tremendous storm arose.
They cut their masts and entrusted their souls to God.
Although many ships were lost in the Yellow Sea during
that storm, this damaged craft stayed afloat long enough
for them to be rescued by a Cantonese ship that took them
in tow… Even so they encountered pirates. When they discharged
their firearms, the pirates fled.
Eventually they were towed into the anchorage at
Wusung, the port of Shanghai, which was then in the
first stages of becoming an international trading centre,
full of sailing vessels from European nations. The
strange Korean boat and the costume of the Koreans
caused a sensation. Andrew recognised a British ship.
Knowing about the British from his years in Macao,
Hong Kong’s neighbour , he cal led out : ‘ I am a
Korean. I ask your protection!’ The British sailors
responded, and guided him to the Chinese authorities,
who suggested he return to Korea by land. Andrew
was having nothing to do with that idea, which would
have defeated his purpose. With the help of the British
officers he made his way into Shanghai and saw the
British consul, who had been forewarned by Bishop
Ferréol, and found a place for him to stay with a
Christian family.
A few weeks later Bishop Ferréol himself arrived in
Shanghai, accompanied by Fr Antoine Daveluy, who
was also destined for Korea. On 17 August 1845, the
Vicar Apostolic of Jiangnan – the local bishop – ordained
Andrew priest.
The bishop, Fr Daveluy and Fr Kim prepared to sail
for Korea. They arrived at Kanggyöng on the west coast
on 12 October. A particular joy for Andrew was being
able to see his mother, Ursula, again. As we have seen,
his father Ignatius had been beheaded in 1839. Soon the
two bishops and Andrew were established in Seoul,
where they were now fairly safe so long as they did nothing
to attract attention. The bishop asked Andrew to continue
working at the idea of entering and leaving Korea
by sea. In the spring Andrew went to the west coast of
Hwanghae province, to a group of islands which was
well known as a haunt of Chinese fishermen at that season.
He was apprehended there by the Korean authorities
in July. They took him to their provincial capital at
Haeju before they put the red cord of arrest on him and
took him to Seoul.
His trial took a long time. He made a good impression
on his judges, who admired his manners and his education.
The records hint that they had some hope of dealing
leniently with him, but Admiral Cécille now arrived off
the coast, and sent peremptory messages to the Korean
government about the execution of the three Frenchmen
in 1839. Cécille’s behaviour left no hope of pardon for
Andrew, against whom the most serious charge was his
treasonous contacts with Europeans. He was condemned
to death. The execution place was prepared on
the sands of the Han, where Bishop Imbert and his two
priests had been slain seven years earlier. Here Andrew
was brought on 16 September 1846, stripped and prepared
for decapitation. He made a brief speech, declaring
he had contacted foreigners for God’s sake only,
and that he was dying for God. Then he charged all
those present to enter eternal life with him. When all
was ready he asked the soldiers if he was correctly
placed for beheading. One them adjusted the tilt of his
head. The young priest did not move again. His head
fell at the eighth stroke.
Fearing what might happen to the body, the authorities
had it dressed in a purple coat, wrapped in reed mats
and buried at once, together with the head, there on the
execution ground. Christians retrieved the relics forty
days later.
St Andrew is the best-loved of the Korean martyrs. Not
only was he the first Korean priest, only 25 years old and
not yet a year in the priesthood, he was an impressive and
loveable young man. Bishop Ferréol said he loved him like
a son. His judges acknowledged his fine character, and
pitied him for the hard life that had been his lot. It is right
that his name should stand at the head of the canonised.
Eight friends
Three days later Charles Hyön, the catechist to whom
Bishop Imbert had committed the Church, was beheaded
with the gruesome ceremonies of military display on the
sands of the Han. His father, sister, wife and son had
already been martyred. He would have surrendered himself
to martyrdom in 1838, had not the Bishop and the
two French priests dissuaded him. Since then he had led
the Church bravely. He had punctiliously collected
accounts of all the martyrs, amassing the basis of documentation
that would later be used for the canonisation
process. He had been in prison since 16 July, when he
was arrested with four women who happened to be in his
house at the time of the police visit.
The four women were beheaded outside the Little
West Gate the day after Charles was executed on the
sands. Susanna U was a widow of the gentry class. She
was arrested and might have been executed in 1828, but
was released because she was then pregnant. She was
however tortured, despite the unborn child. She had a
friend with her now, Teresa Kim, a widow who worked
as a household servant in Fr Andrew’s household. With
them were another widow, Agatha Yi, who had run away
from home so that she could live as a Christian, and had
been baptised by Fr Pacifico; and Catherine Chöng.
Catherine had been violently beaten by her master when
she would not take part in pagan sacrifices. She ran away
from home and joined the women in Fr Andrew’s house.
She still bore the marks of her beating.
Three men were killed with them. Joseph Im had
been the only non-Christian in his own household, not
well educated, but earning his living as a merchant.
One of his sons had gone with Fr Andrew to contact the
Chinese fishermen off the west coast in June. On learning
that they had been apprehended, Joseph, who had
joined the police in the hope of helping Christians,
went to Haeju to claim his son. Unsurprisingly, he was
himself arrested and taken to Seoul. He was tortured
with particular cruelty, being told at one time that if he
made the slightest sound it would be interpreted as
apostasy. Fr Andrew’s charm worked on him. He suddenly
declared his faith and became the second of the
martyrs to be baptised in prison. (The first was Agatha
Kim in 1838.)
Peter Nam, a member of the capital garrison, was
arrested in July. Although a Christian by 1839, he had
escaped capture, and shortly afterwards fell into sinful
ways. After a while he reformed himself and undertook
severe penances, such as living in an unheated room
throughout the winter. He said only martyrdom could
obliterate his guilt. In prison he carefully surrendered his
military tally as part of his welcome for martyrdom. He
asked his pagan brothers not to visit him in prison, lest
they should break his determination to die.
The last of the group was Laurence Han, member of
the gentry with a rather solemn mien, but an acknowledged
gift of contemplative prayer. Like many of the
martyrs, he thought Christian belief involved charity of
something like Franciscan prodigality. He often gave
away his clothes. Bishop Imbert had appointed him catechist.
Arrested at the end of August, he was tortured with
particular ingenuity, having his feet cut and crushed with
pottery shards. In spite of this, he refused to be taken to
Seoul on a pony, even though it was impossible for him
to wear shoes. As a result he walked barefoot on his
wounded feet for more than 50 kilometres.
All seven were beaten to death in prison. Some of
them lasted a long time under the blows. When this happened
it was customary for the executioners to ease their
own labours by strangling the victim. This happened to
Peter Nam. It was said that a strange light appeared over
his body during the night of his death. The prison guards
were so moved by this that they did not throw his body
out in the usual way, but gave it careful burial.
A twenty-year lull
After autumn 1846 there was a sudden lull in the execution
of Christians. This must have been because of a
change of heart in the palace. The queen’s family was
now politically less inclined to hate Christians. Then in
1849 the king died suddenly at the age of 22, leaving no
son to succeed him. The queen who had come to the fore
after the Year of the White Cock was now the senior
dowager. She made one of the most surprising appointments
of the dynasty. She called in from the island of
Kanghwa an uneducated 18-year-old farmer, an outrigger
of the royal clan, whose princely ancestors had been
exiled there 150 years earlier. Since he was utterly unprepared
for the throne, the dowager’s family again took
over the reins of government. Things became easier for
Christians. The new king was grandson of the princess
Song who had been martyred in 1801, and may have had
some latent sympathy for Christianity.
Bishop Ferréol worked secretly in Seoul for eight
years. In 1853 he fell ill and died, worn out by heavy
work and harsh conditions. The man appointed to succeed
him was Siméon Berneux. Berneux had arrived in
the Orient in 1840, when for a few weeks in Macao he
was given care of the two Korean students, the future
martyr Andrew Kim and Thomas Ch’oe. Still in his
twenties he was sent to work in Vietnam, where he
spent two years in prison for his faith. His superiors
transferred him against his will to Manchuria, where he
was to become bishop as Pro-Vicar-Apostolic in 1854,
but hardly had he been ordained, when he was appointed
to Korea. It took nearly two years for him to reach
Seoul. He arrived by a junk from the Yellow Sea in
January 1856.
He had his own house, but a gentleman and his family
also lived in it, leaving the bishop just one room, in which
he slept, ate his two daily meals and said mass. He could
never go out into the courtyard during the day because
women hawkers and beggars might come in at any time
and his red beard would have given him away as a foreigner.
He dared not open a window, even in summer, and
could never raise his voice above a whisper. Twice a year
he visited his flock, who were mostly very poor and had
tiny houses, inside which it was impossible for him to
stand upright, even for mass. He would arrive at a house
before daybreak and recite the breviary while the catechist
listed those coming for the sacraments. He would have
breakfast, hear confessions and give instruction all day
long. He lay down at night dead tired. Gentlewomen
would come during the night, disguised as poor women,
make their confessions, hear mass at 3 in the morning and
get back home before daylight, for they had to keep their
faith secret from heir husbands. Baptisms, confirmations
and occasionally unction followed the mass. Then he hurried
to the next congregation in another house, arriving
there before dawn. This pattern was repeated daily for two
months every spring and autumn.
1866, The Year of the Red Horse
In 1857 Fr Daveluy was ordained coadjutor bishop. The
church that had begun as a group of gentry was now largely
a Church of the poor, but some gentlemen and their families
still belonged. One of these was John Nam, who was a
tutor to the royal household. When the ploughboy king
died leaving no son in 1863, the senior queen dowager of
the day made another bizarre decision. She appointed as
king an 11-year-old boy, whose father was still alive.
There were two precedents for this, however, and the protocol
was for the king’s father to be known as the ‘Great
Prince of the Palace’. He naturally functioned as regent, a
man who was famous for his beautiful ink drawings of
orchids, but proved to be an unpredictable schemer.
Koreans were just becoming aware of the interest
being taken in them by the western powers. European
ships were appearing in Korean waters. Russia was particularly
worrying. Surprisingly, there were three
Christian women in the palace: the Great Prince’s wife,
his eldest daughter, and the boy king’s nanny. These three
discussed the situation with John Nam, who eventually
suggested to the Great Prince that he might use Bishop
Berneux as a contact with the French and British governments
for an alliance against Russia. It seems that the
Prince asked to meet Berneux, but there were mistakes in
protocol when letters were drafted. There was a delay of
ten months, perhaps partly because the missionaries were
hard to contact. The Great Prince was angry and called
the matter off. He also had political debts to the senior
Queen Dowager’s family, which was anti-Christian. He
asked to meet the two bishops. They were in Seoul by the
end of January 1866, the Year of the Red Horse; but they
already knew that the Prince’s intention now was to arrest
them. Bishop Berneux was arrested on 23 February. The
gory processes that led to execution were gone through
again on the Han River sands on 6 March. The bishop
was 52. With him were executed three French priests, all
in their twenties: Juste de Bretennieres, Pierre Dorie and
Louis Beaulieu. John Nam was executed outside the
Little West Gate the same day. Three days later John
Chön, a flour merchant, and Peter Ch’oe, both of whom
had edited and published Christian books, were beheaded
in the same place.
Another two days later, two Korean laymen were martyred
on the Han River sands with full military ceremonial
and display of their heads. Mark Chöng the catechist was
71. He had been converted after seeing some of the martyrs
of 1839 meet their deaths. Bishop Ferréol made him
chief catechist of Seoul. Alexius U was only 21. He was
something of a prodigy, passing the national examinations
in his middle teens. He had been an ardent missionary in
Hwanghae-do, the Yellow Sea Province just north of
Seoul, and by the age of 18 had brought 100 converts to
Seoul. Arrested in 1865, he had apostatised under torture,
but had returned to the Church and was arrested in the
house of John Chön.
Bishop Daveluy and two more French priests, Luc Huin
and Pierre Aumaitre, whom he had asked to surrender in
the same way that Laurent Imbert had asked Frs Maubant
and Chastan, were to have been executed in the same
place. The palace soothsayers objected that too much
blood was being shed in Seoul and this would have a bad
effect on the king’s wedding, which was to happen that
spring. Bishop Daveluy and the priests had been arrested
with him in the district 150 miles south of Seoul where Fr
Andrew Kim and so many earlier martyrs had been bred,
were taken back there for execution. Decapitation with
display of the heads was performed at Poryöng on Good
Friday, 30 March 1866. Thus Bishop Daveluy, who
became the 5th Vicar Apostolic for Korea when Bishop
Berneux died, held that office for only 22 days. With him
also were martyred Luke Hwang, a catechist who had
helped him with translation work, and another catechist,
Joseph Chang.
Ten other names appear among the canonised for the
Year of the Red Horse. Catechist Peter Yu was beaten to
death in P’yöngyang on 17 February. On the day of
Bishop Daveluy’s death a farmer named Thomas Son was
strangled at Kongju. Seven men were beheaded in Chönju,
the south-western provincial capital, on 13 December:
Bartholomew Chöng, of the gentry class; farmers Peter
Cho and 20-year-old Peter Chöng; catechists Peter Son
and 20-year-old Peter Han; and Peter Yi. Peter Cho’s 18-
year-old son, Joseph Cho, was beaten to death the day
before. Another catechist, John Yi, was beheaded in the
south-eastern city of Taegu on 21 January 1867.
These names from the 1860s are woefully unrepresentative.
The choice of those canonised in 1984 depended on
the collection of evidence of the standard required for the
canonical process. Not only are there no women among
them, though large numbers of housewives and mothers
were killed, but these saints of the Year of the Red Horse
form only a tiny selection from what are thought to be
have been about 8,000 martyrs who died between 1866
and 1886. Few Churches can muster such a roll.
Persecution continued for several years. Families that
