Pentecost Golden Jubilee of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral; Funeral of Edge Hill’s former Vicar, Alan Godson; Arab Hope Maker Award to Cairo’s Mama Maggie; General Election June 8th 2017 – Election Notebook – recalling earlier contests.Parliamentary Questions raised by David Alton.

Pentecost and a Golden Jubilee

The eve of Pentecost was the perfect time to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Liverpool’s Cathedral of Christ the King.

The Cathedral choirs began the wonderful evening of celebration – beautifully organised by the Dean, Canon Anthony O’Brien – with choral vespers.

Guests then left the sanctuary and nave in what is affectionately known in Liverpool as “Paddy’s Wigwam” –designed by  Frederick Gibberd – to join a gala dinner below, in the Pontifical Hall of the Sir Edwin Lutyens crypt.

In 1969, as a newly arrived student in Liverpool – and two years after the cathedral had been completed – I first took in the breath-taking Trinity of light, that floods the interior of the cathedral, – yellow, blue and red stained glass,– and felt I was stepping through a coruscating kaleidoscope of iridescent colours.

Over the years that have followed I have been in the cathedral countless times but, most memorably, in 1982, on another Pentecost, 35 years ago, during the visit of Pope John Paul II. He arrived there, having processed along the city’s Hope Street, which links Liverpool’s two cathedrals. That historic visit sealed the Christian ecumenism that finally replaced bitter sectarianism.

In the cathedral he said:

“The Holy Spirit, who is the source of all unity, provides the Body of Christ with a “variety of gifts” (1 Cor. 12, 3), so that it may be built up and strengthened. As the Holy Spirit granted the Apostles the gift of tongues, so that all gathered in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost might hear and understand the one Gospel of Christ, should we not expect the same Holy Spirit to grant us the gifts we need in order to continue the work of salvation, and to be reunited as one body in Christ? In this we trust and for this we pray, confident in the power which the Spirit gave to the Church at Pentecost.”

He told us that:


“There is no sin which cannot be forgiven, if we approach the throne of mercy with humble and contrite hearts. No evil is more powerful than the infinite mercy of God.”

My late mother accompanied me to that amazing Service.

As a girl in the West of Ireland her impoverished family were among countless people who gave a penny each week towards the building of a cathedral in a faraway city – built on the site of a work house where thousands of Irish people, fleeing a famine which claimed one million lives, had died of hunger, cholera and typhoid.

My son Philip, now a doctor in Liverpool and father of two little girls, came with me to last night’s celebrations.

Perhaps he and they will be present when the cathedral celebrates its centenary? As John Henry Newman once said “we are links in a chain.” 

Philip and I looked at the baptistery where one of his brothers and a sister had been baptised; at the sea-eagle lectern, designed by Sean Rice, and placed there in 2007 to mark the death of Fr.Paul Thompson, a priest of the cathedral, who had been Philip’s godfather and one of my closest friends. We looked at the Pentecost mosaic made by Georg Mayer-Marton, a Hungarian Jewish artist who escaped the Nazis, and whose work was carefully reassembled in the cathedral’s Chapel of Unity when, in 1989, Netherton’s Church of the Holy Ghost was demolished; and we passed the tomb of Liverpool’s singular Archbishop, Derek Worlock, buried in the cathedral in 1996. All links in Newman’s chain.

Georg Mayer-Marton's Pentecost mosaic Liverpool cathedral

A highlight of the evening was a poem written in 1967 for the opening of the cathedral by Liverpool’s pre-eminent poet, Roger McGough. He has rewritten it and added some extra stanzas for the Golden Jubilee:

“O Lord, so far so good. No bombs, no conversion into bingo hall or shopping mall. No demolition to make way for Metropolitan Hotel or student high-rise. Unscathed and soldiering on….What are five decades but a drop in the font, a gentle lap around the rosary? Until Iron Men swim down the Mersey and the Liver Birds take wing May your light shine out from Hope Street as we rejoice in Christ the King.”  

A lovely thought, this Pentecost.



May 20th 2017: The death was  announced of the Reverend Alan Godson, the former Vicar of St.Mary’s Edge Hill. The funeral took place on June 3rd at St.Mary’s Grassendale.

2017 Alan Godson Memorial Service

  He died peacefully, in his sleep. 

For more than three decades Alan was Vicar of St.Mary’s Edge Hill where, in 1972, after working in Manchester’s Catacombs, he took up the living of this inner city parish.  

I can be absolutely certain about the day, the time and the place where I first met Alan. 

It was May 3rd 1972.

 I was a 21-year-old student and fighting my first City Council election campaign in the inner city Low Hill Ward.

 It was the eve of poll and I was in Erskine Street, a street scheduled for demolition.

Someone – no guessing who – had the words “God Lives Here in the Slums” daubed on the gable end.

 Intrigued, and looking for a vote, I knocked on the door, and inevitably ended up being canvassed on behalf of God. 

 Half an hour later, and too late to knock on any more doors, I knew my time had been well spent and knew it wasn’t a coincidence but, rather, what Alan called a “Godincidence”.

  The following day, in May 1972, I was elected to the City Council and not long after, Alan, who had been working in Manchester’s Catacombs, took up the living at St.Mary’s, Edge Hill. At that time, Bishop Tom Williams was a curate in the local Catholic parish and the three of us became friends – and it is great to see him at the celebration of Alan’s life.

 I always thought that his renumbering of the St.Mary’s Vicarage as “JC4U” – while sometimes mystifying the postmen – was the essential clue in understanding Alan.

 It summed up what he most wanted for everyone that he encountered: JC4U.

Alan was an evangelist who never tired in his indefatigable zeal for souls – and I never saw him happier than during Mission England, in 1984, when the football stadium at Anfield was filled to capacity.

 But Alan didn’t need to wait for big events to evangelise you.

 He would pull up alongside a car in a traffic queue and ask the puzzled driver next to him what the letters JLY in his number plate stood for. As the driver scratched his head and Alan pulled away he would tell him “ JLY Jesus Loves You.”

His blue and red church posters told a similar tale. The acronyms of Liverpool’s two football clubs pointed to a much greater story: LFC – Liverpool For Christ; EFC – Everyone for Christ.  

 With one famous poster, he even made the national news. The Soviet Union’s atheistic Communist leader had made public declarations that there was no God.

 When Adropov died Alan ’s poster “Now Andropov Knows” led to complaints from the Soviet Ambassador. 

 Characteristically, Alan stood his ground, and used the opportunity to open people’s minds to the suffering of Christians at the hands of the Soviets.

 Among the many speakers Alan hosted at St.Mary’s was Richard Wurmbarnd, who had dared to say that Communism and Christianity were not compatible – and was imprisoned and tortured by the Romanian Communist regime for saying so.

 Wurmbrand said “Let us be on the side of those who sit in jails and are sentenced to death for their faith. Let us pray for them and help them”.  Alan never hesitated to do both of those things.

 Among Alan’s other great heroes was Corrie ten Boom – the Dutch watchmaker who helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust.

 Her Christian activism led to her imprisonment in a concentration camp.

 As an encouragement, Alan would often give her books to people and would ask her question: Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” and shared her belief that “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God you’ll be at rest.” 

Alan saw the suffering and faith of men like Richard Wurmbrand and women like Corrie ten Boom as a rebuke to those of us whose faith is often so tepid, or lukewarm – Gethsemane Christians too often asleep at our posts.  

Alan had no fear of death – seeing it as a homecoming. He handed over what was unknown to a trusted and known God.  

In retirement he and his wife, Lesley, had been living in Aigburth, Liverpool – their home, appropriately, overlooking Liverpool Cricket Club. Having played rugby for his Cambridge College, in the 1970s Alan was one of the founders of Christians in Sport and came to represent, in his whole person, the phrase “muscular Christianity.”   For a birthday present his boys tracked down footage of the Varsity Rugby Match 1960- 1st Half Highlights – YouTube and Alan scoring a famous try for Cambridge:

Related image

Alan Godson's famous posters at St.Mary's

Right up until the end – and with the aid of an oxygen machine and the loving ministrations of his wonderful wife, Lesley, and the support of his three boys, Andrew, Jonathan and Stephen, Alan was still asking visitors and those who telephoned him “are you reading your Bible?”.  From his new vantage point I daresay – and rather hope – he will continue to give a not so gentle nudge when he sees us falling asleep at our posts. He will be greatly missed.

May he rest in peace.

2017 St.Mary's Edge Hill flag at half mast for Alan Godson

St.Mary’s Edge Hill. Flag at half mast for the Revd.Alan Godson.


The value of a human is incomparable to any other value…”  Mama Maggie – the Mother of Cairo – On Receiving the Arab Hope Makers Award

Mama Maggie

Great news that Mama Maggie – Maggie Gobran – has been chosen as one of the five Arab Hope Makers. Happy to have been one of her nominators. I have a chapter on the extraordinary work undertaken by “the Mother of Cairo” in my book, Signs of Contradiction. It was deeply inspiring to see  first-hand the phenomenal work of this Coptic woman among the poorest of the poor, especially abandoned children, in Cairo’s Garbage City.

Yesterday’s big celebration, in Dubai, was attended by more than 25000 who gathered in Dubai Studios city with the presence of Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashed Al Maktoum Vice President of United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, to choose and honour the winners of Hope Maker working in Arab countries from 65000 hope makers nominated. Sheihk Mohamed Bin Rashed surprised every one by awarding all 5 winners with the same prize of AED 1 million

Mama Maggie started her word by saying:” The value of a human is incomparable to any other value…”

This is the first initiative for recognition of its kind – for any positive action undertaken on a wide level within the Arab countries. Congratulations to Mother Mama – and to the UAE.

Maggie Gobran Signs of Contradiction 1

Maggie Gobran Signs of Contradiction 21

Maggie Gobran Signs of Contradiction 3


2017 General Election Notebook. jpg

Elected at Liverpool Edge Hill in 1979


Parliamentary Questions raised by David Alton over the last month on Overseas Aid, Targeting of Egyptian Copts, Syria, Primodos, North Korea, the Use of Chemical Weapons, IVF, Sudan, Religious Freedom, Burma, Morton Hall Inspection, Neglected Tropical Diseases, Asbestos in Schools, Scottish Devolution, Iraq and IS Genocide, Refugee Children, Assisted Dying.

Spending Aid Wisely and Effectively
April 26 2017

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the things that jeopardises sustainable development is a combination of conflict, where there is the need to bring conflict resolution, and corruption? In the light of the Government’s welcome announcement that they will sustain development programmes and funding for development overseas, will he tell us what priority a new Government are likely to give to combating conflict in situations such as South Sudan, where famine has come as a direct result of it, and dealing with corruption, where aid money can be embezzled and misused?
Lord Bates

The noble Lord is absolutely right. We have said that the 0.7% commitment stands, but we are also absolutely resolute that there needs to be reform of the international aid system to ensure that that hard-earned money, provided by British taxpayers and other taxpayers from around the world, gets to where it is most intended. That is why we are behind arguing for global goal 16 on peace and security—because, without peace and security, there can be no development or growth. That is also why we have committed the large sum of money—£100 million—to South Sudan and to the other areas which are touched by famine at present.

 To view the answers to the following Questions Click on the Heading: 

Written Answers — Home Office: Immigration: North Korea (24 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their estimate of the number of North Korean nationals who have entered UK territories in the last five years, other than those accredited as diplomatic staff working for the DPRK Embassy in London.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: Developing Countries: Diseases (20 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the response by Lord Bates on 3 April (HL Deb, cols 930–1) concerning neglected tropical diseases, what study the Department for International Development has made of the use of technologies to map neglected tropical diseases using remote sensing technologies and mobile smartphone technologies.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: Africa: Snakes (20 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the response by Lord Bates on 3 April (HL Deb, cols 930–1) concerning neglected tropical diseases, how they are responding to Africa’s need for anti-venoms to treat snake bites, following the cessation of production by the major manufacturer.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: Developing Countries: Sleeping Sickness (20 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the response by Lord Bates on 3 April (HL Deb, cols 930–1) concerning neglected tropical diseases, what further progress they expect to make in the elimination of sleeping sickness.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Egypt: Christianity (19 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assistance they have offered the government of Egypt to protect Egypt’s Coptic population from ISIS, following reports of targeted attacks, killings, and forced conversions.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Human Rights (19 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of reports of human rights violations committed by the government of North Korea against its exiled citizens, and of some exiled North Koreans having become UK citizens, what is their response to the recommendation by the UNHCR group of independent experts on accountability in their report to the 34th session published on 24 February that UN…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Chongryon (19 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are aware of (1) members of Chongryon, formerly known as the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, entering or doing business in the United Kingdom, and (2) whether Chongryon members have had any interactions with diplomats from the DPRK Embassy in London, in the last five years.

Written Answers — Home Office: Asylum: Balkans (18 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the joint report from the International Rescue Committee and 11 other organisations, Out of Sight, Exploited and Alone, concerning unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) in the Balkans, and its principal concerns of (1) insufficient and unreliable data or information management on UASC within the region, (2) a lack of…

Written Answers — Home Office: Immigration: North Korea (18 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, what steps they are taking to ensure that North Korean nationals who enter UK territories are not involved in any unlawful activities.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Hong Kong: Politics and Government (13 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of the People’s Republic of China concerning political developments in Hong Kong; and whether they have called for undertakings in the Basic Law to be honoured.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: British Nationals Abroad (13 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking, including through the British Embassy in Pyongyang, to ensure that the government of North Korea does not breach the Vienna Convention; and what advice they are offering to British nationals in, and travelling to, North Korea regarding their safety, in the light of the temporary ban imposed on Malaysian diplomats from leaving…

Written Answers — Department of Health: In Vitro Fertilisation (6 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, with reference to paragraph 2.8 of the minutes of 9 March 2017 of the Licence Committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) regarding babies born following pronuclear transfer between embryos, what procedures are in place to (1) identify whether a child born following pronuclear transfer is born with (a) a mitochondrial disease,…

Written Answers — Department of Health: Primodos (6 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord O’Shaughnessy on 28 March (HL6261), whether the Expert Working Group on Hormonal Pregnancy Tests will review the reasons why tests on Primodos, which remained on the market until 1978 despite the publication of a study in 1967 indicating a causal relationship between hormonal pregnancy tests and congenital…

Written Answers — Department of Health: In Vitro Fertilisation (6 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, with reference to paragraphs 2.8, 2.9 and 3.17 of the minutes of 9 March 2017 of the Licence Committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, regarding the follow-up of children born following pronuclear transfer between embryos, who is responsible for the follow-up programme in NHS England; what health, genetic and epigenetic parameters…

Written Answers — Department of Health: Primodos (6 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord O’Shaughnessy on 28 March (HL6261), whether they will meet with Marie Lyon and representatives of the Primodos victims support group.

Written Answers — Department of Health: Primodos (6 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord O’Shaughnessy on 28 March (HL6261), whether the Expert Working Group on Hormonal Pregnancy Tests will review (1) the terms of reference of (a) the Committee on the Safety of Medicines, and (b) the Metabolic Research Unit, when determining what lessons may be learnt for further improving existing regulatory…

Syria: Chemical Weapons – Private Notice Question (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, in welcoming the swift response of Her Majesty’s Government and the reply that the Minister has just given to the Question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, perhaps I might press the Government further on the use of chemical weapons. We have now seen chemical weapons used twice in Syria, but they have also been used, allegedly, in Darfur by the regime of President…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Terrorism (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 5 November 2015 (HL 2969) which stated that “the DPRK is not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since 1987”, whether they classify as the sponsoring of terrorist acts (1) the plot by a North Korean defector to kill Park Sang-hak in 2012, (2) the plot by two North Korean military…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Iraq: Islamic State (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the discovery of a further mass grave in Khafsa, Iraq, what progress is being made in establishing international judicial mechanisms to bring to justice supporters of ISIS who are accused of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Electronic Warfare (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) North Korean cyber attacks, and (2) reports that the regime has been responsible for a $81 million bank cyber heist.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Religious Freedom (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what instructions have been given to FCO country desk officers to ensure that freedom of religion or belief is included in their work.