suffered in 1801 and 1839 continued to suffer until the
early 1870s. Among them were a son, grandson and two
great grandsons of Peter Yi who took Chinese books to the
Hermitage group in 1775 – four generations of martyrs in
one family. Long after persecutions ceased, priests continued
to live and work in secret. Only in 1886, when the first
Franco-Korean treaty was signed, did the law relax.
Princess Mary
When Gustave Mutel became Vicar Apostolic in 1891,
the Great Prince of the Palace was still alive. It was no
longer a crime to be a Christian, and the new bishop was
approached by the Great Prince’s wife, asking for baptism.
This proved impractical because as head of the
palace household she was in charge of preparing food for
the ancestral sacrifices. The situation changed when in
1896 she retired from the headship because of her age
(she was 78). The bishop visited her after dark on 11
October and baptised her as Mary in the house of one of
her palace ladies. On 6 September 1897 he visited her
again for her confession and first Holy Communion. It
was also her last communion, for she died four months
later on 8 January 1898. Her husband, who had started
and organised the greatest of the persecutions, died on 22
February. Some time before he had sent a small gift to
Bishop Mutel, together with an ambiguous message saying
he regretted what he had done to the Christians and
that he had been deceived.
The martyrs’ heritage
In the days of the martyrs there were no separate Korean
words for ‘Catholicism’ and ‘Christianity’. The Chinese
name for Christianity, devised by the great Mateo Ricci
in the 16th century, served for both. It meant, literally,
‘the God Doctrine’. Belief in one almighty and loving
Creator God was indeed the crucial subject on which the
martyrs were most frequently questioned and for which
they were derided during their trials. They died for their
8,000 MARTYRS 61
belief in God and salvation by the blood of Christ. The
Christian virtues they most prized were humility, love,
and care for the poor.
When the Churches of the Reformation began their
missionary work in Korea after 1882, all of them save the
Anglicans introduced a different word for God and chose
to call their teaching not ‘God Doctrine’ but ‘Jesus
Doctrine’. Thus Korean Protestants came to think of the
Catholic martyrs as having died for a different religion.
Some wise Protestant missionaries, however, expressed
great reverence for the martyrs, and today Korean
Christians all increasingly see themselves as their heirs.
In the 1960s the Catholic Church in Korea agreed to use
the word for God preferred by Protestants.
In 1984 Pope John Paul II visited Korea to celebrate
the second centenary of the baptism of Peter Yi in Beijing
and the birth of the Korean Church. On 6 May at the Han
River sands where St Laurent Imbert, St Andrew Kim
and many others had suffered and died, he canonised 103
martyrs: 3 French bishops, 7 French priests, 46 Korean
men and 47 Korean women. It was the first canonisation
ever performed outside Rome.
The calendar of saints used by the Catholic Church
now contains a commemoration on 20 September of
‘Saint Andrew Kim Taegön, Saint Paul Chöng Hasang,
and their Companions, Martyrs’. They are remembered
at altars all over the world.
Pope John Paul II visited South Korea in 1984. On leaving
Seoul Cathedral on Sunday morning, 6th May, the Holy
Father went to Youido Square where he celebrated Mass
and canonized 103 Korean Martyrs in the presence of an
estimated more than half a million people.
Korean Martyrs inscribed in the list of Saints
“Today it is given to me, the Bishop of Rome and
Successor of Saint Peter – In that Apostolic See, to participate
in the jubilee of the Church on Korean soil. I have
already spent several days in your midst as a pilgrim, fulfilling
as Bishop and Pope my service to the sons and
daughters of the beloved Korean nation. Today’s Liturgy
institutes the culminating point of this pastoral service.
For behold: through this liturgy of Canonization the
Blessed Korean Martyrs are inscribed in the list of the
Saints of the Catholic Church. These are true sons and
daughters of your nation and they are joined by a number
of missionaries from other lands. They are your
ancestors, according to the flesh, language, and culture.
At the same time they are your fathers – and mothers in
the faith, a faith to which they bore witness by the shedding
of their blood. From the thirteen-year-old Peter Yu
to the seventy-two-year-old Mark Chong, men and
women, clergy and laity, rich and poor, ordinary people
and nobles, many of them descendants of earlier unsung
martyrs they all gladly died for the sake of Christ.
Listen to the last words of Teresa Kwon, one of the
early, martyrs: “Since the Lord of Heaven is the Father of
all mankind and the Lord of all creation, how can you ask
me to betray him? Even in this world anyone who betrays
his own father or mother will not be forgiven. All the
more may I never betray him who is the Father of us all.”
A generation later, Peter Yu’s father Augustine firmly
declares: “Once having known God. I cannot possibly
betray him.” Peter Cho goes even further and says: “Even
supposing that one’s own father committed a crime, still
one cannot disown him as no longer being one’s father.
How then can I say that I do not know the heavenly Lord
Father who is so good?
And what did the seventeen-year-old Agatha Yi say
when she and her younger brother were falsely told that
their parents had betrayed the faith? Whether my parents
betrayed or not is their affair. As for us, we cannot betray
the Lord of heaven whom we have always served.”
Hearing this, six other adult Christians freely delivered
themselves to the magistrates to be martyred. Agatha, her
parents and those other six are all being canonized today.
In addition, there are countless other unknown. humble
martyrs who no less faithfully and bravely served the Lord.
Like unto Christ
The Korean Martyrs have borne witness to the crucified
and risen Christ. Through the sacrifice of their own lives
they have become like Christ in a very special way. The
words of Saint Paul the Apostle could truly have been
spoken by them: We are “always carrying in the body the
death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be
manifested in our bodies. We are always being given up
to death for Jesus’ sake; so that the life of Jesus may be
manifested in our mortal flesh.” (2 Cor 4:10-11).
The death of the martyrs is similar to the death of
Christ on the Cross, because like his, theirs has become
the beginning of new life. This new life was manifested
not only in themselves – in those who underwent death
for Christ- but it was also extended to others. It became
the leaven of the Church as the living community of disciples
and witnesses to Jesus Christ. “The blood of martyrs
is the seed of Christians”: this phrase from the first
centuries of Christianity is confirmed before our eyes.
Today the Church on Korean soil desires in a solemn
way to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the gift of
the Redemption. It is of this gift that Saint Peter writes:
“You were ransomed… not with perishable things such as
silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (I Pt
1:18-19). To this lofty price, to this price of the
Redemption, your Church desires, on the basis of the witness
of the Korean Martyrs, to add an enduring witness of
faith, hope and charity.
Through this witness may Jesus Christ be ever more
widely known in your land: the crucified and risen Christ,
Christ, the Way and the Truth and the Life, Christ, true
God: the Son of the living God. Christ, true man: the Son
of the Virgin Mary.”
(Extracts from the Homily of John Paul II at the canonization of the
Korean Martyrs, 6th May 1984)
No. Name (Age) Notes (Numbers refer to list)
Decapitation with display, Han River sands, Seoul 16 September 1846
1. Kim Taegön/Andrew (25) First Korean priest. Son of 41,
nephew of 57. Gentry class.
Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 22 September 1839
2. Chöng Hasang/ Paul (44) Catechist. Son of 49, brother of 54.
Gentry class.
Died in the Criminal Court Prison, Seoul 25 November 1838
3. Yi Hoyöng/ Peter (35) Catechist. Brother of 7. Gentry class.
Beaten to death, Police Prison, Seoul 20/21 May 1839
4. Chöng Kukpo/ Protase (40) Apostatised, then gave himself up.
Gentry class.
Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 24 May 1839
5. Kim Agi/ Agatha (52) Widow. ‘Agi’ means ‘daughter’ and
is not a name.
6. Pak Agi/ Anna (56)
7. Yi/ Agatha (55) Widow. Sister of 3.
8. Kim Öbi/ Magdalene(65) Widow.
9. Yi Kwanghön/ Augustine (52)Catechist. Husband of 26,
father of 58, brother of 21. Gentry.
10. Han Agi/ Barbara (47) Widow.
11. Pak Hüisun/ Lucy (38) Virgin. Sister of 25. Palace servant.
12. Nam Myönghyök/ Damian (37)Catechist. Husband of 29.
13. Kwön Tügin/ Peter (34) Maker of devotional articles.
Died in the Police Prison, Seoul 26-29 May 1839.
14. Chang Söngjip/ Joseph(53) A herbalist.
15. Kim/ Barbara (34) Widow.
16. Yi/ Barbara (14) Granddaughter of 36, niece of 22
and 28. Gentry class.
Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 20 July 1839.
17. Kim/ Rose (55)
18. Kim Söngim/ Martha (49) Gave herself up.
19. Yi Maeim/ Theresa (51) Sister-in law of 36, aunt of 22 and 28.
Gentry class.
20. Kim Changgüm/ Anna (50) Widow.
21. Yi Kwangnyöl/John (44) Brother of 9, brother-in law of 26,
uncle of 58. Gentry class.
22. Yi Yönghüi/Magdalene (30) Virgin. Daughter of 36, sister of 28,
niece of 19, aunt of 16.
23. Kim/ Lucy (21) Virgin. Gave herself up.
24. Wön Kwiim/ Maria (21) Virgin. Seamstress.
Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 3 September 1839
25. Pak K’ünagi/ Maria (53) Sister of 11. ‘K’ünagi’ (‘eldest
daughter’) is not a name.
26. Kwön Hüi/ Barbara(45) Wife of 9, mother of 58,
sister-in-law of 21.
27. Pak Hujae/ John (40) Straw shoe maker.
28. Yi Chönghüi/ Barbara (40) Widow. Daughter of 36,
sister of 22, niece of 19, aunt of 16.
29. Yi Yönhüi/ Maria (35) Wife of 12.
30. Kim Hyoju/ Agnes (23) Virgin. Sister of 44.
Died in the Criminal Court Prison, Seoul 12 September 1839
31. Ch’oe Kyönghwan/ Francis (34)Catechist. His son Yangöp (Thomas)
was 2nd Korean priest.
Decapitation with display, Han River sands, Seoul 21 September 1839
32. Laurent Imbert (43) 2nd Vicar Apostolic (French bishop).
33. Pierre Maubant (35) French priest.
34. Jacques Chastan (35) French priest.
Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 22 September 1839
35. Yu Chin’gil/ Augustine (48) Father of 48. Professional class.
Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 26 September 1839
36. Hö Kyeim/ Magdalene (66) Mother of 22 and 28.
37. Nam Igwan/ Sebastian (59) Catechist. Husband of 51.
38. Kim/ Julietta (55) Virgin. Palace servant.
39. Chön Kyönghyöp/ Agatha (52)Virgin. Palace servant.
40. Cho Sinch’öl/ Charles (46) Husband of 70, son-in-law of 50 and 64.
41. Kim Chejun/ Ignatius (43) Catechist. Father of 1.
42. Pak Pongson/ Magdalene (43)Widow.
43. Hong Kümju/ Perpetua (35) Widow.
44. Kim Hyoim/ Columba (25) Virgin. Sister of 30.
Died in prison, Seoul September 1839.
45. Kim/ Lucy (70) Nicknamed ‘Hunchback’.
Died in prison, Seoul September-October 1839.
46. Yi/ Catherine (56) Widow. Mother of 47.
47. Cho/ Magdalene (32) Virgin. Daughter of 46.
Strangled in the Police Prison, Seoul 31 October 1839.
48. Yu Taech’öl/ Peter (12) Son of 35. Professional class.
Youngest in the canonised list.
Died in prison, Seoul 23 November 1839
49. Yu/ Cecilia (78) Mother of 2 and 54. Gentry class.
Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 29 December 1839
50. Ch’oe Ch’anghüp/ Peter (52) Husband of 64, father of 70,
father-in-law of 40. Professional.
51. Cho Chüngi/ Barbara (57) Wife of 37. Gentry class.
52. Han Yöngi/ Magdalene (55) Widow. Mother of 67.
53. Hyön Kyöngnyön/ Benedicta (45)Catechist. Sister of 72.
Seamstress. Professional class.
54. Chöng Chönghye/ Elisabeth (42)Virgin. Daughter of 49,
sister of 2. Gentry class.
55. Ko Suni/ Barbara (41) Wife of 62.
56. Yi Yöngdök/ Magdalene (27) Virgin. Sister of 66. Gentry class.
Strangled in the Police Prison, Seoul 9 January 1840
57. Kim/ Theresa (44) Aunt of 1.
58. Yi/ Agatha (17) Virgin. Daughter of 9 and 26,
niece of 21.
Strangled in the Police Prison, Seoul 30 January 1840
59. Min Kükka/ Stephen (53) Catechist. Gentry class.
Strangled in the Police Prison, Seoul 23 January 1840
60. Chöng Hwagyöng/ Andrew (33)Catechist.
Beaten to death, Seoul 31 January – 1 February 1840
61. Hö Im/ Paul (45) Soldier.
Beheaded, Tang-kogae, Seoul 31 January 1840
62. Pak Chongwön/ Augustine (48)Catechist. Husband of 55.
Professional class.
63. Hong Pyöngju/ Pete (42) Catechist. Brother of 68. Gentry class.
64. Son Sobyök/ Magdalene (39) Wife of 50, mother of 70.
65. Yi Kyöngi/ Agatha (27) Virgin.
66. Yi Indök/ Maria (22) Virgin. Sister of 56.
67. Kwön Chini/ Agatha (21) Daughter of 52. Apostatised
and recanted.
Beheaded, Tang-kogae, Seoul 1 February 1840
68. Hong Yöngju/ Paul (39) Catechist. Brother of 63.
69. Yi Munu/ John (31) Catechist. Gentry class.
Companion of Fr Maubant.
70. Ch’oe Yöngi/ Barbara (22) Daughter of 50 and 64, wife of 40.
Strangled in prison, Seoul 29 April 1841
71. Kim Söngu/ Antony (46) Catechist.
Decapitation with display, Han River sands, Seoul 19 September 1846
72. Hyön Söngmun/ Charles (49) Catechist. Professional class.
Strangled or beaten to death in the Police Prison, Seoul 20 September 1846
73. Nam Kyöngmun/ Peter (50) Soldier. Professional class.
74. Han Ihyöng/ Laurence (47) Catechist. Gentry class.
75. U Surim/ Susanna (43) Widow. Gentry class.
76. Im Ch’ibaek/ Joseph (42) Policeman.
77. Kim Imi/ Theresa (35) Virgin.
78. Yi Kannan/ Agatha (32) Widow.
79. Chöng Ch’öryöm/ Catherine (29)
Beaten to death, P’yöngyang 17 February 1866
80. Yu Chöngnyul/ Peter (29) Farmer.
Decapitation with display, Han River sands, Seoul 6 March 1866
81. Siméon Berneux (52) 4th Vicar Apostolic (French bishop)
82. Juste de Bretenières (28) French priest.
83. Pierre Dorie (27) French priest.
84. Louis Beaulieu (26) French priest.
Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 6 March 1866
85. Nam Chongsam/ John (49) Royal secretary of the 3rd grade.
Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 9 March 1866
86. Chön Changun/ John (55) Flour merchant.
Published Catholic books.
87. Ch’oe Hyöng/ Peter (52) Published Catholic books.
Decapitation with display, Han River sands, Seoul 11 March 1866
88. Chöng Üibae/ Mark (71) Catechist.
89. U Seyöng/ Alexius (21) Apostatised in P’yöngyang,
then gave himself up in Seoul.
Decapitation with display, Kalmae-mot, Poryöng 30 March 1866
90. Antoine Daveluy (49) 5th Vicar Apostolic (French bishop).
91. Luc Huin (30) French priest.
92. Pierre Aumaitre (29) French priest.
93. Chang Chugi/ Joseph (63) Catechist.
94. Hwang Söktu/ Luke (53) Catechist. Helped Bishop
Daveluy in translation work.
Strangled, Kongju 30 March 1866
95. Son Chasön/ Thomas (22) Farmer.
Beheaded, Chönju 13 December 1866
96. Chöng Munho/ Bartholomew (65)Gentry class.
97. Cho Hwasö/ Peter (51) Father of 102. Farmer.
98. Son Sönji/ Peter (46) Catechist.
99. Yi Myöngsö/ Peter (45)
100. Han Wönsö/ Peter (Joseph) (20)Catechist. Farmer.
101. Chöng Wönji/ Peter (20) Farmer.
Beaten to death, Chönju 12 December 1886
102. Cho Yunho/ Joseph (18) Son of 97. Farmer.
Beheaded, Taegu 21 January 1867
103. Yi Yunil/ John (43) Catechist.
The first Korean item presented to the British Museum Library is
Additional Manuscript 14054. It is a copy of the Chinese Lord’s Prayer
transcribed in Korean script by Paul Yun who was martyred in 1795.
His cause for canonisation is being promoted by the diocese of Suwön.
Copyright © 2012 Incorporated Catholic Truth Society, 40-46
Harleyford Road, London SE11 5AY. Permission limited to reproduce
this text in Korea on a non-for profit basis. For permissions beyond this,
contact the copyright holders in writing.