Written Answers — Department of Health: In Vitro Fertilisation (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the award by the Licence Committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority of a licence to Centre 0017 to carry out pronuclear transfer between embryos to prevent transmission of serious mitochondrial disease, what safeguards Centre 0017 has put in place to ensure that early pronuclear transfer will take place during treatment at…

Written Answers — Department of Health: In Vitro Fertilisation (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, with reference to paragraph 2.3 of the minutes of 9 March 2017 of the Licence Committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which non-CE marked reagents will be used by Centre 0017 for the purposes of treatment involving pronuclear transfer between embryos to prevent transmission of serious mitochondrial disease; which laboratories will…

Written Answers — Department for International Development: Religious Freedom (4 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government why no reference to (1) targeted and persecuted religious minorities, or (2) the fundamental human right of freedom of religion and belief, is made in the goals specified in the Department for International Development policy paper, Agenda 2030: Delivering the Global Goals.

Neglected Tropical Diseases – Question for Short Debate (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to support my noble friend Lady Hayman and salute her dogged persistence in raising the issue of rare and neglected tropical diseases. In doing so, I should mention that I am a vice-president of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and have been associated with the school in one way or another for the best part of 40 years. I particularly pay tribute to…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Burma: Human Rights (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the Interim Report and recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State; and what representations they will make to the government of Burma regarding the implementation of those recommendations.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Sudan: Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they supported the appointment of a representative of the government of Sudan as Vice Chairman of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons; and, in making this appointment, what account was taken of the allegations by Amnesty International that chemical weapons have been used against the civilian population of Sudan, and of the…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Sudan: Chemical Weapons (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have supported the call by Amnesty International to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons by the government of Sudan against the civilian population of that country; whether the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons is conducting an investigation, or plans to do so; and if not, what action they have taken in response.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Terrorism (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 3 November 2015 (HL2960), what assessment they have made of the terror threat to UK nationals, including those who are North Korean refugees and human rights workers in North Korea, from the government of North Korea and its diplomatic personnel.

Written Answers — Scotland Office: Sovereignty: Scotland (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have held with the Scottish Government concerning the inclusion of a third option, offering further devolution of powers to Scotland, in any future Scottish independence referendum; what assessment they have made of the benefits of including such an option; and whether they have ruled out its inclusion.

Written Answers — Home Office: Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the Report on an unannounced inspection of Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, published on 21 March.

Written Answers — Home Office: Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the findings of the Report on an unannounced inspection of Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, published on 21 March, in particular that (1) too many detainees were held for prolonged periods, (2) the average length of detention was high, (3) children were detained for long periods of time due…

Written Answers — Home Office: Immigration: EU Nationals (30 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 23 March (HL6077), whether they will prepare and publish a draft bill with a view to its introduction as soon as agreement on the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK has been reached.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Sudan: Trade Promotion (29 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government why, in a video published by the British Embassy in Khartoum on 19 February, to promote UK business and investment in Sudan, the British Ambassador to Sudan did not refer to human rights and genocide charges brought against the regime.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Sudan: Trade Promotion (29 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have imposed a requirement for unhindered humanitarian access and the cessation of hostilities prior to increasing the number of UK trade deals with the Republic of Sudan.

Written Answers — Department of Health: Primodos (29 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the Sky News documentary Primodos: The Secret Drugs Scandal; and whether they will consider establishing a public inquiry into the alleged failure of the regulator at that time to protect public safety.

Written Answers — Department of Health: Primodos (29 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what funding they are providing to researchers based in (1) Cambridge, and (2) Aberdeen, who are examining the composition of the drug Primodos and its likely effects on the child in the womb.

Written Answers — Department of Health: Congenital Abnormalities (28 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord O’Shaughnessy on 20 March (HL5811), why they do not maintain a list of foetal anomalies that cannot be identified before 24 weeks gestation.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Iraq: Islamic State (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the discovery of a further mass grave in Khafsa, Iraq, what progress is being made in establishing international judicial mechanisms to bring to justice supporters of ISIS who are accused of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answers by Earl Howe on 26 October 2010 (HL2589, HL2591, HL2592, and HL2593) concerning the drug Primodos, and to the remarks by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health on 23 October 2014 (HC Deb 1139) concerning oral hormone pregnancy tests, and in the light of the Sky News documentary Primodos: The Secret Drugs…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Assassination (27 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports that North Korea has issued orders to assassinate a British businessman who helped to facilitate the defection of North Korea’s then deputy ambassador to London.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Human Rights (27 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to introduce human rights sanctions against North Korea, in line with those imposed by the United States.

Written Answers — Department for Education: Schools: Asbestos (23 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the responses made by local authorities to freedom of information requests made by Lucie Stephens regarding reported incidents of asbestos exposure in schools; and what guidance they have given, or plan to give, to local authorities about the publication of such reports.

Written Answers — Home Office: Immigration: EU Nationals (23 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will introduce a bill guaranteeing the right of EU nationals who were legally resident in the UK at the time of the EU referendum to remain in the UK.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Iraq: Armed Conflict (21 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the reports of fighting last week in Sinjar, between Kurdish forces, Peshmarga and PKK, and of the reported displacement of Yazidi families from Sinjar; and what is known about their whereabouts and well-being.

Written Answers — Home Office: Asylum (21 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 9 February (HL Deb cols 1860–1861) about unaccompanied child refugees, what is their response to the report by the British Red Cross Can’t Stay, Can’t Go concerning refused asylum seekers who cannot be returned.

Written Answers — Home Office: Refugees: English Language (21 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 9 February (HL Deb cols 1860–1861) about unaccompanied child refugees, what is their response to the report by Refugee Action Locked out of learning: A snapshot of ESOL provision in England concerning the waiting times to access English language classes faced by refugees.

Written Answers — Home Office: Refugees: Families (21 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 9 February (HL Deb cols 1860–1861) about unaccompanied child refugees, what is their response to the briefing note by the Refugee Council, Oxfam UK, the British Red Cross and Amnesty International UK Together again: Reuniting refugee families in safety – what the UK can do.

Written Answers — Home Office: Refugees: Families (21 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 9 February (HL Deb cols 1860–1861) about unaccompanied child refugees, what is their response to UNICEF UK’s examination of the risks facing refugee and migrant children crossing the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy in their report A deadly journey for children: The central…

Written Answers — Home Office: Refugees: Families (21 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 9 February (HL Deb cols 1860–1861) about unaccompanied child refugees, what is their response to the statement by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner published on 22 February, in particular with respect to his call to address the strain on the Dublin III system; and when they intend…

Digital Economy Bill – Report (2nd Day) (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I supports the amendment proposed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Janke, but also the remarks of my noble friend Lady Howe. I want to ask the Minister, when he comes to reply, about an issue that I raised in your Lordships’ House previously, and that is the issue of suicide sites on the internet. It concerns me that young people can be encouraged to visit those…

Digital Economy Bill – Report (2nd Day) (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: I support Amendment 25YD in the name of my noble and learned friend, to which she spoke so well earlier on, and the comments of other noble Lords in the debate so far. The problem with coming to this point in legislation, which has proceeded all the way through the other place and is now on Report in your Lordships’ House, on a day when some 174 government amendments have been laid, is…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Religious Freedom (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 1 March (HL5421) stating that it is their policy to promote freedom of religious belief, why there was no mention of freedom of religion or belief in the UK’s opening statement at the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Egypt: Christianity (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports of Coptic Christian families in Egypt who have been forced to flee North Sinai province following a number of killings in recent weeks by suspected Islamist militants; and what representations they have made to the government of Egypt about those reports.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Diplomatic Relations (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the remarks by David Slinn, the former UK Ambassador to North Korea on 24 January, concerning the difficulties of negotiating with Kim Jong-un.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Human Rights (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have discussed with the European Union and individual EU member states (1) the use of North Korean labour, (2) the use of European bank accounts by North Korean nationals in the EU, and (3) a united response to the report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; and if so, when those…

Written Answers — Department of Health: Congenital Abnormalities (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what conditions for which there is a high probability that the foetus will die at, during, or shortly after delivery due to serious foetal anomaly are unable to be identified before 24 weeks gestation.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Human Rights (17 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 28 February (HL Deb, col 714), whether at the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council they will support recommendations (1) to establish an ad hoc tribunal, or (2) to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court.

Written Answers — Department of Health: In Vitro Fertilisation (17 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord O’Shaughnessy on 28 February (HL5495), whether, and if so when, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) directly requested any evidence from Dr Valery Zukin or members of his team since publishing its report on 30 November 2016; what assessment it has made of that evidence; whether it has…

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I shall be brief. I enthusiastically support the remarks that the noble Lord, Lord Young, has just made, notwithstanding the minor caveat that I entered the Chamber as he was replying to the previous order and note the unnecessary duplication and replication which can cause confusion. I encourage him, and the Government generally, to stay in touch with the local authorities that…

Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield Combined Authority (Election of Mayor) (Amendment) Order 2017 – Motion to Approve (16 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: Just before the Minister leaves that point, I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, was making the point that as we go forward it will be important to keep under review how the provision actually works out in practice. I fully support the order being laid before your Lordships’ House, and the next one, which deals with Liverpool and the Merseyside area, where there is agreement…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: South Sudan: Armed Conflict (14 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), what new initiatives they are taking to (1) stop the fighting in, (2) curtail the flow of weapons to, and (3) bring about better conditions for humanitarian aid to reach the people of, South Sudan.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: South Sudan: Arms Trade (14 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), whether they intend to ask the UN Security Council to reconsider imposing an arms embargo on South Sudan.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Burma: Rohingya (14 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the statement by the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide on 6 February, that (1) the scale of violence alleged to have been perpetrated by the Burmese security forces against the Rohingya community amounts to “dehumanization”, and (2) the existing government of Burma commission is not a credible option to undertake a…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Burma: Rohingya (14 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of whether the existing government of Burma commission investigations into allegations of sexual violence in Rakhine State are credible and being conducted in line with the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Written Answers — Department for Education: Refugees: Children in Care (14 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to (1) the correspondence sent by Lord Alton of Liverpool on 20 February on behalf of ECPAT UK concerning missing, trafficked and unaccompanied children, and (2) the findings of the report by ECPAT UK, Heading back to harm, published in November 2016, that (a) a number of local authorities were unable to provide figures on the…

Written Answers — Department for Education: Schools: Asbestos (13 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they intend to take to protect children and teachers from the dangers of asbestos, in the light of the findings of the Education Funding Agency in their reports published in February, and of the information released in the Freedom of Information request 201607236, of August 2016, that 319 teachers have died of mesothelioma since 1980,…

Written Answers — Home Office: Refugees: Children (9 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to respond to the statement by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, published on 22 February, concerning the protection of unaccompanied child refugees against modern slavery and other forms of exploitation.

Written Answers — Home Office: Refugees: Children (9 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to respond to the recommendations made by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner on 22 February, on (1) safe refuge for child refugees under section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016; (2) safe refuge for child refugees under the Dublin III Regulation; (3) working with partners to improve protections in Europe; and (4) working to address the…

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), what humanitarian access is available to NGOs in Unity State; and what is their estimate of the percentage of South Sudan’s population that remains inaccessible to agencies seeking to provide food to those affected by famine.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), what progress has been made in ending South Sudan’s civil war; and how many people they estimate (1) have been displaced, or (2) have become refugees, as a consequence of the war and conflicts in the neighbouring areas of the Republic of Sudan.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), what is their estimate of the number of children in South Sudan now affected by malnutrition.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), how much new money has been allocated to alleviate famine in South Sudan; to whom it has been (1) allocated, and (2) given; and how it is being used.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), and to the statement by the Secretary of State for International Development on 22 February announcing new packages of life-saving UK aid for South Sudan and Somalia, how much new money is being made available and allocated for use in South Sudan.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), when the new money allocated to help famine victims in South Sudan was signed off; who are the intended recipients of that funding; and whether any of that money has been allocated to (1) the government of South Sudan, (2) NGOs, or (3) UN agencies, and if so, how much.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), who is coordinating international efforts to help the victims of the famine in South Sudan; and what meetings the Minister and Secretary of State have convened with their international counterparts to ensure an effective response to the famine.

Assisted Dying – Question for Short Debate (6 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the noble Baroness’s Question asks whether legislation in North America on what is called “assisted dying” forms an appropriate basis for such legislation here. I will answer that question in just one word: no. Quite apart from any issues of principle, just look at what is now happening in Oregon. When Oregon’s assisted suicide law was enacted, it was to…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Iraq: Islamic State (6 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 8 February (HL5121), how many projects are actively collecting evidence against perpetrators of violence, war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in Iraq, and what are the objectives of each project.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Syria: Islamic State (6 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 8 February (HL5121), whether they are satisfied that sufficient progress has been made in the collection of evidence by the Independent Mechanism established by UN General Assembly resolution 71/248 regarding war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed by members of Daesh.

Tolkien: Faith and Fiction – Liverpool Hope University Lecture marking the fiftieth anniversary of J.R.R.Tolkien’s involvement in the translation of the Jerusalem Bible and the link between his faith and his fiction. Accompanying presentation slides and full text may be viewed here.



Tolkien: Faith and Fiction

click here to view the power point presentation which accompanies the following lecture:

faith-in-the-work-of-tolkien – view full powerpoint presentation accompanying the lecture

tolkien-faith-and-fiction-liverpool-2016 Text

 Liverpool Hope University, November 2016.

David Alton, Lord Alton of Liverpool.


This year, 2016, marks 50 years since, in 1966, the English edition of the Jerusalem Bible was published.


The translation was undertaken here at Hope, at what was Christ’s College, my old College. The work was led by the brilliant scripture scholar, Fr.Alexander Jones.

J.R.R.Tolkien was one of those who contributed to the translation and it includes his translation of the Book of Jonah and an acknowledgement of his role.

Fr.Henry Wansborough OSB said “It was the first translation of the whole Bible into modern English to appear. It was an iconic presentation of the best of Catholic biblical scholarship in the previous half century.”

When, in 1969, I came here as a student, my first purchase was a still greatly prized and now well-worn copy of the JB, the Jerusalem Bible.

Jonah is among the books of the prophets – and once given the Word they are compelled to speak it: Amos cries “The Lord Yahweh speaks, who can refuse to prophesy?”

And of Jonah and the other prophets, Alexander Jones said “At a point in each of their lives each received an irresistible divine call and was chosen as God’s envoy. The price of attempting to elude this vocation is stated in the early part of the story of Jonah.”

He says Jonah is unlike the other prophetic books because “this short work is entirely narrative. It tells the story of a disobedient prophet who first struggles to evade his divine mission and then complains to God that his mission has, against his expectations, been successful.”

I can’t help speculating that Alexander Jones may have had another reluctant hero in his mind when he asked the creator of home-loving risk-averse reluctant-hero Hobbits to collaborate in the translation of the Book of Jonah.

And like many aspects of Tolkien’s work, Fr.Jones reminds us that the story of Jonah which he describes as a droll adventure, taking us from the “the belly of Sheol” – to the city of Nineveh, is precisely that – a story, not history; a “didactic work” that is “intended to amuse and instruct” and which “proclaims an astonishingly broadminded catholicity.”  

God is merciful to all, even to the rebellious Jonah. The lessons of mercy, humility and repentance are given to the Chosen People at the hands of their sworn enemies.