Second Vatican Council – 50 Years Later What Does It Say To Us? Northern Catholic Conference, Liverpool 2013.

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Northern Catholic Conference , June 8th, 2013 – Vatican Two – Reading the signs of the times: 50 Years Later What Does The Council Say To Us?

Also, for power point slides, see


The Second Vatican Council
The Second Vatican Council

On October 11th 2012, we marked the momentous event which has defined contemporary Catholic Christianity – the official opening, by Pope John XXIII of the Second Vatican Council. The Council fathers were invited to read the signs of the times and to respond accordingly. Commentators called it a time of metanoia – meaning a transformative change of heart; a time for spiritual conversion; a time when the windows of the Vatican would be thrown open and the Holy Spirit invited in. Above all it was to be a time for renewal “a new Pentecost.”
Before turning to the main body of my remarks it is worth saying how pleased I am that your conference is taking place here in this chapel at Liverpool Hope University. It was where I worshipped while I was a student living in Newman Hall, in what was then Christ College, and it was where I was married twenty five years ago next month.
Perhaps it is also worth recording two things from recent reports: first, that an estimated 100,000 people die for their Christian faith each year and, second, that at a time when it is fashionable to attack the Church for its failings, we might just reflect for a moment on the extraordinary outpouring of good for which the Church is responsible: without any distinction of religion or race. Worldwide, the Church runs 70,544 kindergartens with 6,478,627 pupils; 92,847 primary schools with 31,151,170 pupils; 43,591 secondary schools with 17,793,559 pupils. She educates 2,304,171 high school pupils, and 3,338,455 university students. The Church’s worldwide charity and healthcare centres include: 5,305 hospitals; 18,179 dispensaries; 547 Care Homes for people with Leprosy; 17,223 Homes for the elderly, or the chronically ill or people with a disability; 9,882 orphanages; 11,379 crèches; 15,327 marriage counseling; 34,331 social rehabilitation centres and 9,391 other kinds of charitable institutions. In addition, consider its work in establishing hospices for the terminally ill and dying, it shelters for the homeless, and its work in refugee camps, among internally displaced people and with the poor. That we fail, both personally and institutionally, is self evident – and it was ever thus – but occasionally we should recall the lives that have been laid down for the religious freedoms we enjoy today and the lives which continued to be given in sacrifice or service.
If a faith is worth dying for it is worth living for – and these examples of sacrifice and self giving should inspire and animate us all. That call to give generously of ourselves – and to share our belief and love of God and the man made in his image – was at the heart of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.
Many have remarked that the missing Cardinal at the Council was Blessed John Henry Newman because many of the ideas which it proclaimed were ideas which he had put forward a century before.

Cardinal John Henry Newman
Cardinal John Henry Newman

In his famous “Second Spring” – sermon preached in 1852 at St.Mary’s College Oscot, where Pope Benedict Emeritus completed his four day visit to Scotland and England. Newman began with some words from The Song of Solomon:

Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come. For the winter is now past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in our land.”<
He gave emphasis to this metaphor by asking:
Have we any right to take it strange, if, in this English land, the spring-time of the Church should turn out to be an English spring, an uncertain, anxious time of hope and fear, of joy and suffering,–of bright promise and budding hopes, yet withal, of keen blasts, and cold showers, and sudden storms?
Newman understood better than anyone that this new birth would not be without pain. Over 160 years later, men and women are still struggling with the same questions and making the same journey.
That vast numbers of our countrymen still search for deeper spiritual meaning to their lives undoubtedly puzzles the author of “The God Delusion” and his fellow protestors. They find it even more puzzling that Christians are willing to surrender something of their freedom – “freedom to choose” – for something of greater worth. Perhaps that will speak into the hearts of those demonstrating here today for their right to choose to take the lives of the unborn children.
Newman unequivocally upheld the truth of Christianity:
“To suppose that all beliefs are equally true in the eyes of God, provided they are all sincerely held, is simply unreal and a mere dream of reason.” He argued that we would come to venerate spirituality or religion rather than Christ and that “in this way religion is made to consist in contemplating ourselves instead of Christ.”
He insisted that it was a heresy to state that “any creed is as good as any other. The lie teaches that all religious declarations are equally worthy because they are no more than matters of personal opinion.”
Newman’s belief in the truth of the Christian creeds, his belief in the teaching authority of the Pope, and his desire that each person should embrace their duty to share their beliefs and to act on them in a way that would benefit society as a whole, should be central to our understanding of the theology of the Second Vatican Council – Newman’s Council – and to Pope Benedict’s decision to beatify him and to come to Birmingham to do it.
Pope Benedict Emeritus designated the year of faith as a time to mark and reflect on two things – the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I wonder how many of us – either as individuals or parishes have actually done this yet?
Despite the many negatives events of the intervening 50 years it was the Council which gave us Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI – both of whom upheld the spirit and teachings of the Council – and in Pope Francis I we have the natural successor of Pope John XXIII. For every Catholic bewildered or upset by change there were many more who knew that the Church had to speak the old truths in a new way and that inertia was not an option.
Among its s many documents the Council issued four Constitutions. One of them, Lumen Gentium, the dogmatic constitution of the Church, defined the role of Pontiff as integrating the pope’s power of primacy with the power of the college of bishops – an issue to which Pope Francis may well return, especially in the light of his decision to repeatedly use the title of Bishop of Rome rather than that of Pope when describing himself. If he decided to develop such thinking on the decentralisation of decision making away from the Roman Curia, it might, who knows, well open the way to the convening of a Third Vatican Council.

Although Pope John XXIII was a diocesan bishop – he was Patriarch of Venice – he had also been a high ranking curial diplomat and had a mischievous sense of humour about its effectiveness. Once asked how many people work in the Vatican, he replied, “about half.”

He was also asked “Is it true the Vatican is closed in the afternoons and people don’t work then?”No” he replied, “the offices are closed in the afternoons. People don’t work in the mornings.”

Fortunately, especially at a time when it is very fashionable to attack the Curia, it must be added that the officials who do work include some remarkably diligent servant s of t he Church. Pope John was famous for his good sense of humour and ability to laugh at himself and for deflating the overly self important. When greeted by a rather officious Mother Superior who announced to him that “I’m the Superior of the Holy Spirit” he replied “I’m only the Vicar of Christ.”
In addition to looking at the internal organisation of the Church and its ability to fulfil its mission in the world, another of the great themes and goals of the Second Vatican Council was the importance of developing inter denominational and inter faith relationships and promoting religious freedom for all.

Pope Francis as Archbishop of Buenos Aires - places himself at the service of a disabled child
Pope Francis as Archbishop of Buenos Aires – places himself at the service of a disabled child

This was a theme which Pope Francis emphasised during a meeting with religious leaders of other faiths in which he pledged friendship, respect and continued dialogue with other religious leaders, promising cooperation with Orthodox churches, describing the spiritual bond between Catholics and Jews as “very special” and expressing gratitude to Muslim leaders.
“The Catholic Church is aware of the importance of the promotion of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions,” the Pope said. “I want to repeat this: The promotion of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions.” Among those present were Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, as well as other Orthodox leaders; representatives from different Protestant denominations; Jewish and Muslim leaders and advocates; and representatives of the Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu and Jainist faiths.
“You have an enormous responsibility and task before God and before men,” said Bartholomew, the first patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church to attend a papal investiture since the two branches of Christianity broke apart almost a millennium ago.
“The unity of the Christian churches is the first and foremost of our concerns,” he added.
Soon after his election as pope, Francis sent a message to Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, pledging a spirit of “renewed collaboration.” Rabbi Di Segni attended the Vatican meeting and praised the new pope’s outreach.
“It’s a good start,” Rabbi Di Segni said in an interview. “Hopefully, we’ll not have any accidents.” But, pointing out that disagreements are inevitable, the rabbi added, “What is important is the good will to solve them.”

Imam Yahya Pallavicini, vice president of the Italian Islamic Religious Community, shook hands with Pope Francis and presented him with a book exploring the contemplative dimensions of Islam. He said he was touched when Francis expressed his gratitude for the presence of Muslim leaders in the room, and he predicted that the new pope would deepen the relationship between Catholics and Muslims. All of us saw the symbolism and the power of love in the Pope’s decision to wash the feet of a Muslim woman during the Easter liturgies.
As we consider what remain the implications of the Second Vatican Council for the Church today – especially in the context of the Church’s mission to the world and its relationship with other faiths and denominations, I want first to say something about the context of the Council and about the man who inspired it. Both have great relevance in the words of the Book of Esther, “for such a time as this.”

John XXIII’s convening of the Council was a time of great hope for the Church but this was not mirrored in the secular world, where it was a tense time – defined by the Cuban Missile Crisis and the stand-off between Presidents J.F.Kennedy and Nikita Kruschev. The crisis was at its height and the US was carrying out nuclear tests at Johnston Island and in Nevada. The simmering Cold War conflict was being fought out in the open in proxy wars, civil wars, and revolutions, aided and abetted by the super powers.

In other stirrings which underlined the sense of change afoot everywhere, Dr.Martin Luther King had been arrested for his campaign for civil rights and a little known anti-apartheid leader, Nelson Mandela, had been thrown in jail in South Africa.

Countries like Rwanda and Burundi had become independent and others, like Algeria, had voted to do the same. In 1945, 750 million people were governed by colonial powers but by 1962 two thirds of the countries in the United Nations were independent nations newly independent.

Religious and political change was also affecting the arts, music and culture. In its vanguard, the Beatles were taking their distinctive Liverpool beat into recording studios and their manager, Brian Epstein, was tying up recording contracts.
All these things were having a profound effect on my generation and at my new school, where I had just started as a first former, each morning we were asked to pray for a resolution of the dangerous confrontation between the USA and USSR and also to pray for the success of the Council.
As the Council fathers gathered in October 1962, for the twenty-first Ecumenical Council of the Church, they came with a mandate to address the relationship between the Catholic Church and the modern world. Good Pope John had signalled his intention to convene the Council just three months after his election as Pontiff in October 1958.

He frequently said that it was time to throw open the windows of the Church in order to let in some fresh air: a time for aggiornamento – a bringing-up-to-date. He argued that the Church must “keep up to date with the changing conditions of this modern world, and of modern living, for these have opened up entirely new avenues for the Catholic apostolate.” He said it was a time to address “the errors, needs and opportunities of our day” and that the key purpose of calling the Council was “that the sacred heritage of Christian truth be safeguarded and expounded with greater efficacy. “

Pope John passionately believed that Christians needed to stand together and show love and respect towards one another. He invited, and they accepted, representatives of the Protestant and Orthodox churches to attend the Council as observers.
The Council had its genesis twenty earlier during World War Two, when, as Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, he had made his annual retreat in Istanbul, where he was Nuncio. The Jesuit, Fr.Rene Follet, preached on the image of the perfect bishop and Roncalli, reflecting on the horrors being played out in the world, recorded in his diary that:
“The Bishop must be distinguished by his own understanding, and his
adequate explanation to others, of the philosophy of history, even the
history that is now, before our eyes, adding pages of blood to pages of
political and social disorders.”

He noted his intention to re-read St. Augustine’s City of God, and, having done so, he determined to bring the Church to an understanding of its contemporary prophetic role. He wanted his brother bishops and the laity to see that in every generation they must discern the signs of the times, put them into the context of the deeper patterns of history, and annunciate the still deeper principles of order (Book XIX of St. Augustine’s City of God: “peace is the tranquillity of order”) which must combat the maladies of the age.

On October 11th, in his opening address, Pope John began by reminding those gathered that “the Church must once more reaffirm that teaching authority of hers which never fails, but will endure until the end of time. For that was Our reason for calling this most authoritative assembly, and We address you now as the humble successor, the latest born, of this Prince of Apostles. “

He said that the choice for the world was “to be with Christ or against Him” and that the decision to separate ourselves from Christ results in “confusion, bitterness in their relations with one another, and the savage threat of war.”

The Council had been called, he said, “to diffuse the light of truth; to give right guidance to men both as individuals and as members of a family and a society; to evoke and strengthen their spiritual resources; and to set their minds continually on those higher values which are genuine and unfailing” and his hope was that the Church would be given “spiritual enrichment”

He expressed anxiety about those pessimists who “can see nothing but calamity and disaster in the present state of the world. They say over and over that this modern age of ours, in comparison with past ages, is definitely deteriorating. One would think from their attitude that history, that great teacher of life, had taught them nothing. They seem to imagine that in the days of the earlier councils everything was as it should be so far as doctrine and morality and the Church’s rightful liberty were concerned. “

We feel that We must disagree with these prophets of doom, who are always forecasting worse disasters, as though the end of the world were at hand. “

In stating that there was “a basis for optimism” he contrasted the freedom in which the Second Vatican Council was meeting with earlier times whilst not neglecting to mention those bishops who were missing from the Council’s deliberations: “They suffer imprisonment and every kind of disability because of their faith in Christ.”  That remains the case for many bishops, priests, religious and lay people today.

His opening address reminded the church that Catholics must contribute to society; that it must not fear science but always temper it with appropriate ethics; that it must bring home the Church’s teaching to the modern world; uphold and transmit truth fearlessly: “Our duty is not just to guard this treasure, as though it were some museum-piece and we the curators, but earnestly and fearlessly to dedicate ourselves to the work that needs to be done in this modern age of ours, pursuing the path which the Church has followed for almost twenty centuries.”

He called for “a fresh approach” for the Council fathers to “blaze a trail” and to expound the truths held by the church “in a manner more consistent with a predominantly pastoral view of the Church’s teaching office.” This he says will be “a radiant dawn”For with the opening of this Council a new day is dawning on the Church, bathing her in radiant splendour. It is yet the dawn, but the sun in its rising has already set our hearts aglow.”

Because some tend to use the Vatican Council as a pretext for attacking aspects of the Church’s teaching or liturgical practices which they may not like it is perhaps instructive to hear again the address which Pope John gave at the opening of the Council – and you can judge for yourself whether its promise has yet been fulfilled and what it continues to say to us 50 years later. I will only have time to refer to the “headlines” but you can read the rest for yourself:
Pope John XXIII – Address at the Opening of Vatican Council II – 11 October 1962

Pope John's Opening Address to the Second Vatican Council
Pope John’s Opening Address to the Second Vatican Council

Today, Venerable Brethren is a day of joy for Mother Church: through God’s most kindly providence the longed-for day has dawned for the solemn opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, here at Saint Peter’s shrine. And Mary, God’s Virgin Mother, on this feast day of her noble motherhood, gives it her gracious protection….

The Church In Council

A positive proof of the Catholic Church’s vitality is furnished by every single council held in the long course of the centuries—by the twenty ecumenical councils as well as by the many thousands of memorable regional and provincial ones emblazoned on the scroll of history.

And now the Church must once more reaffirm that teaching authority of hers which never fails, but will endure until the end of time. For that was Our reason for calling this most authoritative assembly, and We address you now as the humble successor, the latest born, of this Prince of Apostles. The present Council is a special, worldwide manifestation by the Church of her teaching office, exercised in taking account of the errors, needs and opportunities of our day.

A History Of Triumph

We address you, therefore, as Christ’s vicar, and We naturally begin this General Council by setting it in its historical context. The voice of the past is both spirited and heartening. We remember with joy those early popes and their more recent successors to whom we owe so much. Their hallowed, momentous words come down to us through the councils held in both the East and the West, from the fourth century to the Middle Ages, and right down to modern times. Their uninterrupted witness, so zealously given, proclaims the triumph of Christ’s Church, that divine and human society which derives from its divine Redeemer its title, its gifts of grace, its whole dynamic force.

And Of Adversity

Here is cause indeed for spiritual joy. And yet this history has its darker side too, a fact, which cannot be glossed over. These nineteen hundred years have reaped their harvest of sorrow and bitterness. The aged Simeon’s prophecy to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, proves true in every age: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, and for a sign that shall be contradicted.” 1 Jesus, too, when grown to manhood, made it quite clear that men in times to come would oppose Him. We remember those mysterious words of His: “He who hears you, hears me.” 2 Saint Luke, who records these words, also quotes Him later as saying: “He who is not with me is against me; and he who does not gather with me scatters.” 3

To Be With Christ Or Against Him

Certain it is that the critical issues, the thorny problems that wait upon men’s solution, have remained the same for almost twenty centuries. And why? Because the whole of history and of life hinges on the person of Jesus Christ. Either men anchor themselves on Him and His Church, and thus enjoy the blessings of light and joy, right order and peace; or they live their lives apart from Him; many positively oppose Him, and deliberately exclude themselves from the Church. The result can only be confusion in their lives, bitterness in their relations with one another, and the savage threat of war.