You can see why Tolkien would have been entirely at home with this Book and these themes.

The Book of Jonah concludes with God explaining, with great love mixed with some gentle irony, that He will not only be merciful to Jonah, the reluctant prophet, but also to the repentant Ninevehites and their little children “who cannot tell their right hand from their left,” and proclaiming still further, His love of all His Creation “to say nothing of all the animals.” 


The story of Jonah is also a dramatic prefiguring of the only story which really matters: Jonah’s three days in the belly of the great fish prepares us for Christ’s three days in the tomb. Fr.Jones says that at this moment in the Old Testament “We are on the threshold of the Gospel.”

Tolkien would describe such a turn of events in a story as a “eucatastrophe,”   – a word to which I will return at the conclusion of my remarks.

I coined the word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth.” 


For Tolkien the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ of human history was the resurrection of Christ from the tomb. So its preconfiguration in the biblical Book of Jonah is a pretty good place to start when considering Tolkien, Faith and Fiction.


Tolkien, himself, said that The Lord of the Rings was “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work”. What did he mean by that and what clues are there in the characters, the tales within the tale, and within the plot itself?  


Let me divide my remarks into 3 parts:

  1. How Tolkien’s experiences shaped his beliefs;
  2. What Tolkien tells us himself; and
  3.  How faith shapes the characters, and the story lines.



  • 1. How Tolkien’s experiences shaped his beliefs.


Born in Bloemfontein, in the Orange Free State, in 1892, his father died in 1896, and his mother, Mabel Suffield, returned to England, to the Midlands. Her conversion to Catholicism, in 1900, led to her rejection by her mixed Baptist, Unitarian and Anglican relatives. She was reduced to poverty.

Struggling as a widow, and shunned by her family, Mabel sought solace and help from the Catholic community of the Birmingham Oratory.


The Birmingham Oratory – whose full title is the Congregation of the Oratory of St.Philip Neri and is located in the Edgbaston district of Birmingham, was founded in 1849 by Blessed John Henry Newman, who died in 1890, two years before Tolkien’s birth. 

It was the first house of that Congregation in England and Newman, a celebrated Catholic convert, had been given permission by Pope Pius IX to establish a community of Oratorians in England and Newman lived a secluded life there for the best part of four decades.


Newman had died only ten years before Tolkien, in his childhood, spent nine years as a parishioner of St. Philip’s and attended the parish school before winning his scholarship to the Birmingham’s King Edward’s school.

In 1904, after the death of his mother at the age of 34, a death “hastened by the persecution of her faith”, as Tolkien remarked in 1941, he was shunted between relatives until a lodging was found for him by an Oratorian priest, Father Francis Morgan, who was his legal guardian.

In 1963 Tolkien wrote about the effect that these experiences and formative years had on him: “I witnessed (half comprehending) the heroic sufferings and early death in extreme poverty of my mother who brought me into the Church.”

His great closeness and devotion to the Theotokos – Mary, the Mother of God – began with the premature death of his own mother. He said that Mary “refined so much of our gross manly natures and emotions as well as warming and colouring our hard, bitter, religion.”

Of Fr.Francis he wrote: “I first learnt charity and forgiveness from him” and he said that he taught him the story of his Faith “piercing even the ‘liberal’ darkness out of which I came, knowing more about ‘Bloody Mary’ than the Mother of Jesus – who was never mentioned except as an object of wicked worship by the Romanists.”

The backdrop to Tolkien’s childhood was rejection and sectarianism but his connection with the Oratory gave him a love of the mystery of the sacraments but it also taught him to honour Scripture and tradition along with the teaching authority of the Church, grounded in the apostolic succession. He believed that Christ was, in the words of Newman’s hymn, Praise to the Holiest in the Heights, the Second Adam who to the rescue had come – sanctifying history and saving each of us.

And can we not see in Tolkien’s fiction, and the quest and mission of the Hobbit, something of Newman’s belief that:

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. ..I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons….”

Newman had been the most influential Catholic in the English speaking world during the nineteenth century and his Apologia and love of St.Augustine were the scaffold on which Tolkien’ s faith was hung.

Newman had insisted that “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often”; that “We are answerable for what we choose to believe.” that “Nothing would be done at all if one waited until one could do it so well that no one could find fault with it”; that Growth is the only evidence of life.” That “fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning” and that “The love of our private friends is the only preparatory exercise for the love of all men”.


The young Tolkien would have heard a great deal about Newman and studied him carefully – not least his famous treatise on the purpose of a university – the world in which he would spend his professional life:

“The University’s…. function is intellectual culture… It educates the intellect to reason well in all matters, to reach out towards truth, and to grasp it.”


   While at King Edward’s, Tolkien and three friends, Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Smith and Christopher Wiseman formed a secret society which they called the “T.C.B.S.” – the acronym meaning “Tea Club and Barrovian Society”. The name had its origins in their fondness for drinking tea at the nearby Barrow’s Stores and, illicitly, in the library of their school.

   From King Edward’s, Tolkien won an exhibition to Exeter College, Oxford in 1910, and graduated with First Class Honours in 1915.

    He showed early promise as a philologist and gifted linguist with a remarkable facility to decode ancient languages. He used these gifts in scholarship and in prose and the study of legend, folklore and poetry.

   In 1914 he read a poem by the Anglo-Saxon Christian poet, Cynewulf. He wrote later about how two lines of the poem Crist (Christ) remained with him:

Eala Earendel engla beorhtast

Ofer middangeard monnum sended!

Hail Earendel, brightest of angels,

Above the middle-earth sent unto men!


The friends of the T.C.B.S stayed in touch after leaving school, and in that same year, 1914, met at Wiseman’s London home for a “Council.” 

In many respects the T.C.B.S foreshadowed the Kolbitar (Coalbiters) which Tolkien would form at Oxford in 1925 – and which was devoted to reading Icelandic sagas. Lewis attended their meetings and, in the 1930s, from this fellowship of friends would finally emerge the Inklings – more of which, later.


In Birmingham Tolkien had met Edith Bratt, with whom he fell in love; he also commenced his practice of daily Mass attendance, which he continued throughout his life.

Fr.Morgan counselled him not to rush into marriage but, having been commissioned into the Lancashire Fusiliers, he feared that he might be killed. He and Edith, who was received into the Catholic Church, married in 1916.

 After seeing action in the Somme, acting as Battalion Signalling Officer – and, having contracted trench fever, Tolkien spent the rest of the war as an invalid.

The news from his friends in the TCBS was bleak. On July 15, 1916, Geoffrey Smith wrote to tell Tolkien of Rob Gilson’s death: My Dear John Ronald, I saw in the paper this morning that Rob has been killed. I am safe but what does that matter? Do please stick to me, you and Christopher. I am very tired and most frightfully depressed at this worst news. Now one realises in despair what the T.C.B.S. really was. O my dear John Ronald whatever are we going to do?  Yours ever.    G. B. S.


 Five months later, Christopher Wiseman wrote to Tolkien to say that Smith had died in a mission. Just before seeing this final action Smith wrote these words to Tolkien: 

My chief consolation is that if I am scuppered tonight – I am off on duty in a few minutes – there will still be left a member of the great T.C.B.S. to voice what I dreamed and what we all agreed upon. For the death of one of its members cannot, I am determined, dissolve the T.C.B.S. Death can make us loathsome and helpless as individuals, but it cannot put an end to the immortal four! A discovery I am going to communicate to Rob before I go off tonight. And do you write it also to Christopher. May God bless you my dear John Ronald and may you say things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them if such be my lot.” – Yours ever, G.B.S.


Like C.S.Lewis, and so many of his generation, Tolkien was deeply affected by World War One and the death of his friends.


As his closest intimates were cut down, it put an end to the circle of friends and, challenged by Smith’s haunting words: “may you say things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them”, Tolkien began to write his epic mythology on a notebook entitled “The Book of Lost Tales.” The tales would come to be known as “The Silmarillion.”


The hobbits entered his imagination in 1929, while marking examination papers, when Tolkien started to jot down some words for a story to read to his children – of whom there were now four:  “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit”. Tolkien would later say of himself: “I am in fact a Hobbit, in all but size…I like gardens, trees…I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking…” 

 Tolkien was like his hobbits, dreaming of eggs and bacon.

 Like the Book of Jonah, Tolkien’s tales have an extraordinary catholicity – an equal appeal to the Deist, atheist, agnostic or Pagan reader, of all ages and backgrounds. Like Jonah it is not about historical truth – although Middle Earth feels like a place that once existed – it is a story which provides sign posts to the ultimate Truth as well as sign posts about how we should relate to one another, about friendship, courage, honesty, integrity and the seemingly endless battles that we are each destined to fight on our journeys; how the ring is representative of tyrannical power, pride, temptation, addiction and sin.  In this sense The Lord of the Rings is a “true” story.


   It resonates with Tolkien’s own experiences and the time in which it was written – although he always insisted it was not allegory but rather might have applicability to those times and to all times.


     In his wonderful book, “The Power of the Ring” the late Stratford Caldecott, said of Tolkien’s work “at an even deeper level it is about the reality and value of beauty…the homely beauty of firelight and good cheer, the rich natural beauty of tree and forest, the awesome majesty of mountains, the charm of babbling stream, the high and remote glimmer of the stars…recalling the mystery that lies beyond the beauties of this world, and awaken a longing in the human heart that will never be quite content in Middle-earth.”


By contrast, Edmund Wilson described The Lord of the Rings as “juvenile trash” while that angry atheist, Philip Pullman, author of “His Dark Materials” has called The Lord of the Rings “trivial”:

“Tolkien was a Catholic, for whom the basic issues of life were not in question… So nowhere in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is there a moment’s doubt about those big questions. No-one is in any doubt about what’s good or bad; everyone knows where the good is, and what to do about the bad. Enormous as it is, TLOTR is consequently trivial”

When the first volume of The Lord of the Rings was published Tolkien knew that he was leaving himself open to inevitable scorn, writing, “I have expressed my heart to be shot at”.

Last year was the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of the Return of the King – the third and final volume of Lord of The Rings.

Pullman and others might note that the trilogy has sold a phenomenal 150 million copies worldwide; in 1997 it was Voted Amazon’s Best Book of the Century emerged as the most popular work of fiction in surveys by Waterstones and Channel Four and was second only to the Bible in its readership.

The Lord of the Rings sits alongside his wonderful short stories and The Silmarillion, posthumously brought to publication by his son, Christopher.

Pullman’s assessment was wrong about the book’s deep and abiding appeal and it is far from “trivial” – quite the reverse – and he was also wrong in stating that Tolkien’s was an unquestioning faith and that he had no doubts.

Referring to his doubts during a particularly arid period in the 1920s he said it was the Blessed Sacrament that kept his then flickering faith alive. He told his son, Michael “I brought you all up ill and talked to you too little. Out of wickedness and sloth I almost ceased to practice my religion…Not for me the Hound of Heaven but the never ceasing silent appeal to the Tabernacle and the sense of starving hunger.”

To consolidate his faith, he practiced and recommended frequent Confession and the frequent reception of Holy Communion, telling his son, Michael, who taught Classics at Stonyhurst College and St Mary’s Hall in Lancashire, “I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity and the true way of all your loves upon earth.” 

In Oxford, he served Mass every day at Blackfriars. The Mass was celebrated by his fellow Inkling, Fr.Gervase Matthew OP. It is said that  Whitacres’s Roman soldier, nailing Jesus to the Cross in the Stations of the Cross at Blackfriars is modelled on Tolkien’s orc.


Tolkien taught his children to love the Created world, especially the trees, and he persuaded Michael, to plant a copse in his Stonyhurst garden, evidence of which can still be seen today.

From 1939, after Mussolini joined forces with Hitler, Tolkien became a regular visitor to Stonyhurst when his oldest son, John, returned to England from seminary in Rome to continue his training as a priest. Stonyhurst – with its connections to the Shireburn family, to the recusants and Catholic martyrs, complete with its own Shire Lane in its village, with its two rivers and ancient forest and views of Pendle Hill, with its occult history, was an inspiring setting for Tolkien – captured beautifully today in the Ribble Valley Tolkien Trail.


Tolkien passed on his love of the Catholic faith to each of his children and encouraged his son, Christopher, to memorise some of the most tried and trusted prayers but also the entire text of the Latin Mass, saying that “If you have these by heart you never need for words of joy”; and he prayed the rosary, keeping a rosary by his bed and in his hands as he looked for Nazi bombers while part of the Oxford Watch during World War Two. 

Towards the end of his life – even while the Jerusalem Bible was in the final stages of composition –Tolkien recoiled at liturgical changes and at what he regarded as a loss of beauty in both reverence for the Holy Eucharist and the sacraments and for the liturgy itself.

He was saddened but became reconciled to the use of the vernacular rather than Latin for the celebration of Mass but he deplored the use of sloppy language.  He said that the encouragement of the faithful to receive Communion regularly and to attend daily Mass would have had a more profound effect on the Church than the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

The changes led him to say “the Church which once felt like a refuge now often feels like a trap. There is nowhere else to go! I think there is nothing to do but pray for the Church, the Vicar of Christ, and for ourselves; and meanwhile to exercise the virtue of loyalty, which indeed only becomes a virtue when one is under pressure to desert it.”  His grandson, Simon, wrote that he could “vividly remember going to church with him in Bournemouth.” He said that his grandfather didn’t agree with the liturgical changes “and made all the responses very loudly in Latin while the rest of the congregation answered in English. I found the whole experience quite excruciating, but my grandfather was oblivious. He simply had to do what he believed to be right.”

His belief in the sacrament of marriage and the love of family remained with him until the very end.  When Tolkien died, on September 2nd, 1973 aged 81, he underscored that inseparability and indissolubility, by being interred in the same grave as his wife, Edith, who had died two years earlier.  The names of Luthien and Beren appear on their tombstone.


In Tolkien’s Middle Earth Legendarium Luthien was the most beautiful of all the children of Iluvatar and forsook her immortality for her love of the mortal warrior Beren. The Silmarillion

The Hobbit


Fr.Robert Murray SJ


So much then for the experiences that shaped Tolkien. 

  1. What does Tolkien Tells Us Himself about his faith?

While once on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament he personally experienced in a vision the blinding presence of God: “I perceived or thought of the Light of God” and saw his own Guardian Angel as a manifestation of “God’s very attention”. 

As a Catholic he believed God is the Creator of the universe and that God had made the world out of nothing. Whether in the Bible or in Tolkien’s Silmarillion all that is has been created by the Word of God when, as we learn in the Book of Job, “the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God made a joyful melody.”

But as we also learn from The Silmarillion – as in the biblical story of Creation – we see the creativity  of Iluvatar, the One, and his first creations, the Ainur, the Holy Ones, contested by Melkor, “the greatest of the Ainur” who, like Lucifer, falls as he succumbs to the sin of pride and seeks to subvert both men and elves.

As G.K.Chesterton said of such pride, and as Tolkien himself believed: “Pride does not go before a fall, pride is the fall.”

That Tolkien’s faith was based on personal encounter with God and a deep spirituality is revealed in an exchange that he had with a stranger (whom he identified with Gandalf) and who said to him “Of course, you don’t suppose, do you, that you wrote all that book yourself?” Tolkien replied “Pure Gandalf!…I think I said “No, I don’t suppose so any longer.” I have never since been able to suppose so. An alarming conclusion for an old philologist to draw concerning his private amusement. But not one that should puff up anyone who considers the imperfections of “chosen instruments”, and indeed what sometimes seems their lamentable unfitness for the purpose.”  

    All the elements, from the genesis and “the great music” of “The Silmarillion” to the awesome climax at Mount Doom, take us from the alpha of creation to the omega of judgement. This is a story that exists for itself. 