A Pastoral Function

But the function of every ecumenical council has always been to make a solemn proclamation of the union that exists between Christ and His Church; to diffuse the light of truth; to give right guidance to men both as individuals and as members of a family and a society; to evoke and strengthen their spiritual resources; and to set their minds continually on those higher values which are genuine and unfailing.

No study of human history during these twenty centuries of Christendom can fail to take note of the evidence of this extraordinary teaching authority of the Church as voiced in her general councils. The documents are there, whole volumes of them; a sacred heritage housed in the Roman archives and in the most famous libraries of the world.

The Decision To Hold The Second Vatican Council

A Sudden Inspiration

As regards the immediate cause for this great event, which gathers you here together at Our bidding, it is sufficient for Us to put on record once more something which, though trifling in itself, made a deep impression on Us personally. The decision to hold an ecumenical council came to Us in the first instance in a sudden flash of inspiration. We communicated this decision, without elaboration, to the Sacred College of Cardinals on that memorable January 25, 1959, the feast of Saint Paul’s Conversion, in his patriarchal basilica in the Ostien Way. 4 The response was immediate. It was as though some ray of supernatural light had entered the minds of all present: it was reflected in their faces; it shone from their eyes. At once the world was swept by a wave of enthusiasm, and men everywhere began to wait eagerly for the celebration of this Council.

Arduous Preparation

For three years the arduous work of preparation continued. It consisted in making a detailed and accurate analysis of the prevailing condition of the faith, the religious practice, and the vitality of the Christian, and particularly the Catholic, body.

We are convinced that the time spent in preparing for this Ecumenical Council was in itself an initial token of grace, a gift from heaven.

Hope For Spiritual Enrichment

For We have every confidence that the Church, in the light of this Council, will gain in spiritual riches. New sources of energy will be opened to her, enabling her to face the future without fear. By introducing timely changes and a prudent system of mutual cooperation, We intend that the Church shall really succeed in bringing men, families and nations to the appreciation of supernatural values.

Thus the celebration of this Council becomes a compelling motive for whole-hearted thanksgiving to God, the giver of every good gift, and for exultantly proclaiming the glory of Christ the Lord, the triumphant and immortal King of ages and peoples.

The Timing Of This Council

And now, venerable brethren, there is another point that We would have you consider. Quite apart from the spiritual joy we all feel at this solemn moment of history, the very circumstances in which this Council is opening are supremely propitious. May We go on record as expressing this conviction openly before you now in full assembly.

Pessimistic Voices

In the daily exercise of Our pastoral office, it sometimes happens that We hear certain opinions which disturb Us—opinions expressed by people who, though fired with a commendable zeal for religion, are lacking in sufficient prudence and judegment in their evaluation of events. They can see nothing but calamity and disaster in the present state of the world. They say over and over that this modern age of ours, in comparison with past ages, is definitely deteriorating. One would think from their attitude that history, that great teacher of life, had taught them nothing. They seem to imagine that in the days of the earlier councils everything was as it should be so far as doctrine and morality and the Church’s rightful liberty were concerned.

We feel that We must disagree with these prophets of doom, who are always forecasting worse disasters, as though the end of the world were at hand.

A Basis For Optimism

Present indications are that the human family is on the threshold of a new era. We must recognize here the hand of God, who, as the years roll by, is ever directing men’s efforts, whether they realize it or not, towards the fulfilment of the inscrutable designs of His providence, wisely arranging everything, even adverse human fortune, for the Church’s good.

Civil Intervention Eliminated

As a simple example of what We mean, consider the extremely critical problems which exist today in the political and economic spheres. Men are so worried by these things that they give scant thought to those religious concerns, which are the province of the Church’s teaching authority. All this is evil, and we are right to condemn it. But this new state of affairs has at least one undeniable advantage: it has eliminated the innumerable obstacles erected by worldly men to impede the Church’s freedom of action. We have only to take a cursory glance through the annals of the Church to realize that even those ecumenical councils which are recorded there in letters of gold, were celebrated in the midst of serious difficulties and most distressing circumstances, through the unwarranted intervention of the civil authority. Such intervention was sometimes dictated by a sincere intention on the part of the secular princes to protect the Church’s interests, but more often than not their motives were purely political and selfish, and the resultant situation was fraught with spiritual disadvantage and danger.

Earnest Prayer For Absent Bishops

We must indeed confess to you Our deep sorrow over the fact that so many bishops are missing today from your midst. They suffer imprisonment and every kind of disability because of their faith in Christ. The thought of these dear brothers of Ours impels Us to pray for them with great earnestness. Yet We are not without hope; and We have the immense consolation of knowing that the Church, freed at last from the worldly fetters that trammelled her in past ages, can through you raise her majestic and solemn voice from this Vatican Basilica, as from a second Apostolic Cenacle.

The Council’s Principal Duty:

The Defence And Advancement Of Truth

The major interest of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred heritage of Christian truth be safeguarded and expounded with greater efficacy.

That doctrine embraces the whole man, body and soul. It bids us live as pilgrims here on earth, as we journey onwards towards our heavenly homeland.

Man’s Twofold Obligation

It demonstrates how we must conduct this mortal life of ours. If we are to achieve God’s purpose in our regard we have a twofold obligation: as citizens of earth, and as citizens of heaven. That is to say, all men without exception, both individually and in society, have a life-long obligation to strive after heavenly values through the right use of the things of this earth. These temporal goods must be used in such a way as not to jeopardize eternal happiness.

Seeking The Kingdom Of God

True enough, Christ our Lord said: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice,” 5 and this word “first” indicates what the primary direction of all our thoughts and energies must be. Nevertheless, we must not forget the rest of Our Lord’s injunction: “and all these things shall be given you besides.” 6 Thus the traditional as well as the contemporary Christian approach to life is to strive with all zeal for evangelical perfection, and at the same time to contribute toward the material good of humanity. It is from the living example and the charitable enterprise of such Christians as these that all that is highest and noblest in human society takes its strength and growth.

Contributing To Society

If this doctrine is to make its impact on the various spheres of human activity—in private, family and social life—then it is absolutely vital that the Church shall never for an instant lose sight of that sacred patrimony of truth inherited from the Fathers. But it is equally necessary for her to keep up to date with the changing conditions of this modern world, and of modern living, for these have opened up entirely new avenues for the Catholic apostolate.

Beyond Science

The Church has never been stinting in her admiration for the results of man’s inventive genius and scientific progress, which have so revolutionized modern living. But neither has she been backward in assessing these new developments at their true value. While keeping a watchful eye on these things, she has constantly exhorted men to look beyond such visible phenomena—to God, the source of all wisdom and beauty. Her constant fear has been that man, who was commanded to “subject the earth and rule it,” 7 should in the process forget that other serious command: “The Lord thy God shalt thou worship, and Him only shalt thou serve.” 8 Real progress must not be impeded by a passing infatuation for transient things.

Bringing Home The Church’s Teaching To The Modern World

From what We have said, the doctrinal role of this present Council is sufficiently clear.

Transmitting The Truth Fearlessly

This twenty-first Ecumenical Council can draw upon the most effective and valued assistance of experts in every branch of sacred science, in the practical sphere of the apostolate, and in administration. Its intention is to give to the world the whole of that doctrine which, notwithstanding every difficulty and contradiction, has become the common heritage of mankind—to transmit it in all its purity, undiluted, undistorted.

It is a treasure of incalculable worth, not indeed coveted by all, but available to all men of good will.

And our duty is not just to guard this treasure, as though it were some museum-piece and we the curators, but earnestly and fearlessly to dedicate ourselves to the work that needs to be done in this modern age of ours, pursuing the path which the Church has followed for almost twenty centuries.

Nor are we here primarily to discuss certain fundamentals of Catholic doctrine, or to restate in greater detail the traditional teaching of the Fathers and of early and more recent theologians. We presume that these things are sufficiently well known and familiar to you all.

A Fresh Approach

There was no need to call a council merely to hold discussions of that nature. What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm, a new joy and serenity of mind in the unreserved acceptance by all of the entire Christian faith, without forfeiting that accuracy and precision in its presentation which characterized the proceedings of the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council. What is needed, and what everyone imbued with a truly Christian, Catholic and apostolic spirit craves today, is that this doctrine shall be more widely known, more deeply understood, and more penetrating in its effects on men’s moral lives. What is needed is that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which the faithful owe obedience, be studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms. For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honoured teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else.

This, then, is what will require our careful, and perhaps too our patient, consideration. We must work out ways and means of expounding these truths in a manner more consistent with a predominantly pastoral view of the Church’s teaching office.

The Right Way To Suppress Error

In these days, which mark the beginning of this Second Vatican Council, it is more obvious than ever before that the Lord’s truth is indeed eternal. Human ideologies change. Successive generations give rise to varying errors, and these often vanish as quickly as they came, like mist before the sun.

The Church has always opposed these errors, and often condemned them with the utmost severity. Today, however, Christ’s Bride prefers the balm of mercy to the arm of severity. She believes that, present needs are best served by explaining more fully the purport of her doctrines, rather than by publishing condemnations.

Contemporary Repudiation Of Godlessness

Not that the need to repudiate and guard against erroneous teaching and dangerous ideologies is less today than formerly. But all such error is so manifestly contrary to rightness and goodness, and produces such fatal results, that our contemporaries show every inclination to condemn it of their own accord—especially that way of life which repudiates God and His law, and which places excessive confidence in technical progress and an exclusively material prosperity. It is more and more widely understood that personal dignity and true self-realization are of vital importance and worth every effort to achieve. More important still, experience has at long last taught men that physical violence, armed might, and political domination are no help at all in providing a happy solution to the serious problems which affect them.

A Loving Mother

The great desire, therefore, of the Catholic Church in raising aloft at this Council the torch of truth, is to show herself to the world as the loving mother of all mankind; gentle, patient, and full of tenderness and sympathy for her separated children. To the human race oppressed by so many difficulties, she says what Peter once said to the poor man who begged an alms: “Silver and gold I have none; but what I have, that I give thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk.” 9 In other words it is not corruptible wealth, nor the promise of earthly happiness, that the Church offers the world today, but the gifts of divine grace which, since they raise men up to the dignity of being sons of God, are powerful assistance and support for the living of a more fully human life. She unseals the fountains of her life-giving doctrine, so that men, illumined by the light of Christ, will understand their true nature and dignity and purpose. Everywhere, through her children, she extends the frontiers of Christian love, the most powerful means of eradicating the seeds of discord, the most effective means of promoting concord, peace with justice, and universal brotherhood.

Promoting Unity Of The Christian And Human Family

The Church’s anxiety to promote and defend truth springs from her conviction that without the assistance of the whole of revealed doctrine man is quite incapable of attaining to that complete and steadfast unanimity which is associated with genuine peace and eternal salvation. For such is God’s plan. He “wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 10

Unhappily, however, the entire Christian family has not as yet fully and perfectly attained to this visible unity in the truth. But the Catholic Church considers it her duty to work actively for the fulfilment of that great mystery of unity for which Christ prayed so earnestly to His heavenly Father on the eve of His great sacrifice. The knowledge that she is so intimately associated with that prayer is for her an occasion of ineffable peace and joy. And why should she not rejoice sincerely when she sees Christ’s prayer extending its salvific and ever increasing efficacy even over those who are not of her fold?

Reflection Of That Unity Sought By Christ

Indeed, if we consider well the unity for which Christ prayed on behalf of His Church, it would seem to shine, as it were, with a threefold ray of supernatural, saving light. There is first of all that unity of Catholics among themselves which must always be kept steadfast and exemplary. There is also a unity of prayer and ardent longing prompting Christians separated from this Apostolic See to aspire to union with us. And finally there is a unity, which consists in the esteem and respect shown for the Catholic Church by members of various non-Christian religions.

Universality And Unity

It is therefore an overwhelming source of grief to us to know that, although Christ’s blood has redeemed every man that is born into this world, there is still a great part of the human race that does not share in those sources of supernatural grace, which exist in the Catholic Church. And yet the Church sheds her light everywhere. The power that is hers by reason of her supernatural unity redounds to the advantage of the whole family of men. She amply justifies those magnificent words of Saint Cyprian: “The Church, radiant with the light of her Lord, sheds her rays over the entire world, and that light of hers remains one, though everywhere diffused; her corporate unity is not divided. She spreads her luxuriant branches over all the earth; she sends out her fair-flowing streams ever farther afield. But the head is one; the source is one. She is the one mother of countless generations. And we are her children, born of her, fed with her milk, animated with her breath.” 11

Blazing A Trail

Such, venerable brethren, is the aim of the Second Vatican Council. It musters the Church’s best energies and studies with all earnestness how to have the message of salvation more readily welcomed by men. By that very fact it blazes a trail that leads toward that unity of the human race, which is so necessary if this earthly realm of ours is to conform to the realm of heaven, “whose king is truth, whose law is love, whose duration is eternity.” 12


Thus, venerable brethren in the episcopate, “our heart is wide open to you.” 13 Here we are assembled in this Vatican Basilica at a turning-point in the history of the Church; here at this meeting-place of earth and heaven, by Saint Peter’s tomb and the tomb of so many of Our predecessors, whose ashes in this solemn hour seem to thrill in mystic exultation.

A Radiant Dawn

For with the opening of this Council a new day is dawning on the Church, bathing her in radiant splendour. It is yet the dawn, but the sun in its rising has already set our hearts aglow. All around is the fragrance of holiness and joy. Yet there are stars to be seen in this temple, enhancing its magnificence with their brightness. You are those stars, as witness the Apostle John; 14 the churches you represent are golden candlesticks shining round the tomb of the Prince of Apostles. 15 With you We see other dignitaries come to Rome from the five continents to represent their various nations. Their attitude is one of respect and warm-hearted expectation.

Saints, Faithful, And Council Fathers

Hence, it is true to say that the citizens of earth and heaven are united in the celebration of this Council. The role of the saints in heaven is to supervise our labours; the role of the faithful on earth, to offer concerted prayer to God; your role, to show prompt obedience to the supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit and to do your utmost to answer the needs and expectations of every nation on earth. To do this you will need serenity of mind, a spirit of brotherly concord, moderation in your proposals, dignity in discussion, and wisdom in deliberation.

God grant that your zeal and your labours may abundantly fulfil these aspirations. The eyes of the world are upon you; and all its hopes.

Prayer For Divine Assistance

Almighty God, we have no confidence in our own strength; all our trust is in you. Graciously look down on these Pastors of your Church. Aid their counsels and their legislation with the light of your divine grace. Be pleased to hear the prayers we offer you, united in faith, in voice, in mind.

Mary, help of Christians, help of bishops; recently in your church at Loreto, where We venerated the mystery of the Incarnation, 16 you gave us a special token of your love. Prosper now this work of ours, and by your kindly aid bring it to a happy, successful conclusion. And do you, with Saint Joseph your spouse, the holy apostles Peter and Paul, Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist, intercede for us before the throne of God.

To Jesus Christ, our most loving Redeemer, the immortal King of all peoples and all ages, be love, power and glory for ever and ever. Amen

Of course, Pope John XXIII would be dead the following year, 1963, and it would be left to Paul VI to see though the work of the Council which would end on December 8th 1965. The Council which was attended by over 2,000 bishops and advisors and observers from over 17 different Christian denominations.

The Council promulgated Four Constitutions:
Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation)
• Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church)
Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World)
Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy)

Nine Decrees:

Ad Gentes (Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity)
Apostolicam Actuositatem (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity)
Christus Dominus (Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church)
Inter Mirifica (Decree on the Means of Social Communication)
Optatam Totius (Decree on the Training of Priests)
Orientalium Ecclesiarum (Decree on the Catholic Oriental Churches)
Perfectae Caritatis (Decree on the Up-to-date Renewal of Religious Life)
Presbyterorum Ordinis (Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests)
• Unitatis Redintegratio (Decree on Ecumenism)
Three declarations:
• Dignitatis Humanae (Declaration on Religious Liberty)
Gravissimum Educationis (Declaration on Christian Education)
Nostra Aetate (Declaration on the Church’s Relations with Non-Christian

I can’t speak about all or many of these but let me refer to Lumen Gentium which not only states that lay people have a right to speak out when they believe that it would assist the Church in its apostolic work but they have a duty to do so and let me also single out another document which I think set the tone for the work of the Council along with the declaration on religious liberty.

On April 11th, 2013, we will celebrate the official publication of Pope John XXIII’s encyclical, Pacem in Terris: On Establishing Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity and Liberty.

It is sometimes described as Good Pope John’s last will and testament to the Church; sometimes as the Pope’s letter to the entire world. This anniversary has particular significance for me because as a boy, in 1963, I came to Rome with my school – a brand new Jesuit Grammar School named for the English martyr, Edmund Campion – and, in St.Peter’s, in front of Pope John, we sang “Faith of Our Fathers.”

Campion and Tyburn

It’s a refrain we need again in these days:  a recollection of what went before, the price that was paid, a reminder of how importance it is to cherish our story, to know who we are,  not to lose our identity, and in every generation to understand  and not to fear the need for renewal and sacrifice.
Pacem in Terris is a riposte to all those who question the role of religion in the quest for peace. A widely held opinion among intellectuals and opinion leaders insists that religion is a major source of strife and intolerance in the world. Pope Benedict not only disputed the notion that religion is necessarily “a source of discord or conflict”; he maintains that religious freedom is an important “path to peace.”
In stating this he builds upon John XXIII emphasis of the Catholic concepts of subsidiarity, solidarity, human dignity, and utter respect for God’s creation – where the man made in the image of God – imago Dei – always takes precedence over ideologies and systems.

Imago Dei - each of us - from the womb to the tomb - is precious to God because we are made in His image
Imago Dei – each of us – from the womb to the tomb – is precious to God because we are made in His image
Imago Dei
Imago Dei

Subsidiarity is enjoying a recent resurgence in popularity in European democracies, especially in the UK, where the government has incorporated something that seems very much like subsidiarity in to its flagship policy, but has named it localism.

Subsidiarity as we all understand it was developed by Oswald von Nell-Breuning, a German Jesuit theologian, whose thinking was pivotal in the publication of Quadragesimo Anno (1931) by Pope Pius XI, and whose writing was banned by the Nazis. Subsidiarity affirms that however complex a task may be, or however far reaching, it should be undertaken at the most local level possible.

In an increasingly globalised world where vast corporations have more wealth and power than many nation states, how much do we need our economies tempered by this principle, which hard-wires institutions against compulsive centralisation? The contrast with totalitarian and authoritarian societies – which subjugate the individual and these mediating structures to the State – could not be greater.

John XXIII was always at great pains to reject the Crushing of the Human Spirit and to oppose authoritarianism and narrow minded xenophobia.

To be Catholic is to be global. The word means “according to the whole”, and in every generation the Church’s adherents have sacrificed their lives to live out the Great Commission from Jesus to go out to all the nations of the world and to baptise all people in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew: 28, 16-20). Worldwide there are two billion Christians; 1.2 billion Catholics. The onus is universal – it applies to all those who accept Him – and it expected to be lived out universally: “all nations”.

In his encyclical John XXIII, like Pope Francis, whose origins and characteristics are very similar, was appealing for peace and for harmonious co-existence.

His successor, in the Council’s most contentious Declaration, Dignitatis Humanae, set out the terms on which religious believers and non believers could co-exist and enrich one another. It explains our obligation to share though never to impose. Who could say that this is not a message which the world needs to hear in our own times?

Just before Easter I stood in the charred remains of an Islamic madrassa which had been burnt out in an attack by Buddhist extremists in Burma. The mosque had been desecrated and all but a handful of the 200 Muslims living in that village had fled – from a village where they had co-existed peacefully for 200 years.The same scene could be replicated in situation all over the world where believers turn on believers ,non believers on non believers,  believers on non-believers and non-believers on believers. It leads to terrible suffering and painand done in the name of God or god or man made ideologies of non belief.

Last year in the top 16 countries responsible for the most egregious and systematic violations of religious freedom, listed by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, persecution of Christians occurs in every one of those nations. This signals how malign and hostile the global environment may be and also, despite our “interconnectedness”, how indifferent we frequently are to those who reside with us in the household of faith.

Bhatti and Taseer - Christian and Muslim - were both murdered for speaking up for mutual tolerance and respect.
Bhatti and Taseer – Christian and Muslim – were both murdered for speaking up for mutual tolerance and respect.
Carnage and Destruction Left by Boko Haram in Nigeria
Carnage and Destruction Left by Boko Haram in Nigeria
Egypt's Copts are under daily attack
Egypt’s Copts are under daily attack


Border Crossings Can Often Result In Death As North Koreans -m some of them Christians -are Shot By Border Guards
Border Crossings Can Often Result In Death As North Koreans -m some of them Christians -are Shot By Border Guards
Shanghai's Bishop Ma under house arrest and stripped of his post as China's Communist authorities continue to persecute the country's Christians
Shanghai’s Bishop Ma under house arrest and stripped of his post as China’s Communist authorities continue to persecute the country’s Christians

The Holy See says that 100,000 Christians died for their faith last year. These are a selection of headlines from new items during just the past few weeks:

In Africa and the Middle East:
* The Silent Exodus of Syria’s Christians
* Islamic Law Comes to Rebel-Held Syria and the establishment of Sharia courts
• Christians slaughtered – the world yawns.
• Sudanese Officials Bulldoze Christian Church
• Nigerian Priest: Boko Haram Destroyed 50 Churches
• Tanzania : Christians Threatened with Islamist Violence on Easter

Egypt’s Coptic Christians Must Be Protected From Sectarian Violence
• We Abandon Christians in the East At Our Peril
• Torture Likely Led to Death of Egyptian Christian in Libya, Sources Say
• Iraq’s Endangered Christians
• McMecca: The Strange Alliance of Clerics and Businessmen in Saudi Arabia
• Only 57 Churches Left in Iraq
• UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Discusses New Report on Violence Against Baha’is in Iran
• Iranian Pastor in Prison Needs Help of White House, Panel Told; Pastor’s Wife: “I am disappointed that the west has not fully engaged in this case. … I expect more from our government.”
• St. Mark’s Coptic Church in Benghazi Torched
• Outrage Spreads As Islam’s Most Holy Relics Are Being Demolished in Mecca
• Copts Protest Church Attack in Egypt — Church Attacked Again
• Egyptian Court Sentences Christian Family to 15 Years for Converting from Islam
• Egypt’s Constitution Threatens Religious Freedom
• In Libya, Two Religious Communities Forced Out

• In Art and Education, Saudi Arabia Teaches Muslims Should “Triumph” Over Jews and Christians
• Yemen’s Persecuted Christians
• Sufi Mystics Warn of More Islamist Violence
• Iran’s Religious Crackdown