    Tolkien tells us that: 


“The Lord of The Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, unconsciously at first, but consciously in the revision”. Elsewhere he states “I am a Christian (which can be deduced from my stories), and in fact a Roman Catholic”. In 1958 he wrote that The Lord of the Rings is “a tale, which is built on or out of certain ‘religious’ ideas, but is not an allegory of them.”


In 1956 in a letter to Amy Ronald he wrote:


“I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect “history” to be anything but a long defeat – though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.” 


Tolkien also said that his writing reflected his beliefs about death, immortality and resurrection.


In 1958, in a letter to Rhona Beare, Tolkien wrote:


“I might say that if the tale is ‘about’ anything it is not as seems widely supposed about ‘power.’ …It is mainly concerned with Death and Immortality.”


The Ring Rhyme that opens each volume of The Lord of the Rings reminds us of the order of Creation and that we cannot cheat our maker:


“Three rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,

Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,

Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die…”


The Silmarillion reminds us:


“Death is their fate, the gift of Iluvatar, which as Time wears even the Powers shall envy. But Melkor has cast his shadow upon it, and confounded it with darkness, and brought evil out of good and fear out of hope.”


Tolkien believed in the Catholic concept of Natural Law and in the natural order of things; that we must be good stewards of creation and guardians of the beauty that God has bestowed upon the created world.


He foresaw the battles over euthanasia, genetics and the immortality sought and craved through genetics and human cloning – the powerful temptation (shared by some of the men and elves of Tolkien’s realm) to artificially manipulate our allotted span of life and to upend Natural Law and to usurp the role of the Creator. 


Tolkien and C.S.Lewis had read and were inspired by the writings of the Catholic convert G.K.Chesterton, who died in 1936, the year in which The Hobbit was completed.  In 1922 Chesterton’s last book before becoming a Catholic was “Eugenics and Other Evils” in which he stood against Margaret Sanger and the other early cheer leaders for the Nazis and who literally argued for “More Children for the Fit. Less for the Unfit.” Sanger made it clear whom she considered unfit: “Hebrews, Slavs, Catholics, and Negroes.”


Chesterton argued that if people dared to challenge science without ethics, such as eugenics or cloning, attempts are made to belittle them with “the same stuffy science, the same bullying bureaucracy, and the same terrorism by tenth-rate professors.” 


Tolkien shared Chesterton’s loathing of eugenics and in 1938 condemned Nazi “race-doctrine” as “wholly pernicious and unscientific”. And, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he described the scientists who had created the atomic bomb as “these lunatic physicists” and “Babel-builders.”


Three years after Eugenics and Other Evils, Chesterton published his “The Everlasting Man” (1925) which disputed H.G.Wells’ view that civilisation was merely an extension of animal life and that Christ was no more than a charismatic figure. In contesting this, Chesterton said Christianity had “died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.” Neither he nor Tolkien had any doubt about the Divinity of Christ, the Son of God.


In The Everlasting Man Chesterton paints the canvas of humanity’s spiritual journey and portrays Christianity as the bedrock of western civilisation.


Later, C.S.Lewis said that the combination of Chesterton’s apologetics and George MacDonald’s stories had between them shaped his intellect and imagination.


In 1947 Lewis wrote to Rhonda Bodle that   “the [very] best popular defence of the full Christian position I know is G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man.”  Having abandoned his atheism Lewis wryly remarked that a young man who is serious about his atheism cannot be too careful about what he reads.


Tolkien and Lewis were also influenced by Chesterton’s belief in Merrie England as an antidote to the pernicious dehumanisation represented by over industrialisation and the servile State.  


The culture of the Shire is the culture of Merrie England. 


Victorian Anglo-Catholics and Roman Catholics saw Merrie England as representing the abundance and generosity of gifts we so easily squander or spoil. There was something here of Thomas More’s Utopia and a desire to return to an idyllic pastoral way of life that had been superseded by the smoking chimneys and crushed character of 1930s Britain.


Chesterton saw Merrie England in the guise of the country inn, the Sunday roast, conversation around the fireside, through the medieval Guilds, arts and crafts. Tolkien captured these ideas in the people of the Shire.


He always made clear his intense hatred of the rapacious destruction of the English countryside and the desirability of the simple life.  For most of his life Tolkien used a bicycle rather than a car, of which he though there were too many although it is unclear whether, like his Hobbits, he looked forward to two breakfasts


Tolkien and Lewis took from Chesterton their profound belief in the human dignity of every person, each made in the likeness and image of God. The castrating unmanning of men (“men without chests”) was captured by Lewis in “The Abolition of Man” (1943) and grotesque scientific brutalism is the theme of his novel “That Hideous Strength” (1945).


In 1930 Chesterton had observed that When people begin to ignore human dignity, it will not be long before they begin to ignore human rights.”


And in his Autobiography (1936) he wrote this:

“I did not really understand what I meant by Liberty, until I heard it called by the new name of Human Dignity. It was a new name to me; though it was part of a creed nearly two thousand years old. In short, I had blindly desired that a man should be in possession of something, if it were only his own body. In so far as materialistic concentration proceeds, a man will be in possession of nothing; not even his own body. Already there hover on the horizon sweeping scourges of sterilisation or social hygiene, applied to everybody and imposed by nobody. At least I will not argue here with what are quaintly called the scientific authorities on the other side. I have found one authority on my side.”


Like Chesterton, Tolkien also insisted on the teaching authority of the Church and the Pope.


He said of the papacy: “I myself am convinced by the Petrine claims…for me the Church of which the Pope is the acknowledged head on earth has as chief claim that it is the one that has (and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most honour, and put it (as Christ plainly intended) in the prime place. “Feed my sheep” was his last charge to St.Peter.”



Chesterton and Tolkien also had a shared love of the Virgin Mary. In his poem “The Black Virgin” Chesterton describes Mary “a morning star” – “sunlight and moonlight are thy luminous shadows, starlight and twilight thy refractions are, lights and half-lights and all lights turn about thee.”


Tolkien gives his elves an invocation to Elbereth “We still remember, we who dwell in this far land beneath the trees, The Starlight on the Western seas” words redolent of a Marian hymn which describes Mary as the “guide of the wanderer”, as “the ocean star”, “mother of Christ, star of the sea”.


In a letter to Fr. Robert Murray SJ, Tolkien said of the Virgin Mary “Our Lady, upon which all my own small perceptions of beauty, both in majesty and simplicity is founded”. Elsewhere he had said: “I attribute whatever there is of beauty and goodness in my work to the Holy Mother of God.”


Tolkien saw Mary as the closest of all beings to Christ, as literally “full of grace” describing her as “unstained” and that “she had committed no evil deeds.” He saw her as the Christ bearer who paves the way for the Incarnation: about which he says “the Incarnation of God is an infinitely greater thing than anything I would dare to write.”


As well as is love of Mary, Tolkien had a traditional Catholic belief in the Communion of Saints – the companions of Christ throughout all the ages. He would have been delighted by the beatification in Birmingham, in 2010, by Pope Benedict of John Henry Newman. The collegiality – the fellowship – of Newman’s Oratorians appealed to Tolkien.


Newman insisted – and Tolkien believed – that there is some unique task assigned to each of us that has not been assigned to any other. The challenge is to discern it.


Newman’s prayer on “Purpose” emphasises each person’s unique gifts, their unique talents, and their unique destiny. he emphasised that we do not need to be perfect before using those talents. He said this about the use of gifts:


“What are great gifts but the correlative of great work? We are not born for ourselves, but for our kind, for our neighbours, for our country: it is but selfishness, indolence, a perverse fastidiousness, an unmanliness, and no virtue or praise, to bury our talent in a napkin.”


Or, for that matter, hide them in a private hobbit hole.


Tolkien loved the feasts and seasons of the Church and the ever growing company of saints. In 1925, when Tolkien was 33, the little flower” – the Carmelite nun, Saint Therese of Lisieux, was canonised. Her “little way” contradicted the elevation of power and the mobilisation of vast armies: “I only love simplicity. I have a horror of pretence” she said. “It is impossible for me to grow bigger, so I put up with myself as I am, with all my countless faults. But I will look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight, a little way that is quite new.”


It sounds like a manifesto for Hobbiton.


Central, too, to Tolkien’s faith was his love of the Blessed Sacrament. He told his son Michael that “The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion….frequency is of the highest effect.” He described the Holy Eucharist as “the one great thing to love on earth” and that in “the Blessed Sacrament you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that….eternal endurance which every man’s heart desires.”




And in all these battles Tolkien seeks the Viaticum which is given through the last of the seven Sacraments and which is provided as daily sustenance through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist stating:


 “I fell in love with the Blessed Sacrament from the beginning and by the mercy of God never have fallen out again”



These then are some of the “certain ‘religious’ ideas” that inspired Tolkien.



Doubtless, all of these beliefs and ideas were the subject of discussion when the Inklings met at the Eagle and Child – the Bird and Baby – between the 1930s and 1949. The group was led by Tolkien and Lewis but also included Tolkien’s son, Christopher, Roger Lancelyn Green, Hugo Dyson, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams and Lord David Cecil.


But it was particularly the companionship of C.S.Lewis that strengthened the faith of both men.


It is now 90 years since J.R.R.Tolkien and C.S.Lewis met as Oxford academics.

It was the beginning of a friendship kindled by common experiences and which produced some of the most wonderful fiction of the twentieth century but which had its origins in the shared horrors of the Great War.

   Lewis once wrote that “There’s no sound I like better than male laughter” – and it was in the early 1930s that he began to cultivate his friendship with the new Professor of Anglo-Saxon, appointed in 1925. Throughout those highly productive years – and as he journeyed from atheism to Christian belief – Lewis became close to Tolkien.       


   In 1933 they began to hold meetings in college rooms and on Tuesday mornings at The Eagle and Child. Tolkien later wrote that “CSL had a passion for hearing things read aloud.” The Inklings met regularly during the next two decades.


   Although Tolkien would later be displaced in Lewis’ affections, and a rift opened between them, these gatherings inestimably enriched them both.


Lewis would write of the importance of such friendship in “The Four Loves”: “He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest or funniest in all the others.”


The Inklings were conceived as a circle of friends which would practice solidarity and engender camaraderie; intuitively and challengingly counter cultural.


For Lewis the Inklings also provided a familial intimacy which his own family could not. Tolkien was crucial in his own journey to faith.


He recorded the moment when, in 1931, he decided to embrace Christianity: “I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ – in Christianity. …My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it.”


Two year earlier he had come to believe in God: 


   “In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England…The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”  


Lewis and Tolkien did not believe Christians needed to be morose or detached.  In 1944 The Daily Telegraph misleadingly referred to Lewis as “an ascetic”.  Tolkien scoffed at this in a letter to his son: “Ascetic Mr. Lewis!!! I ask you! He put away three pints in a very short session we had this morning and said he was ‘going short for Lent.’”


Their friendship was based on the joy to which Lewis gave so much emphasis in his writing and captured by Tolkien in this verse from Lord of the Rings

“Ho! Ho! Ho!

To the bottle I go To heal my heart and drown my woe Rain may fall, and wind may blow And many miles be still to go But under a tall tree will I lie And let the clouds go sailing by”


For two men formed in the harrowing trenches of the Great War, who had seen so many of their friends pay the ultimate price, pain and suffering did not disable or incapacitate them. Both believed that beyond the pain and the suffering of today is the certainty of eternity. Both believed that through their story telling they could encourage their readers to see beyond the catastrophic and destructive effects of war and the evil in our world to a hopeful and joyous future.



So much, then, for Tolkien’s beliefs and the experiences which shaped him.


  • 2.  How does that faith shape the characters, and the story lines?



Although Tolkien despised simple allegory he invites us to use the stories, the plots, the characters, and to examine their “applicability.” He said that his objective had been to “make a body of more or less connected legend…drawing splendour from vast backcloths…The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama.”  He said that his work should be “dedicated simply to England, to my country.”


This suggests that he wants us to explore his amazing and extraordinary landscape to discover things that are important about how we live and behave towards one another.


Tolkien insisted that notwithstanding the Redemption of man “the Christian still has to work, with mind as well as body” and he said that “in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation.”


We are being invited to decipher his elvish runes and games of riddles, leaving us scope to draw what conclusions we may but this is an invitation to meet our Creator through legend and myth, fantasy and story-telling.


And the Lord of the Rings is riddled with wisdom and common sense about everything from the nature of friendship to the place of courage:



“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”


“I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”


It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.”


“Little by little, one travels far.”


“Still round the corner there may wait, a new road or a secret gate”


 “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”


“It’s a dangerous business going out your front door.”


“Courage is found in unlikely places.”


But central must be an understanding of power and evil represented by the Ring itself:

“The Board is set, the pieces are moving. we come to it at last, the great battle of our time.”

 Stratford Caldecott believed that the Ring exemplifies “the dark magic of the corrupted will, the assertion of self in disobedience to God. It appears to give freedom, but its true function is to enslave the wearer to the Fallen Angel. It corrodes the human will of the wearer, rendering him increasingly “thin” and unreal; indeed, its gift of invisibility symbolizes this ability to destroy all natural human relationships and identity. You could say the Ring is sin itself: tempting and seemingly harmless to begin with, increasingly hard to give up and corrupting in the long run


The Ring and the forces at work capture the endless contest between good and evil. It represents naked power and crude evil bringing with it temptation and corruption, violence and death.




As the ring bearer struggles towards his destiny many die before the evil forces of Sauron are at last subdued; and even then Saruman remains at large in the Shire – evil and sin are still at work, waiting to ensnare us.


For the Christian, the use of evil to overcome evil is a frequent temptation. Frodo, Gandalf and the Lady Galadriel all understand that if they use the ring to overcome the Dark Lord then they too will become enslaved by evil.


The general weakness of humanity (which can be taken to cover not only mankind, but all creatures in The Lord of the Rings) reminds us that humanity is fundamentally good, but that those who fall turn to evil. 


All that is evil was once good – Elrond says, “Nothing was evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so.”  In this commentary and in the fallen orcs – which were themselves once elves – we can surely see the story of the fall.


Temptation appears first in The Hobbit as the travellers are warned as they enter Mirkwood, don’t drink the water and don’t stray from the path. How like the descendants of Adam, who when urged not to eat at the forbidden tree choose do so anyway.


The temptation of the Serpent is reflected in Boromir’s temptation by the Ring, as well as in Gollum’s.  In Gollum we also see the idea of a conscience – he fights with himself and with his conscience while he is being tempted.  The theologian Colin Gunton was of the opinion that the way in which the Ring tempts people to use its power is analogous to Jesus’ temptation by the devil.


Other aspects of evil also recur in the book.  The destructive nature of evil is there in the Scouring of the Shire, and in the way in which Saruman’s troops destroy the trees and the timeless quality of Shire life, something especially abhorrent to Tolkien. The orcs themselves are cannibals, and are hideous – showing how evil corrupts. The dark and barren lands of Mordor are the very face of evil.


Connected with this is the self-destructive nature of evil. Inherent in evil is the desire to dominate, rule and have power over others.



After Gollum falls to the power of the Ring, he is consumed by its power, and he becomes weakened to such an extent that he can no longer resist it. Even getting close to evil has a subverting effect: take Bilbo’s reluctance to give up the Ring, and its disappearance from the mantle piece and reappearance in his pocket. Or, despite his epic and heroic journey into darkness, Frodo ultimately fails to throw the ring into the furnace. Here is the powerful mixture of the intoxicating allure of the forbidden with our human weakness and frailty.