In East Asia and the Pacific
• Chinese Activist, Now in U.S., Says His Relatives Remain Under Surveillance, Tells His Story of Abuse and Brutal Torture
• Beijing Cautions New Pope on Meddling in China
• Indonesian Officials Destroy Church in Front of Worshippers as Muslims Egg Them On
• Three International NGOs Protest Legal Harassment of Buddhist Youth leader Le Cong Cau
• Ober 100 Buddhist monks burn them selves to death in self immolations.
• Muslim Group Condemns Violence in Burma
• House Church in Xinjiang Raided and Leaders Interrogated
• Persecution Rises in China as Plan Begins to End House Churches
• China Rights group lists 2012’s Top 10 Cases of Anti-Christian Persecution
• MALAYSIA: Ibrahim Ali, The Head of Perkasa, Issues Appeal to Burn Bibles
• Two North Korean Christians Killed for Their Faith
• Vietnam’s New Religion Decree Restrictive as Vietnamese Authorities Tear Down Carmelite Monastery
• Rohingya Mulsims Face Crimes Against Humanity
• Indonesia Man Receives 5 Year Sentence for Insulting Islam
In South and Central Asia

•• Azerbaijan Mosque Loses Eight-Year Struggle for Religious Freedom
• Pakistani Minorities See New Threats
• Report: Kazakhstan Court Orders Burning of Religious Books, Possibly a First for Their Government
• Appeal Sent by Catholic Congregations in Pakistan for Revision of Blasphemy Law
• Almost 90 Killed in Attack Targeting Pakistan’s Shi’a Muslims
• BANGLADESH: 20,000-strong mob attacks, Ahmadi festival
• Violence Against Christians Spreading in India
• Shiites Demand Protection
• BRUTAL MURDER IN BALUCHISTAN: Christian Refuses to Convert to Islam
• Kazakhstan’s authorities raid at least eight separate worship meetings

It is against this backdrop that we should return to Dignitatis Humanae (Declaration on Religious Freedom, on the right of the person and of communities to social and civil freedom in matters religious), promulgated by Paul VI, December, 1965. The Council fathers set out the terms on which Christians may remain true to the central belief and calling of universality – eschewing violent proselytism and theocracy and insisting on respect and tolerance while firmly asserting the right of Christians to worship freely and to proclaim their beliefs. It’s a message which the world desperately needs to hear in time such as these.

The Second Vatican Council speaks audibly to a generation which even in a country like our own is witnessing heavy handed intolerance involving attempts to ban the saying of prayers on public occasions to the banning of the wearing of a cross; let alone the imprisonment and “re-education” of Chinese Catholic bishops, like Shanghai’s Bishop Ma, and the execution of converts to Christianity in Iran. We think of the horrors of North Korea, of Nigeria, of Egypt, of Pakistan, of Syria, of Sudan and Iraq – and many other places. Wherever it occurs, this is the crushing of the human spirit. It also diminishes those who do it and robs society of something which can be virtuous and inspirational.

Speaking, appropriately enough, in Cuba’s Revolution Square (Homily, March 2012) Pope Benedict Emeritus reminded us of two things:

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI


First, that religious freedom solidifies society:

Strengthening religious freedom consolidates social bonds, nourishes the hope of a better world, and creates favourable conditions for peace and harmonious development, while at the same time establishing solid foundations for securing the rights of future generations.

And secondly, that we must beware of intolerance and prejudice in our own lives:

There are those who wrongly interpret this search for the truth, leading them to irrationality and fanaticism; they close themselves up in ‘their truth,’ and try to impose it on others. These are like the blind scribes who, upon seeing Jesus beaten and bloody, cry out furiously, Crucify him! ( Jn 19:6). Anyone who acts irrationally cannot become a disciple of Jesus. Faith and reason are necessary and complementary in the pursuit of truth. God created man with an innate vocation to the truth and he gave him reason for this purpose. Certainly, it is not irrationality but rather the yearning for truth which the Christian faith promotes.

This yearning for truth is the antithesis of homogenisation that implies a one size fits all vacuous western modernity to be imposed throughout the world. In Catholic thought, subsidiarity and universality sit happily alongside one another; so do reason and faith – the domains of secular rationality and religious conviction. These domains are interdependent and to be civilised we need them both.

At the heart of all our concerns must remain the inalienable and inviolate dignity of the human person – which was a central theme of the document, Huamane Dignitatis and the encyclical Pacem In Terris – and which today we have experienced something close to aphasia.

Let me close with some random thoughts of John XXIII but which tells us more of the wonderful insights of this good and holy man. Doubtless it will have been thoughts such as these which will have inspired our new Pope but they should inspire us too:

A peaceful man does more good than a learned one.
Pope John XXIII

Anybody can be Pope; the proof of this is that I have become one.
Pope John XXIII

Born poor, but of honoured and humble people, I am particularly proud to die poor.
Pope John XXIII

Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.
Pope John XXIII

Every man has the right to life, to bodily integrity.
Pope John XXIII

I am able to follow my own death step by step. Now I move softly towards the end.
Pope John XXIII

I have looked into your eyes with my eyes. I have put my heart near your heart.
Pope John XXIII

It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father.
Pope John XXIII

It is now for the Catholic Church to bend herself to her work with calmness and generosity. It is for you to observe her with renewed and friendly attention.
Pope John XXIII

It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the Pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember that I am the Pope.
Pope John XXIII

See everything, overlook a great deal, and correct a little.
Pope John XXIII

The family is the first essential cell of human society.
Pope John XXIII

The feelings of my smallness and my nothingness always kept me good company.
Pope John XXIII

The true and solid peace of nations consists not in equality of arms, but in mutual trust alone.
Pope John XXIII

So John XIII was right when he proclaimed that “The council now beginning rises in the Church like the daybreak, a forerunner of most splendid light.”


The question for us is whether we take its message into our own times.

David Alton, 2013.

Gladys Aylward, the little woman, and China’s Inn of The Sixth Happiness

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Gladys Aylward - the little woman
Gladys Aylward – the little woman


The Inn of The Sixth Happiness - which gives a distorted account of Gladys Aylward's life
The Inn of The Sixth Happiness – which gives a distorted account of Gladys Aylward’s life

The Inn of The Sixth Happiness - Gladys Aylward was no Ingrid Bergman
The Inn of The Sixth Happiness – Gladys Aylward was no Ingrid Bergman

Gladys Aylward with her orphans
Gladys Aylward with her orphans

Gladys Aylward with her orphans - fleeing from the Japanese army
Gladys Aylward with her orphans – fleeing from the Japanese army

Gladys Aylward with her orphans - fleeing from the Japanese army
Gladys Aylward with her orphans – fleeing from the Japanese army

Gladys Aylward
Gladys Aylward

Gladys-Aylward 5

There is a lovely movie, staring Ingrid Bergman, called “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.” Made in 1958 it celebrates the remarkable life of a petite woman, born in 1902 in Edwardian England, called Gladys Aylward. It’s a charming film but on recently reading a biography of Miss Aylward I realised that the Hollywood make-over does not do justice to, and sometimes distorts, the real story of this brave and determined Christian missionary.
For one thing, the casting of a tall Swede is entirely at variance with the small woman from Edmonton who spoke with a broad cockney accent. But the movie also takes any number of liberties with the story itself. Once she tells them of her plans to go to China we entirely lose the tensions that erupt between Gladys Aylward and her family and the film then invents an effortless introduction between a Gladys’ employer and an old friend in China. Perhaps most tellingly of all, in addition to changes made to any number of characters and places the movie revolves around the Inn of the Sixth Happiness while the actual setting was the Inn of Eight Happinesses – taking its name from a Chinese numeral thought to be auspicious.
When the film first appeared Gladys Aylward was upset by the portrayal of Colonel Linnan – a brave Chinese soldier who was wrongly presented as half European – and distressed by an invented Hollywood love scene and the suggestion that she had left her work with her orphans to be happily reunited with the Colonel. For a woman who had decided early on to give her entire life to God, and who had never even kissed a man, she believed her reputation to have been sullied. Her work with orphans also continued until 1970, when she died, having by then founded the Gladys Aylward orphanage in Taiwan.

The real story of Gladys Aylward is one which deserves to be told with all its hard edges and without taking liberties with its powerful narrative.
Here is a working class parlour maid who dreams of becoming an actress but instead reads an article about China and about the millions of Chinese people who had never heard about Christianity. Having felt God’s call to go to China Gladys is rebuffed by her family, friends and church. The missionary society told her that her “qualifications were too slight, my education too limited, and the language far too difficult to learn.”
Meanwhile, she goes to work in a house where two old retired missionaries live and at last she receives some encouragement. They tell her to “keep on watching and praying.” She does, and begins saving to pay the £47-10p single train fare from London to Tientsin in China. To go by ship would have cost twice as much.
Small unexpected things now began to happen to Gladys.
Her savings multiplied, giving her the fare in months instead of the anticipated three years. In 1932, completely alone, she began a perilous journey across Russia and Siberia, into war zones occupied by the Japanese. Near the Manchurian border she was made to leave the train and nearly froze to death and she admitted that “for the first time real doubts came to mind.” She felt God telling her not to be afraid and that He was with her.
She was forced to walk back along the railway track to a junction and, later, some Russians tried to abduct her. She also saw fifty people, many of them girls, in chains being taken to Siberia to Stalin’s camps – “from that moment I hated Communism with all my being:”  – hated Communism but loved the people who lived in the lands in which the ideology came to dominate.
After further tribulations Gladys Aylward eventually made it to Tientsin where she went to work with a Scot, Jeannie Lawson, who was trying to turn a dilapidated building into an inn where muleteers would stay overnight and where, with good food and hospitality, they could hear stories from the Bible as they ate. This was how Gladys Aylward came to quickly become fluent in the Chinese language.
After Lawson’s death she continued with the inn but she was also asked by the Government’s senior regional official, the Mandarin, to work with him. He gave her the task of helping him to outlaw the traditional foot-binding of Chinese girls.
Men thought tiny feet were attractive but women’s foot-binding often led to deformities and crippling disabilities. Gladys Aylward helped the Mandarin to end the practice in their province and as she travelled from village to village she evangelised the people she met. An encounter on the side of a road also led her to start rescuing children who were being abandoned or sold. To save the life of one little girl she gave all the money she had: “So Ninepence came into my life and helped to fill the aching void.”

A few months later Ninepence brought in a little boy from the street and the orphans multiplied.
Later, Gladys Aylward became involved in prison reform – and her biography records stories of extraordinary conversions – from hardened criminals to a prison governor, a rebel leader, and even the Mandarin himself. Her encounter with a remote monastery of Buddhist lamas – who told her that they had been waiting for her – is particularly touching.
In 1936 she was given Chinese citizenship and became officially known as A-weh-deh – meaning “virtuous one.” Two years later the Japanese invaded and they put a price on her head. She was wounded in the fighting but led over 100 orphans on a perilous journey over the mountains to safety. Suffering a complete collapse of her health she was diagnosed with relapsing fever, typhus, pneumonia, malnutrition and utter exhaustion. For over a month she was barely conscious.
She would later write that “My heart is full of praise that one so insignificant, uneducated and ordinary in every way could be used to His glory and for the blessing of His people in poor persecuted China.”

That Christianity has become so influential in today’s China is in no small measure a result of the powerful witness and dedicated work of men and women like Gladys Aylward. But her story also underlines the truth of the Psalmist’s prediction that “the stone which the builder has rejected has become the corner stone.”

Also see:
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Drama and Music To Make Us Think: Disability Hate Crime, Religious Persecution, Bullying, Relationships, the Holocaust, North Korea, Scapegoating of Minorities…

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Ten Ten Theatre Company - "The Jeweller's Shop"
Ten Ten Theatre Company – “The Jeweller’s Shop”
Ten Ten theatre company and "Kolbe's Gift"
Ten Ten theatre company and “Kolbe’s Gift”
Confessions of a Butterfly by Jonathan Salt
Confessions of a Butterfly by Jonathan Salt
Rise - "Soldier to Saint"
Rise – “Soldier to Saint”
Rise Theatre Company
Rise Theatre Company
Actors in Living Without Fear
Actors in Living Without Fear



90%of all babies with Down's Syndrome are victims of eugenic abortions
90%of all babies with Down’s Syndrome are victims of eugenic abortions
A Baby With Down's Syndrome
A Baby With Down’s Syndrome
"Some people think I shouldn't be here, but I am. I'm a human being, and I'm in love." - words of an actor in "Living Without Fear"
“Some people think I shouldn’t be here, but I am. I’m a human being, and I’m in love.” – words of an actor in “Living With Fear”


   A theatre company, consisting primarily, but not exclusively, of actors with learning disabilities, recently came to Westminster to perform their play “Living without Fear” – and in one short hour achieved more in raising awareness about disability hate crime than any number of speeches delivered in Parliament.