Yet, despite his failure, in Frodo’s “little way” of self-sacrifice and willingness to take on seemingly impossible odds we see a central tenet of Christian belief.  And think of those unlikely victories over seemingly intractable and daunting odds such as at Helm’s Deep. Even when evil appears to be triumphing – such as when Sauron gloats over what he considers to be the foolhardiness of Aragorn’s troops as they march towards Mordor, he is defeated by them.



Evil also brings with it desolation, barrenness and the destruction of beauty.


Compare the destruction of Isengard, and the brutality of the orcs, with the simple homely life of the Shire. An image that Tolkien repeatedly uses is that of dark and light.  Contrast the Shire and Mordor (“where the shadows lie”) – The Shire which contains so much of the England Tolkien loved, and Mordor, the dark and sinister land where Sauron and Mount Doom are to be found, and which contains so much of the England that Tolkien hated.


Compare, too, the man-eating trolls and orcs with the elves – the disfigured (fallen) creatures and the beautiful and immortal elves – comparable to the angelic hosts. Recall the crucial role of the eagles and remember Isaiah 40:31 that “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”



Even in his use of names Tolkien’s sign posts take us to places and people that seem good or bad – Galadriel, Aragorn, Frodo and Arwen are beautiful-sounding names, whereas Wormtongue, the Balrog, Mordor and Mount Doom -all unlikely to be forces for good.


But although we encounter evil we are encouraged never to lose sight of what is good:


“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”


In the Lady Galadriel the reader can be allowed to see something of the purity and beauty of the Virgin Mary; Galadriel’s grand-daughter, Arwen, also has a Marian role, saving both Frodo’s life and soul as she utters the words – not in the original text but crafted by Peter Jackson, who in his use of the word grace makes a more explicitly religious statement than even Tolkien himself –

“What grace is given me, let it pass to him. Let him be spared.”


Galadriel bestows upon the Fellowship seven mystical gifts, which are surely analogous to the seven sacraments, and as such are real signs of grace, and not mere symbols.


In the provision of lembas, we can see the Holy Eucharist. Before the Fellowship depart from Lorien they have a final supper where the mystical elvish bread lembas is shared, and they all drink from a common cup. The immortal elves are nourished by the lembas, the mystical bread – the bread of angels – which both nourishes and heals.


Lembas, we are told, “had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone, and did not mingle it with other goods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure.” This allusion reminds us of the manna that fed the people of Israel or the German mystic, Theresa Neumann, who survived by eating nothing other than the Holy Eucharist.  


We can see Christ-like qualities in Aragorn. He has a kingdom to come into, a bride to wed. One powerful image is of the “Hands of the Healer” – in the Houses of Healing: Aragorn, the King, has the ability to heal people by touching them with his hands. Another King had the touch that healed Jairus’ daughter, the centurion’s servant, the lepers, the blind man and the sick who were lowered through the roof at Capaernum. 


Aragorn, Gandalf, and Frodo all have Christ like marks – with Aragorn the king entering his kingdom, the return of whom everyone is expecting;


In Gandalf we are also confronted by Resurrection –a life beyond the present is evoked as  Gandalf dies after he fights the Balrog on the Bridge of Khazad-Dum; but returns – and is initially unrecognised, strengthened as Gandalf the White; recalling Gethsemane and Emmaus.


Gandalf’s transformation tells us something about the Christian idea of justice, which is at the heart of the book. In the end, everyone gets what they deserve.  Saruman starts off as Saruman the White, but following his fall, ends up as Saruman of Many Colours. The order of “rank” in the wizard hierarchy holds white as the highest, followed by grey and then brown; they almost sound like orders of monks and friars with Gandalf the Grey becoming Gandalf the White.


There is even a sort of papacy in the wizard Gandalf – after all, he acts as leader to the free and faithful people, and he even crowns kings, as did popes of old. And as a spiritual father to Frodo, who tells Gandalf that he wishes he had not been born into such a time as this that “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”



There is the further thought that along with Galdalf’s papal colour of white, the name of the Pope’s summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, is translated into English as Gandolf’s Castle. Perhaps it means nothing; perhaps it is another elvish rune.



In Boromir we see a willingness to lay down his life for his friends (made all the more remarkable because of his earlier attempt to seize the ring by force and by his subsequent repentance). Boromir is rewarded for his repentance by dying a hero’s death by an orc’s arrow and being given a hero’s funeral.  All of the fallen characters are given a chance to repent, although most of them– such as Wormtongue, Gollum and Saruman – unlike Boromir, do not.



In Frodo, we see a willingness both to serve and to carry his burden. The very future of Middle Earth is at stake, and it is the Fellowship which wins salvation for Middle Earth, although not without cost, including self-sacrifice.


Elrond tells Frodo that it is his destiny to be a ring bearer; but this is no pleasurable occupation. Frodo, like Christ, takes up his cross.


Throughout the quest Frodo’s strength in increasingly sapped by the burden he carries and of which he seeks to be rid.  His stumbling approach to Mordor, under the Eye of Sauron, is like the faltering steps of Christ weighed down by his Cross as he repeatedly falls on the path to Golgotha; and, like Christ, Frodo is tempted by despair.



Indeed, Frodo does succumb. His free will, hitherto so strong in resisting the powers of the Ring, gives way to the power of the Ring, and he cannot bring himself to throw it down into the fires of Mount Doom. Despite all his inner strength Frodo gradually succumbs to a dark fascination with the ring and he loses his free spirit and free will the closer he comes in proximity to Mount Doom


Enter here the Christian foot soldier, Samwise Gamgee.


My own favourite character in The Lord of the Rings is based on the private soldiers Tolkien encountered at the Somme in 1916:


“My Sam Gamgee is indeed a reflection of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 War, and recognised as so far superior to myself.”


Sam’s humility turns him into the greatest hero in the book.  Although he is only Frodo’s gardener, it is he who saves Frodo and ultimately the Shire. Mary Magdalene, in her first resurrection encounter with the Lord mistakes Jesus, thinking that he too is only a gardener.  Tolkien is reminding us that so often we miss what is important about the people we meet, what matters most, and too frequently judge them by the job they do or their social origins.


Sam is like Simon of Cyrene, sharing his Master’s burden and at the climax his devoted loyalty in following Frodo to the very end is rewarded as the burden is lightened and he is transfigured. 


Stratford Caldecott quotes Tolkien as saying that the plot is concerned with ‘the ennoblement (or sanctification) of the humble’ – and the meek Sam certainly inherits the earth.  


At a crucial moment in Mordor he must carry the Ringbearer, and even the Ring itself.  He moves from immature innocence to mature innocence: and finally, in his own world (that is, in Tolkien’s inner world of the Shire), this ‘gardener’ becomes a ‘king’ or at least a Mayor.  The fact is that Frodo could not have fulfilled his task without the continuing presence of Sam, and he relies utterly on him; yet Sam remains humble always and faithful to his master.


Through Sam Tolkien also reminds us of the Christian virtue of mercy and the role of Providence. Sam would have gladly disposed of Gollum whom he sees as a threat to Frodo. Gandalf commends Frodo for showing mercy and tells us that even Gollum may one day have his moment. As the ring is committed to the depths that Providence comes to pass.


As Sam, who begins the story by eavesdropping, returns to the Shire there is something of the Catholic love of order, tradition and a longing for restoration of that which has been lost.


Sam insists “there is some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for.” 


The fight culminates on a specific date: March 25th. It is the day on which the Ring is finally destroyed at Mount Doom. Gandalf tells Frodo “the New Year will always now begin on the 25th of March when Sauron fell, and you were brought out of the fire to the King.”  


Tom Shippey, in “The Road to Middle Earth”, says that in “Anglo-Saxon belief, and in European popular tradition both before and after that, March 25th is the date of the Crucifixion”, and it is also the date of the Annunciation.  Days to recall beginnings and endings.



The Lord of the Rings then is a story with many stories concealed within it. Tolkien’s subtlety is that he lays a trail of clues for his readers.


His final hidden clue – the last elvish rune – is the word Tolkien invented to describe what he saw as a good quality in a fairy-story – and that word was eucatastrophe, this being the notion that there is a “sudden joyous ‘turn’” in the story, where everything is going well, “giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy”, whilst not denying the “existence of dyscatastrophe – of sorrow and failure”.


Tolkien said:


“I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.


That is what shaped his life, what shaped his beliefs, where faith and fiction are joined as one – and why his work is a great spiritual adventure as well as high fantasy at its very best.



 David Alton, November 2016.          






The story of the Coming of Christianity to Korea and the story of the thousands who died for their faith – and new CSW Report on North Korea published on “Save North Koreans Day”.

At a ceremony in Rome where he received the St.Thomas More Advocacy Award, for his work on promoting freedom of religion and belief, David Alton particularly referred to the plight of North Korea’s persecuted Christians. Here you can read the story of the coming of Christianity to Korea and the story of the thousands who died for their faith. Scroll down to read the full text of Monsignor Richard Rutt’s pamphlet “The Korean Martyrs”

2016 saint thomas more award 2Korean martyrs

Also See:

New CSW report, Total Denial: Violations of freedom of religion or belief in North Korea issued on  Save North Koreans Day, and CSW delivered a letter to China’s President Xi Jinping, via the Chinese Embassy in London, urging China to stop its policy of forcible repatriation of North Korean refugees.

Ben Roigers has written this op-ed article in The Huffington Post –

and this piece  –

To access the full report, see –

And the CSW press release –

Also see –

Reuters report on Christianity in North Korea

In North Korea, a church renovated, missionaries jailed

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.

Korean martyrs5

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.

Korean martyrs6

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.

Korean martyrs 8 Sts__Chong_Chong-hye_Elisabeth,_Yu_So-sa_Caecilia,_Chong_Ha-sang_Paulus_(Chung_Chang-sup,_98x75,_1985)

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.

Korean Martyrs


The story of a Welsh Christian martyr who took bibles to Korea and was executed in Pyongyang – Robert Jermain Thomas



The story appears at:   – December 26th  2016

This  link is to a BBC Radio Wales documentary about Robert Jermain Thomas. It went out last week,– or you can listen anytime you want for 30 days on the iPlayer.

Here it is:

and the story of more than 8,000 Catholic martyrs who first brought Christianity to Korea:

Korean martyrs

Chesterton and Eliot on the Epiphany

You can listen to T.S.Eliot reading his Epiphany poem The Journey of the Magi –  from a poor recording.

Or you can listen to Jeremy Irons on BBC radio on new Year’s Day or  – beautifully read by Martin Harris

Ann Chen reads Chesterton’s The Wise Men




THE WISE MEN     –     G.K. Chesterton

Step softly, under snow or rain,

To find the place where men can pray;

The way is all so very plain

That we may lose the way

.Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore

On tortured puzzles from our youth,

We know all the labyrinthine lore,We are the three wise men of yore,

And we know all things but truth.

We have gone round and round the hill

And lost the wood among the trees,

And learnt long names for every ill,

And serve the made gods, naming still

The furies the Eumenides.

The gods of violence took the veil

Of vision and philosophy,

The Serpent that brought all men bale,

He bites his own accursed tail,

And calls himself Eternity.

Go humbly … it has hailed and snowed…

With voices low and lanterns lit;

So very simple is the road,

That we may stray from it.

The world grows terrible and white,

And blinding white the breaking day;

We walk bewildered in the light,

For something is too large for sight,

And something much too plain to say.

The Child that was ere worlds begun

… We need but walk a little way,

We need but see a latch undone…

The Child that played with moon and sun

Is playing with a little hay.

The house from which the heavens are fed,

The old strange house that is our own,

Where trick of words are never said,

And Mercy is as plain as bread,

And Honour is as hard as stone.

Go humbly, humble are the skies,

And low and large and fierce the Star;

So very near the Manger lies

That we may travel far.

Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes

To roar to the resounding plain.

And the whole heaven shouts and shakes,

For God Himself is born again,

And we are little children walking

Through the snow and rain.


T.S.Eliot: The Journey of the Magi

‘A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.

‘And the camels galled, sore-footed,refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes,

the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

And running away, and wanting their  liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns  unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a  temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped in away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no imformation, and so   we continued

And arrived at evening, not a moment   too soon

Finding the place; it was (you may say)   satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I    remember,

And I would do it again, but set downThis set down

This:  were we led all that way forBirth or Death?

There was a Birth,   certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt.

I had  seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different;

this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us,

like   Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these  Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old   dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their  gods.

I should be glad of another death..

Christmas Greetings -epiphanyEpiphany3Epiphany2Epihany1Epiphany4

2015 and the Sultan of Brunei Bans Christmas – BOKO HARAM KILL 14 CHRISTIANS ON CHRISTMAS DAY 2015 = G.K.Chesterton, the Celebration of Christmas, and Knowing How The Story Ends


2015: Christians, Christmas, and The Growing Wave of Intolerance….

 Last year, the Sultan of Brunei introduced Sharia criminal law, which allows for punishments including stoning, whipping and amputation. This year, following in the footsteps of Lenin and Stalin, he has banned Christmas celebrations.

And when Somalia, with its history of Al-Shabaab atrocities, lines up in imitation, it should give the Sultan cause to reflect. All the world over we should rejoice in one another’s religious festivals. They can enrich and inspire communities.

 Remember that in Russia, the Communists replaced  St. Nicholas with “Did Moroz,” or Grandfather Frost. Christmas trees were banned and Stalin folded all Christmas celebrations into secular  New Year celebrations. Communists in Vietnam forbade children’s choirs to sing “Silent Night.” and Christmas was banned in Cuba.

In  1983, in Communist Romania, under the dictatorship of Ceaucescu,  a Roman Catholic priest, Father Geza Palffy,  preached against Ceaucescu’s diktat that  December 25th would be a a work day, not a holiday. The following morning  the Securității Statuluihe  – the secret – arrested him. He was beaten, imprisoned and died.

Soviet Communists rewrote a much-loved Ukrainian Christmas carol, “Nova Radist Stala” (Joyous News Has Come to Us), replacing it with the words “The joyous news has come which never was before. Long-awaited star of freedom lit the skies in October [the month of the Revolution]. Where formerly lived the kings and had the roots their nobles, there today with simple folks, Lenin’s glory hovers.

As he now joins such company, the Sultan should remember that these attempts to crush the Christmas message all failed. Yet, actions like his can provide a licence to those who wish to disrespect those minorities, of whatever faith, who live in their midst.  Such actions jeopardise the fragile relationships of the many communities and countries where men and women strive to live alongside one another. 

 In more than one hundred countries  – from Syria to North Korea, from Nigeria to Iraq – Christians face genocide,  crimes against humanity, torture,  imprisonment, persecution or discrimination. 

As we celebrate this great Christmas feast we know that waiting in the wings, and remembered by Christians on the days which follow, are the martyrdom of Stephen and the murder of the holy innocents.

What a tragedy that the 21st century – replete with beheadings, rape, abductions, torture and vast numbers of refugees – still witnesses such cruelty and barbarism. The great challenge facing people of all faiths and none is how to learn to respect the dignity of difference and to live peaceably alongside one another in mutual respect.


Somalia and Tajikistan follow Brunei in banning the celebration of Christmas:

Nigeria, December 27 /MCN/
Boko Haram gunmen killed at least 14 Christians as they celebrated Christmas day in the Kimba village, which lies in north-east Nigeria Saturday. According to The Guardian today, a group of gunmen attacked the village of Kimba on motorcycles and shot many residents of the village after they burned their homes. The Guardian quoted some eyewitnesses who said the militants stormed the village and killed 14 Christians and burned the houses before they fled. Another witness noted that houses of Muslims and Christians were burned alike and they did not leave a single house intact.

The newspaper pointed out that hundreds of residents of the village of Kimba fled to a nearby village with many camps, where hundreds fled for fear of terrorist attacks by Boko Haram.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has pledged he would completely eliminate supporters of Boko Haram before the beginning of the new year.

Buhari, who took office last May, said he would work to eliminate terrorism and extremism, which lasted six years and led to death of 17,000 innocent people and would stand in the face of the group that could achieve economic progress because of the investments it builds, especially in oil.

The newspaper added that the Nigerian troops managed to liberate territory controlled by Boko Haram in the past, but, on the other hand, the supporters of the group launched numerous terrorist attacks that caused the deaths of hundreds of children.

The newspaper added that Boko Haram is facing damage to its infrastructure at a time the state is experiencing cash crisis because of the low price of oil.

The Guardian stressed that Boko Haram is one of the most extremist and bloodiest group according to an index of global terrorism after killing 30 people and wounding more than 20 in an attack on a village.

Analysts in Nigeria believe that although the objective sought by all the armed groups and Boko Haram is the same, but the possibility of cooperation between them is very weak. This does not mean there is no fear that such cooperation can occur if extremist groups, whether Boko haram or other groups, took control over neighboring countries, such as Nigeria, Niger, Chad or Cameroon.

G. K. Chesterton once said that the world would never starve for wonders, but only for the want of wonder.Chesterton and Christmas

Christmas 2011

Extracts from G.K. Chesterton on celebrating Christmas…

It is the very essence of a festival that it breaks upon one brilliantly and abruptly, that at one moment the great day is not and the next moment the great day is. Up to a certain specific instant you are feeling ordinary and sad; for it is only Wednesday. At the next moment your heart leaps up and your soul and body dance together like lovers; for in one burst and blaze it has become Thursday. I am assuming (of course) that you are a worshipper of Thor, and that you celebrate his day once a week, possibly with human sacrifice. If, on the other hand, you are a modern Christian Englishman, you hail (of course) with the same explosion of gaiety the appearance of the English Sunday. But I say that whatever the day is that is to you festive or symbolic, it is essential that there should be a quite clear black line between it and the time going before. And all the old wholesome customs in connection with Christmas were to the effect that one should not touch or see or know or speak of something before the actual coming of Christmas Day

Of course, all this secrecy about Christmas is merely sentimental and ceremonial; if you do not like what is sentimental and ceremonial, do not celebrate Christmas at all. You will not be punished if you don’t; also, since we are no longer ruled by those sturdy Puritans who won for us civil and religious liberty, you will not even be punished if you do. But I cannot understand why any one should bother about a ceremonial except ceremonially. If a thing only exists in order to be graceful, do it gracefully or do not do it. If a thing only exists as something professing to be solemn, do it solemnly or do not do it. There is no sense in doing it slouchingly; nor is there even any liberty. I can understand the man who takes off his hat to a lady because it is the customary symbol. I can understand him, I say; in fact, I know him quite intimately. I can also understand the man who refuses to take off his hat to a lady, like the old Quakers, because he thinks that a symbol is superstition. But what point would there be in so performing an arbitrary form of respect that it was not a form of respect? We respect the gentleman who takes off his hat to the lady; we respect the fanatic who will not take off his hat to the lady. But what should we think of the man who kept his hands in his pockets and asked the lady to take his hat off for him because he felt tired?

This is combining insolence and superstition; and the modern world is full of the strange combination. There is no mark of the immense weak-mindedness of modernity that is more striking than this general disposition to keep up old forms, but to keep them up informally and feebly. Why take something which was only meant to be respectful and preserve it disrespectfully? Why take something which you could easily abolish as a superstition and carefully perpetuate it as a bore? There have been many instances of this half-witted compromise. Was it not true, for instance, that the other day some mad American was trying to buy Glastonbury Abbey and transfer it stone by stone to America? Such things are not only illogical, but idiotic. There is no particular reason why a pushing American financier should pay respect to Glastonbury Abbey at all. But if he is to pay respect to Glastonbury Abbey, he must pay respect to Glastonbury. If it is a matter of sentiment, why should he spoil the scene? If it is not a matter of sentiment, why should he ever have visited the scene? To call this kind of thing Vandalism is a very inadequate and unfair description. The Vandals were very sensible people. They did not believe in a religion, and so they insulted it; they did not see any use for certain buildings, and so they knocked them down. But they were not such fools as to encumber their march with the fragments of the edifice they had themselves spoilt. They were at least superior to the modern American mode of reasoning. They did not desecrate the stones because they held them sacred.

Let us be consistent, therefore, about Christmas, and either keep customs or not keep them. If you do not like sentiment and symbolism, you do not like Christmas; go away and celebrate something else; I should suggest the birthday of Mr. M’Cabe. No doubt you could have a sort of scientific Christmas with a hygienic pudding and highly instructive presents stuffed into a Jaeger stocking; go and have it then. If you like those things, doubtless you are a good sort of fellow, and your intentions are excellent. I have no doubt that you are really interested in humanity; but I cannot think that humanity will ever be much interested in you. Humanity is unhygienic from its very nature and beginning. It is so much an exception in Nature that the laws of Nature really mean nothing to it. Now Christmas is attacked also on the humanitarian ground. Ouida called it a feast of slaughter and gluttony. Mr. Shaw suggested that it was invented by poulterers. That should be considered before it becomes more considerable.

I do not know whether an animal killed at Christmas has had a better or a worse time than it would have had if there had been no Christmas or no Christmas dinners. But I do know that the fighting and suffering brotherhood to which I belong and owe everything, Mankind, would have a much worse time if there were no such thing as Christmas or Christmas dinners. Whether the turkey which Scrooge gave to Bob Cratchit had experienced a lovelier or more melancholy career than that of less attractive turkeys is a subject upon which I cannot even conjecture. But that Scrooge was better for giving the turkey and Cratchit happier for getting it I know as two facts, as I know that I have two feet. What life and death may be to a turkey is not my business; but the soul of Scrooge and the body of Cratchit are my business. Nothing shall induce me to darken human homes, to destroy human festivities, to insult human gifts and human benefactions for the sake of some hypothetical knowledge which Nature curtained from our eyes. We men and women are all in the same boat, upon a stormy sea. We owe to each other a terrible and tragic loyalty. If we catch sharks for food, let them be killed most mercifully; let any one who likes love the sharks, and pet the sharks, and tie ribbons round their necks and give them sugar and teach them to dance. But if once a man suggests that a shark is to be valued against a sailor, or that the poor shark might be permitted to bite off a man’s leg occasionally; then I would court-martial the man–he is a traitor to the ship.

Meanwhile, it remains true that I shall eat a great deal of turkey this Christmas; and it is not in the least true (as the vegetarians say) that I shall do it because I do not realise what I am doing, or because I do what I know is wrong, or that I do it with shame or doubt or a fundamental unrest of conscience. In one sense I know quite well what I am doing; in another sense I know quite well that I know not what I do. Scrooge and the Cratchits and I are, as I have said, all in one boat; the turkey and I are, to say the most of it, ships that pass in the night, and greet each other in passing. I wish him well; but it is really practically impossible to discover whether I treat him well. I can avoid, and I do avoid with horror, all special and artificial tormenting of him, sticking pins in him for fun or sticking knives in him for scientific investigation. But whether by feeding him slowly and killing him quickly for the needs of my brethren, I have improved in his own solemn eyes his own strange and separate destiny, whether I have made him in the sight of God a slave or a martyr, or one whom the gods love and who die young–that is far more removed from my possibilities of knowledge than the most abstruse intricacies of mysticism or theology. A turkey is more occult and awful than all the angels and archangels In so far as God has partly revealed to us an angelic world, he has partly told us what an angel means. But God has never told us what a turkey means. And if you go and stare at a live turkey for an hour or two, you will find by the end of it that the enigma has rather increased than diminished.

G.K.ChestertonVirgin and Child
The House of ChristmasG.K. Chesterton
By: G. K. ChestertonThere fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.—————————————————————————————————-The worth of a disabled person’s life:…and two seasonal links to cheer you up

The Nativity in stained glass
St.Francis creates the crib

In a children’s picture story book which we have at home there is an illustration of Santa Claus reading a story to the baby Jesus. The narrative is the baby’s own story – the story of the child’s birth in a stable, comforted by his mother, protected by Joseph, surrounded by shepherds and angels, warmed by the donkey and the ox, and with the Magi and their gifts to follow. The perfect scene is almost magical, but, asks the baby “how does it all end?”. How does it all end?

Without losing anything of the innocence and purity of that moment, and because we know only too well the answer to the infant’s question, the story reminds us to be realistic about Christmas.

We know what is inevitably coming, what is waiting in the wings. We will share with the Catholic writer, J.R.R.Tolkien, the belief that history “is a long defeat” but with “glimpses of the final victory.”

It is precisely because the story won’t end at Golgotha but in Jerusalem’s empty tomb that sense can be made of the breaking of the Christmas spell and of the defeats, the suffering, the rejection and pain which will face the child and His family from the moment He leaves the shelter of Bethlehem’s stable – going into exile, as the people of Israel did before Him.

As all these events unfold I am always struck by the proximity of that greatly derided animal, the donkey . Always a star attraction in every school’s nativity play my eldest son, Padraig, made his acting debut as the Christmas donkey.

Although the donkey appears nowhere in the Gospel the donkey is firmly fixed in our imaginations. The prophet Isaiah certainly foretold a central role for this most maligned of creatures: “The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master’s crib.”

The donkey carries the unborn Jesus in Mary’s womb as they travel to Bethlehem for the census. The donkey is at close quarters during the child’s birth. The donkey enables Joseph to make good their escape as they are pursued by Herod’s killers and make their escape to Jerusalem. And, all those years later, it is the donkey, ho bears the King through the palm waving crowds as He enters Jerusalem.

G.K.Chesterton immortalised the value of the donkey in some verse which takes the animal’s name:

” When fishes flew and forests walkedAnd figs grew upon thornSome moment when the moon was bloodThen surely I was born. With monstrous head and sickening cryAnd ears like errant wings,The devil’s walking parody On all four-footed things. The tattered outlaw of the earth Of ancient crooked will:Starve, scourge, deride me–I am dumb–I keep my secret still. Fools! for I also had my hour,One far, fierce hour and sweetThere was a shout about my earsAnd palms before my feet.”


What Chesterton is reminding us is that God sees us differently from the way in which we see ourselves and from the way we see one another.

The donkey is chosen above the stallion to bear the King of Kings; the tattered, unloved, and unattractive creature which is used for menial hard labour, despised and marked out for servitude, and endures the worst of things, is chosen above all others for this wondrous moment – and we cannot take that away from him.

The donkey’s humble but sturdy and dependable frame contradicts a world which places too much value on the right social connections; on outward appearance and displays of ephemeral and passing beauty; on what we have rather than what we give; and on what we own rather than who we are. Ultimately, the donkey understands this typical Chestertonian paradox and internalises the knowledge that regardless of how the world sees him, he has true value and intrinsic worth.

In making us look at the donkey isn’t Chesterton making us look at ourselves? And making us consider how God sees us?

Beyond the banter which many of us might recall from school days – of being chided by schoolmasters as donkeys for some act of stubbornness or stupidity – is a harsher imagery: the large swathes of humanity that feel crushed or borne down by their burdens, unable to escape from the servitude of exploitative labour or trapped in unfulfilling or unappreciated employment or relationships. Through those eyes we can surely understand how the donkey must feel.

As this year comes to its conclusion I think back to some of the people I have met in recent times and to places where people are treated no differently from beasts of burden.

I think of  some of India’s Dalit people in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, who are marked out by caste as untouchable people.

Dalit Children In India - no-one is untouchable

Dalit Children In India – no-one is untouchable


The word Dalit comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “broken” or “crushed” – and like those other beasts of burden – the Dalit people, a quarter of India’s population, are used for menial tasks such as scavenging and the cleaning of latrines.

In my study I have a small terracotta pot given to me by Dr Joseph D’Souza, President of the International Dalit Freedom Network.

Once a Dalit has drunk from the pot they must break it – so as not to pollute or contaminate other castes who might come into contact with it. It is not the pots which need to be broken, not the people, but this monstrous system which ensnares them.

I have also been thinking about the people I met in Africa in October.

Children suffer in Sudan at the hands of the Khartoum regime

Children suffer in Sudan at the hands of the Khartoum regime


Although South Sudan has become an independent nation, the killing in South Kordofan and Blue Nile continues  at the behest of Khartoum’s northern  regime, already indicted for crimes against humanity in Darfur. These, too, are a people who have been crushed and burdened – two million died during the civil war a decade ago; and during the past twelve months more people died in Southern Sudan than even in Darfur.

In the summer I once again met the brave Bishop Macram Gassis, who has spent many years defying assassination attempts, and who courageously continues to work for peace and justice:

Surely, this Christmas, we will be praying for an enduring peace, for justice, and for the upholding of human dignity in Sudan.

And I will also be thinking of Burma – and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi – and of North Korea – where there is so much suffering but also glimpses of hope – and perhaps even glimpses of Tolkien’s “final victory.”  In September I travelled to Seoul, North East China and to the border with North Korea at the River Tumen, where escaping refugees are regularly shot dead. 

North Korea spent $800 million launching a missile while people go without food -  and shoot to kill refugees at the River Tumen

North Korea spent $800 million launching a missile while people go without food – and shoot to kill refugees at the River Tumen

On a visit to North Korea I had a surreal experience as my Air China plane touched down at Pyongyang airport the music which was played into the passenger cabin was Isaac Watts’ Christmas carol “Joy To The World”:

Joy to the World, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room;

And let Heaven and nature sing.”

For North Korea may that be so.

In singing our Christmas carols and offering our Christmas Masses, remembering broken people, and the burdened donkey, we must hold this joy in our hearts knowing what the Christmas story represents and knowing with confidence how the story will end.


The Virgin and Child



2015 – Pray for North Korea this Christmas:

Christmas Reflection


Christmas again – and in a remote corner of the Roman empire a boy who changes the world is born in a manger; a boy who will never become a ruler, who never owned a car or a mansion, who never ran for high political office, never become a celebrity or  rose to be a man of great wealth or rank.


Rachel laments for the children who are no more

Rachel laments for the children who are no more


Yet, the birth of this boy, who, other than the clothes stripped from His body and divided among His torturers, will leave no earthly possessions behind Him and be buried in another man’s grave, strikes such fear into the mind of Herod the King that a genocide of young children is ordered.




Herod orders the killing of the innocents - a parable for our own times

Herod orders the killing of the innocents – a parable for our own times


A Brief Place of Safety - a place to be born

A Brief Place of Safety – a place to be born

In unleashing this horrific wave of persecution thousands of other young boys, under the age of two, are murdered. To escape the massacre the child in the manger is secreted away in the dead of night to a place of safety in far away Egypt.

Escape To Egypt

Escape To Egypt

In the midst of the shopping frenzy and consumerism which marks out our contemporary Christmas it’s worth pondering these extraordinary events.


In the whirly-gig of preparations for the great festival we not only overlook the awesome religious significance of the manger moment – when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” – but we overlook the brutality and violence which accompanies the new Adam at his Bethlehem nativity. 


It is a sobering thought that, even as those near magical and enchanted moments are being enacted, when the shepherds and the Magi kneel before Him and worship God, Herod’s ruthless butchers are sharpening and making ready their knives.   In the words of the sixteenth century Coventry Carol:


Herod, the king, in his raging,

Charged he hath this day

His men of might, in his own sight,

All young children to slay.”

This lament of a mother for her child doomed to die are lyrics with applicability to our own times.


The Coventry Carol

The Coventry Carol

 Written by Robert Croo, in 1534, for the traditional Coventry Plays and included in The Pageant of the Shearman and Tailors Guild, which depicted Herod’s slaughter of the innocents,  the lyrics could so easily be the lament of mothers caught up in contemporary tragedy across the globe.