   Drama has an extraordinary capacity to move, to touch, and to reach people and this production by Blue Apple Theatre made me reflect on both the issue which the company explored and on the way in which they succeeded in catching my attention.

  Jane Jessop is the founding director of  Blue Apple Theatre.  She says that the British Crime Survey found that each year a truly shocking 65,000 assaults take place against people with disabilities and that “this is probably an underestimate”. Some one million people with learning disabilities live in Britain and Mencap say that up to 90% of people with learning disabilities are bullied and harassed on a regular basis

 Determined to raise awareness among policy makers she believes drama is an effective way to do it. So, she persuaded Steve Brine, her local MP in Winchester, to sponsor a performance of the play and, by kind permission of Mr.Speaker Bercow, this was performed in Mr.Speaker’s House.  Among those who had travelled up to see the play was Hampshire’s Chief Constable, Andy Marsh. Esther McVeigh, the Minister with responsibility for disabled people was also present.

  “Living Without Fear” shines a light on the vulnerability of people who are initially thrilled by the idea of independent living but who then have to come to terms with prejudice and negotiate the visceral hatred of the people with whom they have to live alongside. It’s simply impossible to be left unaffected by the play or by a cast which comprises some of those who have experienced such hatred first hand.

   I was particularly struck by the young actor with Down’s Syndrome who says Some people think I shouldn’t be here, but I am. I’m a human being, and I’m in love.”

  He’s right of course: eugenic abortions now prevent most people with Down’s Syndrome from being here. 90% of babies with Down’s Syndrome have their lives ended in the womb. The violence, discrimination, and prejudice against people with learning difficulties or disability begins at conception. How sad that this young man’s love is met with society’s rejection.

   Jane Jessop says that her first hope in bringing “Living Without Fear” to Westminster “was to bring our talented actors to the heart of Parliament so that people legislating on abortion and other issues would meet whole and rounded people with learning disabilities, especially those with Down’s Syndrome and see their talent and potential.

“I  hope you could see there is no limit to our ambition in helping them realise their potential. Next was to raise the difficult issues around disability hate crime.”

 Blue Apple’s web site shows the breadth and the range of work in which this inclusive theatre company is involved and which deserves to be seen by audiences up and down the country:  and this link features extracts from the play and lets the actors speak for themselves:

    Recently I have seen some other brilliant examples of drama being used to explore contemporary themes. At the Easter Celebrate conference in Ilfracombe there were performances by two Catholic theatre groups – Ten Ten and Rise.

  Rise produced some thought-provoking sketches and are now preparing to take their play “Soldier to Saint” on a UK tour from June 28th to July 12th.
Set in 2020, in an England which is persecuting Christians, it’s the story of a soldier, John Alban. Like his Roman namesake, his friendship with a fugitive priest endangers his freedom and his very life. On a daily basis, in many parts of the world, from China to Nigeria, contemporary Albans are deprived of their liberty or their lives and this is a timely reminder not to take for granted the freedoms we enjoy in Britain: ( )
Drama allows the exploration of countless rich and disturbing questions.
Ten Ten used Celebrate to stage a powerful production of “Heart”, a drama which takes on inter-generational relationships and the role a grandmother plays in challenging her grand-daughter’s bullying of another girl.
Later in the year Ten Ten, are back at London’s Leicester Square Theatre where they previously performed “The Jeweller”, an adaptation of John Paul II’s play, “The Jeweller’s Shop” – which examines relationships, friendships, and love, in the context of three couples whose lives become intermingled. The comedian, Frank Skinner, described “The Jeweller” as “deeply funny, gut-wrenchingly sad and thought provoking.”

Between October 1st and 5th Ten Ten turn their attention to another Pole, St.Maximilian Kolbe, whom John Paul called “the patron saint of our difficult century.” This brand new production of “Kolbe’s Gift” – an inspirational play by David Gooderson – takes us to Auschwitz, where the imprisoned Kolbe encounters a soldier, Franek Gajowniczec, and freely gives his own life to save the other (
Like “Confessions of a Butterfly”, the one man play about the life of Janusz Korczak, written and performed by the Catholic writer, Jonathan Salt, and which I saw at a synagogue in London a few months ago, “Kolbe’s Gift” reminds us of the savagery of the Holocaust; the indifference, the silence, or collaboration of so many; and the danger of “never again” happening all over again in our own times.
Salt introduces us to Korcczak’s heroism but also to children like the boy with the violin – who chooses to become selectively mute after watching the execution of his parents. A profoundly moving and poignant story, it’s not one which I will quickly or easily forget.
Each of these dramas explores a different question and tells a different story but they all raise profoundly important issues in a world which can too easily become indifferent and where we need to find a range of different ways to effect change.
And it’s not just drama: art and graphics, writing, poetry and music all have their part to play. The Catholic musicians, Ooberfuse, have just marked North Korea Freedom week with a brilliant song, Vanish the Night, released on Youtube and features the North Korean escapee and human rights campaigner, Shin Dong Hyok:

An earlier song, about the assassination of Pakistan’s Catholic Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, His Blood Cries Out, has now been watched by over 137,000 people .

In every generation we must guard against prejudice and bigotry, racism and xenophobia and cherish our precious freedoms and liberties. In particular, minorities, ranging from people with learning disabilities to vulnerable ethnic groups or dissenting religious believers, need to have their stories told. And, this is a world in which anti-Semitism, racial intolerance, and the scapegoating of minorities – such as homosexuals living in those Commonwealth countries which still impose the death penalty for homosexuality – or Christians facing death in countries like North Korea or Iran – or institutionalised discrimination in the form of caste based prejudice against Dalits in India – are all distempers of our age.
Perhaps music and drama will succeed in waking us up to these horrific realities when speeches and commentaries do not – and maybe challenge us to change our attitudes and our laws.

The Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI

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Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI

In considering the momentous events of the past twenty four hours, it’s hard not to think of the canticle of Simeon – the Nunc Dimittis “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace”.Referring directly to the sheer strains and demands of office, to the fast moving nature of our modern society, and to his increasing physical inability to cope with these pressures, Pope Benedict, like Simeon, asked to be allowed to depart in peace.

It may be six hundred years since Gregory XII, in very different circumstances, resigned his office, but he did it for the good of the Church – knowing it was the only way to end the Great Western Schism in which two popes had been elected. His resignation was possible because of the decree of his predecessor, Celestine V, two hundred years earlier in 1294, which allowed for resignation. Celestine felt called back to a life of prayer as a monk.

In our own times we have seen the requirement of bishops to tender their resignation at the age of 75 and the ending of the voting rights of cardinals once they reach the age of 80. So there is both precedent and an irresistible logic in what Pope Benedict has done.

The demands of the Papacy – intellectual, spiritual and physical – are phenomenal, and there will be very few who will not understand and respect Pope Benedict’s view that at 85 it is time to pass the burden of that responsibility to others. His ministry has been characterised by humility and selflessness and this decision is of a piece with those characteristics.

In passing on the tiller of the Barque of Peter, Benedict is freeing himself to spend his remaining years preparing for the journey which all of us must ultimately make – both Pope and people; and, in doing so, he is reminding us all that one day we will have to do the same. In our own frenetic lives we often forget that no-one was ever heard to utter on his death beds the words “I wish I had spent more time in the office.”

The Pope’s decision will remind us to leave space and time to consider our own mortality but it may also prove to be one of his greatest gifts to those who follow him – removing from them the expectation of remaining in office until death . There will, however, always remain anxiety lest a Pope who resigns allows himself to become a point of dissent against whoever follows him. This would have a damaging effect on the teaching authority and unity of the Church. Pope Benedict, a brilliant theologian and admired intellectual, will have weighed this issue carefully – and it was no doubt one of the questions to which he alluded when he said he had searched his conscience and prayed deeply before reaching his decision.

So how will his papacy be judged and what might we expect for the future?

The Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, was right to say describe Benedict as “compassionate” “thoughtful” and “gentle”, carrying “an aura of grace and wisdom.

On meeting Benedict it hard not to be struck by his humility and shyness – which is perhaps why he disarmed so many of the angry atheists who harangued him during his visit to the UK in 2010.

His call in Westminster Hall, the scene of the trials of Thomas More, Edmund Campion and many other Catholics, for Christians to speak out for “the legitimate role of religion in the public square” was a powerful appeal to the secularised West not to forget who we are, not to lose our identity.

A friend of mine who is being received into the Church on Palm Sunday told me that it was Benedict’s courageous witness that led him to first read the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, which Benedict had done so much to prepare, and then to read his books on theology and the trilogy of the life of Jesus, and his encyclicals, such as Deus Caritas Est.

Benedict’s belief in faith and reason led my friend to the Church and his writings will be Benedict’s greatest bequest.

In choosing his successor the Cardinals will want to weigh up the challenges now facing the Church – which range from disciplinary issues, arising out of clerical abuse, to how the Church better uses its resources for its central responsibility to proclaim the Gospel.

Pope Benedict is right that we live in a rapidly changing world and his successor will need to know how to handle that world. His successor will want to tell the old truths in new ways and display pastoral sensitivity about the challenges which face everyone of us in our daily lives. He will need the compassion of Jesus and the wisdom of Solomon; the patience of Mary, the courage of Michael and the communication gifts of Paul. He may also need to face the dangers which have cost many Popes their lives.

One of the great contributions of Pope Benedict has been his call for religious freedom and respect but that came at a price.

He risked threats to his life in travelling to Lebanon where he called for religious tolerance. At Regensberg, in 2006, he abjured the use of violence to promote religious objectives. The Reegensberg lecture sparked controversy but he had dared to say what many thought and good came from it with significant encounters between Muslim and Catholic scholars and the creation of the Catholic-Muslim forum to promote dialogue. This week, Dr. Mustafa Ceric, Former Grand Mufti of Bosnia said that he hoped Benedict’s successor would build on that “ spirit of friendly Muslim-Catholic dialogue.” With Christians being murdered from West Africa to Syria this will be an urgent and far from easy task.

One of the ancient titles of the Pope is “Pontifex” – the builder of the bridge; but in addition to building bridges he must also be “Claviger” – the bearer of the keys given by Jesus to Peter, as He entrusted him to uphold and interpret His teachings. And above all peter’s successor is called to be the “servant of the servants of God.”

The poet, Robert Browning, who spent a lot of time in Italy, took great interest in the Roman Catholic Church, the study of the Bible, and the culture and history of Italy, coined the phrase “the raree-show of Peter’s successor.” As that raree-show begins the names of potential incumbents will be spoken about in newspapers, studios and blogs as well as in the trattoria of Rome. But no-one predicted the name of Karol Wojtyla – and he became the greatest pope of our times.

That there are so many eminently suitable men to take the helm – from Europe’s Cardinals Scola and Schonborn to Africa’s Cardinal Turkson, from Latin America’s Cardinal Aviz to Canada’s Cardinal Ouellet, from Asia’s Cardinal Tagle to Patriarch Rai of the Marionites, – or names we may hardly know – bodes well for the Conclave that will be held in March and it bodes well for the Church. But whatever odds the bookies quote, or however “well-informed” the speculation, leave space for the Holy Spirit, for the discernment which will take place away from the raree-show, and for the well placed prayer that we will be given a Pope for our times to serve the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. Meanwhile, let a faithful servant depart both with gratitude and in peace.