Whether it is the child caught in the cross fire of a Sudanese militia; the young girl raped by a Congolese war lord; the Ugandan child murdered in a pagan ritual of child sacrifice; the child enlisted to be a child soldier or a drugs runner ; the boy or girl who is trafficked, exploited, robbed of innocence or abused;   the child who each year joins the 100,000 UK runaways; or the baby, sheltering in what should be the safest place on earth – their mother’s womb –  we feel all too keenly the caroler’s lament:


“Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee,
And ever mourn and say;
For Thy parting, nor say nor sing,
By, by, lullay, lullay.”


The boy in the manger represents all persecuted people. His acute vulnerability challenges us to take a stand against the destruction of life and to pit ourselves against today’s Herods and their contemporary crimes against humanity.  This story tells us everything we need to know about how to live – but it also teaches us about how to face everyday crises and about the reality of evil. 


This is the challenging story of a young man and woman caught up in a bewildering drama – but who remain faithful to one another and who cherish a new life;  it is the story of a man who stands by a woman unexpectedly with a child that isn’t his; it’s the story of a boy born in a manger swaddled in poverty; the refugee’s story of a forced escape; the story of a tyrant with a blood lust;  and it is a story lived out against the threatening drum beat of arrest, escape, vilification and persecution. It’s a story that will end on Calvary and triumphantly in an empty tomb.


Although, for the shepherds and the Magi, this is a story which represents a dream come true, for me it remains a story of great crisis. It is the story which can propel us into searching and discovering the very purpose for which we have been made.


We must never let it be muffled by the sentimentalism, rank commercialisation, and forced conviviality into which Christmas celebrations can degenerate. 





In “The God In The Cave” G.K.Chesterton, whose greatest love was the celebration of the Christmas festival, reminds us that if we begin the search it will not be without its risks, that evil hovers over the crib scene, stalking Jesus and His family:


“There was present in the primary scenes of the drama that Enemy that had rotted the legends with lust and frozen the theories into atheism, but which answered the direct challenge with something of that more direct method which we have seen in the conscious cult of the demons.”


Chesterton tells us that these stirrings of evil have a particular “detestation of innocence”.



Herod, he says, “seems in that hour to have felt stirring within him the spirit of strange things… Everyone knows the story; but not everyone has perhaps noted its place in the story of the strange religions of men… a seer might perhaps have seen something like a great grey ghost that looked over his shoulder…The demons in that first festival of Christmas, feasted also in their own fashion.”


Chief among our modern conceits is to foolishly dismiss the presence of evil.


So, let’s celebrate as we welcome again the child into our midst, but never overlook the presence of Chesterton’s grey ghosts.


The Nativity

The Nativity




May you and those you love have a joyous and happy Christmas

Christmas Greetings -epiphany

October Hearing on Eritrea to be followed by November Hearings in Parliament on Pakistani Christians and other minorities – Call for Evidence – Latest Replies From The British Government on Pakistani Escapees; New article “Why does the world stand idle as Pakistan persecutes Christians?”

ERITREA: Briefing in Parliament organised by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, to be chaired by Lord Alton of Liverpool, on Tuesday October 20th at 2.00pm in Committee Room 2A of the House of Lords.  Opening Comments by lord Alton


Eritrean Christian refugees have been abducted by ISIS and face execution

Eritrean Christian refugees have been abducted by ISIS and face execution

The Current Situation

The human rights situation in Eritrea is one of the most deplorable in the world, yet one of the least reported.  In a debate in the House in July on freedom of religion and belief I referred to the horrific beheading of Eritrean Christians by ISIS in Libya.  Earlier in the same month I initiated a debate on the refugee crisis and said that “half a million more people are reported to be in Libya waiting to join the exodus. Some 46% of those making these perilous crossings originate from Eritrea or Syria, where we continue to witness the worst humanitarian catastrophe of our time.” I said that “Despotic governments and terrorist organisations have been the major immediate catalysts for conflict and mass migration, but aerial bombardment without a presence on the ground, a post-conflict development strategy, or a new attempt at creating peace will simply generate more refugees “

I highlighted the finding s of the United Nations commission of inquiry into human rights in Eritrea— and cited it as a classic example of the need to tackle the sources of migration. The United Nations found that, “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed in Eritrea under the authority of the Government”


The report also says: that it is wrong to describe the drivers fuelling mass migration as purely economic, and that:

“Eritreans are fleeing severe human rights violations in their country and are in need of international protection”.

Every month around 5,000 people leave Eritrea—more than 350,000 so far—around 10% of the entire population. The UN says that, during their journeys:

“Thousands of Eritreans are killed at sea while attempting to reach European shores. The practice of kidnapping migrating individuals, who are released on ransom after enduring horrible torture or killed, targets Eritreans in particular”.

Those Eritrean refugees who have been forced to return have then been arrested, detained and subjected to ill treatment and torture. So refugees from Eritrea, represent what we need to do both there and in other Countries generating mass movements of people —tackle the problem at source. Then we would turn the tables on mass migration, ending the tsunami of people. Not all people fleeing their countries are refugees; some are economic migrants. We will not properly address this crisis without some bigger-picture policies aimed at them, which must include the aim of helping Africa become peaceful and prosperous, and therefore more attractive as a permanent home. This is where our development policies interplay with mass migration.

But let me return to the Resolution passed in June 2014 by the United Nations Human Rights Council  which created the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea (CoIE). Only a handful of countries, with some of the worst human rights situations in the world, have been the focus of such an inquiry, one of the most serious steps the UN can take to hold a country to account.

When presenting the findings of this report to the HRC in June 2015, the Chair of the CoIE, Mike Smith, began by pointing out that since gaining de facto independence in 1991 “ultimate power in Eritrea has remained largely in the hands of one man and one party.”  He added that “those in control often rule arbitrarily and act with impunity.  A promising Eritrean Constitution adopted in 1997 has never been implemented. The Eritrean people have no say in governance and little control over many aspects of their own lives. A massive domestic surveillance network penetrates all levels of society, turning even family members against each other. Much of the population is subject to forced conscription and labour, sometimes in slave-like conditions. Tens of thousands have been imprisoned, often without charge and for indeterminate periods. Eritreans have never voted in a free and fair election.” As a result of this pervasive culture of impunity  “hundreds of thousands have lost hope and are risking their lives to escape one of the world’s most oppressive regimes” in increasing numbers– and this unprecedented exodus from a country facing neither war nor famine has forced the international community to take note of the human rights crisis underway in this secretive nation.

The CoIE report identifies the Eritrean Armed Forces, the National Security Office, the Eritrean Police Forces; the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defence, the ruling party, the Office of the President; and the President himself as the main perpetrators of human rights violations.   Most importantly, it states that some of these violations, and particularly extrajudicial executions, torture (including sexual torture), indefinite national service and forced labour, may constitute crimes against humanity.  The report was adopted by consensus, and in July 2015, the HRC renewed the mandate of the CoIE, directing it to specifically investigate whether or not crimes against humanity have occurred or are underway in Eritrea.

In a parliamentary reply in June the Government confirmed to me  that they were aware of the UN Commission’s findings that “widespread human rights violations are being committed in Eritrea and that these may constitute crimes against humanity. We have made clear to the Government of Eritrea that they must honour their international obligations and that improved respect for human rights is required to stem the flow of irregular migration.”



Asylum and Non-Refoulement

Risks faced by those who flee Eritrea include a government shoot-to-kill border policy; being held pending payment of a ransom by Bedouin people traffickers; being kidnapped from refugee camps in Sudan; dying in the Mediterranean or while crossing deserts, or execution by Daesh (Islamic State) in Libya. In addition, Eritrean women, girls and young boys face sexual violence.  In spite of this, in 2012, the number of Eritreans registered as having fled to Europe was 6,400. In 2013, this increased to 14,580 and in 2014, leapt to 44,600. Around 10% of the Eritrean population is estimated to have fled the country, with Eritrean refugees constituting the second largest people group seeking refuge in Europe.  UK Home office statistics state that in the first quarter of 2015 (Jan-Mar) a record number of Eritreans had applied for asylum – 3552.

However, in March the UK Government updated its advice to staff processing asylum applications from Eritrea. The new advice was based on a now discredited report from the Danish Government, which contrast starkly with the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea and the CoIE, and which has been publicly repudiated by some of its writers, who claim the final report is unsubstantiated and distorted and who have since resigned from the Danish Immigration Service.  The guidance also relies on assurances from the Eritrean government, including that those who left Eritrea without securing the mandatory exit visa will face no negative consequences as long as they sign a letter of apology and pay the 2% diaspora tax, yet in March this year in response to a written parliamentary question Foreign Office Minister Mr Lidington stated the UK government had urged the Eritrean diaspora “to report to the police the use of coercion or other illicit means to collect the tax.” Home Office guidance also stated that the country’s indefinite military service had been reduced to between 18 months and 4 years, however, there is no clear evidence of this having occurred and news of this change is yet to be communicated it’s would-be beneficiaries, namely, the  Eritrean people.

Following the new guidance the UK acceptance rate for asylum applications from Eritrea dropped from 73% between Jan-Mar 2015, to 34% between April and June.  Many whose applications were refused are currently destitute; avenues of finance, employment and housing are closed off to them because they lack legal status.

The UK government is not alone in this.  European Union (EU) officials recently outlined plans to deport Eritreans asylum seekers and are allocating development funding for the country as a means of stemming the refugee tide.  However, Eritreans are not economic migrants; they are fleeing persecution and continue to have a well-founded fear of persecution if returned.





Recommendations for the UK Government


The UK Government should:

  • Recognise that Eritrean refugees are not economic migrants, but are in reality fleeing a comprehensively repressive system and a “pervasive culture of impunity”;
  • Update advice issued to Home Office staff managing asylum applications from Eritreans to reflect human rights concerns articulated in the CoIE report, which is based on detailed witness testimonies and outlines violations that “may amount to crimes against humanity;”
  • Ensure the principle of non-refoulement is respected in all asylum applications to the United Kingdom
  • Encourage the EU to re-evaluate its current policy on Eritrea in line with the findings of the CoIE, particularly with regard to non-refoulement;
  • Work with EU partners to support the CoIE in implementing its mandate, in relaying its findings to the HRC, and in any further actions that may arise as a result of its future findings.


The tragedy of Eritrea – like that of Syria – must be tackled at source but, in the meantime, we must respond with humanity and a sense of justice and compassion for those caught up in this appalling situation. 



All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief

Parliamentary Inquiry Call for Evidence

 ‘The Plight of Minority Religious or Belief Groups in Pakistan and as Refugees: Addressing Current UK & UNHCR Policy’

Pakistan represents one of the worst situations for minority religious or belief groups around the world and is rife with persecution on the grounds of religion or belief by both state and non-state actors. With the current policies and laws that Pakistani officials are advancing at both international and domestic levels, including the notorious blasphemy laws, the right of Pakistan’s citizens to freedom of religion or belief is looking unlikely to be upheld and protected in the near future. In addition to these concerns, the UK Home Office and UNHCR relying it seems on the recent UK Supreme Court Upper Tier case (AK and SK (Christians: risk) Pakistan CG [2014] UKUT 569 (IAC)), appears to have a policy that Pakistani religious minorities treatment is not severe enough to grant these individuals refugee status.

While freedom of religion or belief is a protected right under international law and is a clear basis for asylum in the 1951 Refugee Convention, as well as the UK’s current vulnerable persons relocation scheme, the key question remains in UK and international institutions whether all Pakistani minority religious or belief communities’ treatment in Pakistan or abroad ‘amounts to a real risk of persecution’.

In order to be able to look at the current UK and UNHCR policy regarding minority Pakistani religious or belief groups and its validity, the current conditions for such groups living in Pakistan and as refugees will need to be understood. The APPG on International Freedom of Religion or Belief is currently calling for submissions from charities, experts, lawyers, academics, faith-communities and individuals with personal experiences on their concerns, and suggestions on:

  • What circumstances minority religious or belief groups living in Pakistan currently face; both vis-à-vis State and non-State actors
  • What circumstances minority religious or belief groups having left Pakistan as asylum seekers currently face
  • What the current UK and UNHCR policy regarding each minority Pakistani religious or belief community is, whether changes to current policy are required, how these policies and Upper Tier Tribunal Decisions are related, and how any changes should be done

We particularly welcome testimonies from individuals who have recently sought asylum in UK on the grounds of persecution for their faith or belief.

Each submission should be no longer than 3 pages, and clearly indicate the organisation and/or author of the statement. The submissions will contribute to a new report written by the APPG on the subject. The APPG can withhold the identities of authors of statements in the report, if a request for anonymity is clearly made in the submission.

Written submissions may result in individuals or organisations being invited to give oral testimonies at a formal hearing in the Houses of Parliament before selected parliamentarians on 10 November (9:00 – 10:30) and 11 November (10:00 – 12:00) in Portcullis House, Room R. The APPG holds the right to use or not to use submissions in its reporting.

Submissions should be sent to . The deadline for submissions is 5.00pm, 3 November 2015.  


Evidence Taking Sessions With Pakistani Christians – Held in Bangkok,  September 2015

see also:

And see:

Universe October 2015 Pakistan

Evidence Taking Sessions were kindly facilitated by Thai friends introduced to us by Jubilee Campaign. We took evidence from refugees and human rights advocates and also had meetings with UNHCR officials and diplomats.


Throughout  our meetings with human rights advocates and escapees we heard a number of disturbing accounts of shocking and systematic persecution in Pakistan.  

The collective death sentence which has been passed on Pakistan’s Christian community was underlined by the murder of Pakistan’s brave Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, and by the murder of  the courageous  Governor of the Punjab, Salman Taseer, who was killed after voicing his opposition to the use of Blasphemy Laws  which have become a pretext for systematic and punitive persecution of Christians.

shahbaz bhatti posters

A country which is unable to protect such leading public figures is unlikely to be able to protect ordinary citizens. Sadly, Pakistan has become a breeding ground for barbarism and violence and from which many Christian families have tried to escape.

The accounts which we heard during our evidence sessions paint a picture of well founded fear and from which asylum represents the only prospect of safety and survival.


One witness recounted how his friend, Basil – a pastor’s son – was targeted by Islamists attempting to convert him. He reminded them that there should be no compulsion in requiring religious adherence. Their response was to attack his home in an arson attack. The fire burnt out his home and Basil, his wife and daughter, aged 18 months, were burnt alive.

Following their deaths the assailants turned their attention to his friend.

He was attacked and beaten. He reported this to the police – who then informed the assailants of the complaint. The assailants telephoned him and said that they would kill him. He, his wife, and little girl, fled the country and, after arriving in Bangkok, in 2014, applied for asylum. They have been told by UNHCR that they will be interviewed in 2018.  It could then be a further two years before they are resettled.

This is an intolerable delay – and, meanwhile, he and his wife and child live in fear of being arrested and incarcerated in the detention facilities where they would be separated into segregated cells, sharing a space of 18 feet by 36 feet with up to 100 other prisoners.


Witnesses told us that escapees have devised a rota to enable half the inmates in these cells to sleep at night and the other half sleep by day: “This leaves enough space to stretch out straight, but not to turn over. We just lie side by side, including our children.”

Force fed poultry in battery farms are treated better and  in more humane conditions than these – an analogy which was drawn by one witness.

A French Catholic priest with whom we spoke, and who has worked in the region for four decades, told us of one applicant who arrived in 2007 and who has still been given no final interview date.

The clergyman said that when he began working with detainees, over twenty years ago, UNHCR had two full time officials dealing with cases and “now there is only one and he calls into the Centre just twice a week and he has no time to deal with anyone in any depth.”


UNHCR officials admitted that there are “significant challenges” but also insisted that on most days someone from UNHCR is at the Detention Centre. Escapees countered by saying that this was “rarely an official, usually an interpreter unable to take any decisions.”  UNHCR urgently needs to reassess its staffing levels and the appalling length of time which is being taken to deal with applications.

Another witness underlined the endemic nature of persecution: “It was not just directed at me. It is directed at every Christian.” Having run a pharmacy business for fifteen years, he said that Pakistan police had demanded bribes from him every month saying that if he “did not pay he would be accused of inciting hatred of Islam.”  He has been living in Bangkok with his wife and five children in one room for two years – with his children unable to access any education – and living in constant fear of arrest.  UNHCR have given him no details of when his case will be resolved. We were given an updated chronological account of documented cases which corroborate the assertion of escapees that they have a well founded fear of persecution – often persecution leading to death (as instanced in the bombings in Youhanabad and Lahore which claimed a further 16 lives).The document may be viewed at:

A different  witness described how his legs had been broken by his brothers after he became a Christian in Pakistan. After he refused to recant they hired two men to kill him. Because his sister gave him shelter they incinerated  her home and she died in the fire. His wife abandoned him and he fled to Bangkok with his 12-year-old, traumatised, son.  

Even in Thailand he has received four threatening phone calls from members of his family in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, he has been arrested on several occasions and although he made desperate phone calls to UNHCR – worried about his son being left alone – he claims that no-one responded or came to see him. He says that his emails to UNHCR remain unanswered.  His case re-enforces the failure of both UNHCR and the Royal Thai Government to honour obligations and duties concerning the protection and treatment of children – both those living with parents whose claims are pending often in massively overcrowded conditions and deprived of education) and especially those incarcerated in the Detention Centre (where UNHCR officials told us that conditions are worse than those in Thai prisons).


A different witness also voiced  criticism of UNHCR procedures, saying “there is a complete communications gap” and witnesses repeatedly expressed concern about translators and translation arrangements made by UNHCR.

We were encouraged, however, that UNHCR told us that they are reviewing the way in which translation is done.

Never-the-less, witnesses said they would feel more confident in the asylum process “if translators were Indian Urdu speakers, rather than Pakistanis, who sometimes distort answers, who are hostile to fleeing Christians” and who in one case even told one escapee “you should convert to Islam and go back.” Witnesses suggested that, at a minimum, UNHCR should record interviews and make available the recording to the escapee.

Several witnesses said that the waiting period listed for UNHCR interviews for applicants of other nationalities were considerably less than the waiting time for applicants of Pakistani Christian origin. They also claimed that the rejection rates they experience are very much higher than those of other groups.

In the interests of transparency and accountability we would urge UNHCR to publish data detailing the average waiting times and rejection rates for applicants from each of the 48 countries of origin with which they are dealing in Bangkok.   

We also agree with the human rights organisation, Fortify Rights, who told us that the absence of legal representation for escapees prejudices the situation of refugees. We were dismayed by the conditions in which we were expected to speak to those held in the Detention Centre – shouting across caged barriers three or four feet apart – but legal representatives are denied any access.

UNHCR should do more to insist on the protection of escaping refugees; more to provide access to legal representation; more to develop documentation with the Royal Thai Government which will prevent asylum seekers being arrested or detained in the first instance;  more to provide bail for those who are detained.  They told us that legal representation which had been provided via the Jesuit Refugee Service had been terminated – we presume by the Thai authorities – and nothing has been put in its place.

More could also be done to provide better healthcare and medical support.  One elderly lady we spoke to in the Detention centre suffers from diabetes and other medical conditions. She was arrested in August – has been given an interview date by UNHCR in 2017, has no lawyer and cannot pay the 50,000 Thai Bahts required for bail.

In addition to prioritising the most vulnerable, UNHCR also need to develop better relationships with the refugees and be seen to be the champions of their interests.   We were concerned that UNHCR did not seem to accept the systematic and lethal nature of the persecution of Christians in Pakistan and have not collected accounts of torture and killings or documented family separation within the Detention Centre or  prioritised the suffering of children and minors.


One witness, a tetraplegic  man confined to a wheelchair and whose disability has considerably worsened since he arrived in 2014, said that UNHCR had not been responsive to his particular appeals for help. He told us that his illegal status leaves him in “limbo” and is denied medical support and assistance.

He argued that “UNHCR should work on short term relief as well as the long term issues”:

Whenever we approach UNHCR for help – when the police arrive or when we need food or shelter – they simply say they cannot do anything.”  He was given a perfunctory ten minute interview after he arrived in 2014 has been told his asylum claim will be considered after an interview now scheduled for 2018 and has been told he will then receive an answer by 2019 and may be resettled in 2020. His wife told us that no account seems to have been taken of his chronic health needs and she fears that if his muscle wasting disease is not properly treated and medical help made available, he may not survive the next five years.

The same witness reflected on the dangers facing Christians in Pakistan. He  provided documented evidence and examples of the rape of Christian girls, many of whom are the victims of forced marriages. He said that when he was challenged by a Pakistani official about why he wanted to leave the country he replied “If you make our lives miserable we are left with no other option. We love our country.” He said that return was impossible as they would be jailed and on release would face lives of violent persecution.

78 killed at Pakistan's Anglican Church of All Saints Peshawar in a Taliban attack

78 killed at Pakistan’s Anglican Church of All Saints Peshawar in a Taliban attack

Along with several other witnesses he said that Pakistani border officials had demanded bribes of $250 dollars per person from Christians leaving the country for destinations such as Malaysia, Thailand, or Sri Lanka – “knowing that it was not our intention to return.” Such sums of money are not available to many poorer Christian citizens.

We note that  Indian newspapers recently reported that the Government of India suggested that Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs being persecuted for their religious faith might be given the right to settle in India.

Although this is a very sad reflection  on the failure of the Government of Pakistan to provide protection against the persecution of its religious minorities, and the complete absence of religious toleration and respect for minorities,  an Indian refuge may offer Pakistan’s persecuted citizens some future prospect of safety and security and we hope that UNHCR are exploring this option with the Governments of both countries.

The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, being signed here, is the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of states: high ideals but rhetoric must match reality and words must be matched by deeds.

The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, being signed here, is the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of states: high ideals but rhetoric must match reality and words must be matched by deeds.

UNHCR says:

[its] mandate is to provide, on a non-political and humanitarian basis, international protection to refugees and to seek permanent solutions for them.

We have great respect for the work undertaken by UNHCR in many parts of the world and were genuinely disappointed to hear so much criticism. However, we were also surprised that officials compared the situation in Pakistan to that of victims of gun crime in the United States and emphasised cases of fraud rather than accepting the prima facie case of well founded fear of persecution in Pakistan.  We accept, as they put it, that they are not “Hotel California” or “ a golden ticket”  but do not believe that conditions in Carolina are comparable, as they suggested, with those in Pakistan.

We were grateful that they offered to meet with the representatives with whom we met and hope that this will lead to an improvement in understanding and procedures.

Also see:


  Parliamentary Replies from the British government on the Plight Of Pakistani Escapees

Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL2256):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their current assessment of the number of Pakistani Christians who have fled to Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka through fear of persecution. (HL2256)

Tabled on: 16 September 2015

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

We gather information on this issue from external sources and have not conducted our own assessment of the numbers involved.

We continue to urge the Government of Pakistan to fulfil the human rights obligations set out in the Constitution of Pakistan and international law, including those relating to religious minorities.

Date and time of answer: 29 Sep 2015 at 17:41.


Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL2257):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the conditions in the detention centres where Pakistani Christians are detained in Bangkok, and whether the inmates include babies, children, lactating women and the infirm; what international obligations exist in regard to the detention of children in such circumstances; whether they have made representations to the UNHCR and the government of Thailand about those conditions; and if so, what response they have received. (HL2257)

Tabled on: 16 September 2015

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

We have not conducted a specific assessment of the detention centres where Pakistani Christians are detained. However, consular officials visit prisons and Immigration Detention Centres in Bangkok regularly to carry out their consular duties with respect to British citizens. Their assessment is that conditions are generally poor and they are aware that women and children are also detained.

A number of international obligations exist in regard to the detention of children including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We have raised our concerns with the Thai Minister for Justice and senior officials. The Thai authorities have shown themselves willing to cooperate on work to improve prison conditions and we are ready to share our experience and expertise. We maintain a regular dialogue with many senior prison officials to address specific concerns.

We meet the UN High Commissioner for Refugees regularly to discuss how we can assist their work, including around conditions of detention.

Date and time of answer: 29 Sep 2015 at 17:41.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL2258):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of how the conditions in detention centres where Pakistani Christians are detained in Bangkok compare with the conditions in prisons in Thailand. (HL2258)

Tabled on: 16 September 2015

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

We have not conducted a specific assessment of the detention centres where Pakistani Christians are detained. However, consular officials visit prisons and Immigration Detention Centres in Bangkok regularly to carry out their consular duties with respect to British citizens. Their assessment is that conditions in prisons and detention centres are generally poor.

Date and time of answer: 29 Sep 2015 at 17:36.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL2259):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assistance they have been able to provide for refugees fleeing persecution in Pakistan in resolving their applications for asylum; and what is their estimate of the average time likely to elapse between an applicant lodging a claim for asylum in Bangkok and being resettled. (HL2259)

Tabled on: 16 September 2015

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

We work closely with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Thailand on a wide range of refugee issues. We do not intervene in specific cases but aim to support the rights of those fleeing persecution as a whole. From our conversations with UNHCR we understand that the time taken to assess asylum applications in Thailand varies and can be anything from a few months to a couple of years, depending on the individual circumstances of each case. We understand the majority of applicants from Pakistan who seek refugee status are successful and they are then eligible for resettlement. The time taken for resettlement varies as it is dependent on each specific situation.

Date and time of answer: 29 Sep 2015 at 17:36.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL2260):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to work with the British Council to examine ways of assisting the children of Pakistani refugees to receive schooling and educational opportunities while their asylum cases are being considered. (HL2260)

Tabled on: 16 September 2015

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

The main problem refugees face in accessing appropriate opportunities for education in Thailand is the lack of proper documentation explaining their status. Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on refugees, therefore any documents provided by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are not necessarily accepted. We are working with UNHCR to support their requests to the Thai government to develop a form of documentation for refugees. This would allow refugees to access appropriate schooling and other opportunities. We work closely with the British Council in Thailand and have discussed this issue with them.

Date and time of answer: 29 Sep 2015 at 17:35.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL2261):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the risks of those Pakistani refugees who are living without legal status while their asylum claims are being assessed in Bangkok falling victim to trafficking and exploitation. (HL2261)

Tabled on: 16 September 2015

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on refugees and as such those people claiming asylum through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Thailand have no formal legal status. Once any form of legal immigration status expires they are then deemed to be illegally in the country. Many are detained in Immigration Detention Centres awaiting deportation, or resettlement by the UNHCR should they qualify. Others live a vulnerable life as urban refugees open to trafficking and exploitation.

We continue to work closely with the UNHCR in Thailand on a wide range of refugee issues. We are in contact with UNHCR to support their requests to the Thai government to develop a form of documentation for refugees, including those of Pakistani Christian origin, to assist their legal status in Thailand.

Date and time of answer: 29 Sep 2015 at 12:59.


Lord Bates, the Home Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL2312):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the findings of the report commissioned by the British Pakistan Christian Association, entitled Education, Human Rights Violations in Pakistan and the Scandal Involving UNHRC and Asylum Seekers in Thailand; and whether, in the light of this report, they plan to review the risk of the persecution of Christians in Pakistan and update their guidance document Pakistan: Christians and Christian Converts. (HL2312)

Tabled on: 17 September 2015

Lord Bates:

The Home Office will be considering the report commissioned by the British Pakistani Christian Association alongside a range of other material to make a full assessment of the situation of Christians in Pakistan, and will revise its country information and guidance if necessary.

The Home Office considers that the treatment of asylum seekers in Thailand is primarily a matter for the Thai authorities.

Date and time of answer: 05 Oct 2015 at 17:26.

International Scandal of 95 Detainees Held in one Cell – Including Children

International Scandal of 95 Detainees Held in one Cell – Including Children

Earlier today, Friday September 4th, during a visit to Bangkok’s Detention Centre for Refugees, the British Independent Peer, David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool), met Pakistani Christians who are being held there. One detainee told him that he and his six year old son are sharing a cell with 95 other men and children and is permitted to see his wife and other children, who are held elsewhere in the Detention centre, once a week for one hour.


Arriving at the Detention Centre where as many as 95 men and boys share one cell


Inhuman conditions for people whose only crime is their Faith – an International scandal.

The man, who is a Christian pastor, had fled Pakistan after threats to him and his family. There are around 4,000 Pakistani Christian men, women and children now living as illegals or being held in detention centres in the Thai capital.

Their plight is documented in the Jubilee Campaign report “Don’t Turn Them Back”:

In meetings with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) the Peer presented officials with a petition organised by Pakistani Christian leaders in Bangkok along with a dossier.


Receiving the dossier and petition from Pakistani Christian Leaders in Bangkok

This documented appalling, scandalous overcrowding; the lamentable failure to process asylum applications – some will not be considered and resolved 2018; the dismal lack of UNHCR resources and personnel; the lack of legal representation for detainees; the failure to protect women and children; inadequate and flawed translation provision; the denial of education for children and young people; meagre health care, leading to deteriorating conditions and deaths of refugees while detained; and the dismissal of evidence from Pakistan highlighting an escalation in violence against the tiny Christian minority and the well founded fear of lethal persecution.


Meeting with UNHCR officials

UNHCR officials conceded that there is “extreme overcrowding” in the detention centres and that “conditions in Thai prisons are actually better than in the detention centres.”

The Peer later met with senior British officials who have been monitoring the situation and held evidence taking sessions with a number of Pakistani Christians who are forced to live illegally because of the failure to process their applications.  


He said that “the exodus from Pakistan is driven by visceral hatred and a fanatical disregard for the rights of minorities. In a country where the brave Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, can be murdered in broad daylight, where churches are bombed, where an illiterate woman can be sentenced to death of alleged blasphemy charges, where a husband and wife can be burnt alive in front of their young children, and where there is a culture of impunity which rarely leads to those responsible being brought to justice, it is little wonder that many Christians are fleeing for their lives. It doubly compounds their suffering when the international community fails to step up to the plate in defence of those who have to endure such pitiless suffering and hardship.”    

  Pakistan Christians




Full transcript: House of July 16 Lords Debate on Article 18: Stop Killing Christians – including speeches by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, and other senior Peers from many faith and humanist backgrounds

Freedom of Religion and Belief

Motion to Take Note

Watch the debate at:


4.20 pm

Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To move that this House takes note of worldwide violations of Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the case for greater priority to be given by the United Kingdom and the international community to upholding freedom of religion and belief.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords who take part in today’s debate. We have a speakers list of great distinction, underlining the importance of this subject. It is also a debate that will see the valedictory speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, who has given such distinguished service to your Lordships’ House. The backdrop to all our speeches is Article 18, one of the 30 articles of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. It insists:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.

The declaration’s stated objective was to realise,

“a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”.

However, with the passage of time, the declaration has acquired a normative character within general international law. Eleanor Roosevelt, the formidable

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chairman of the drafting committee, argued that freedom of religion was one of the four essential freedoms of mankind. In her words:

“Religious freedom cannot just mean Protestant freedom; it must be freedom of all religious people”,

and she rejoiced in having friends from all faiths and all races.

Article 18 emerged from the infamies of the 20th century—from the Armenian genocide to the defining depredations of Stalin’s gulags and Hitler’s concentration camps; from the pestilential nature of persecution, demonisation, scapegoating and hateful prejudice; and, notwithstanding violence associated with religion, it emerged from ideology, nation and race. It was the bloodiest century in human history with the loss of 100 million lives.

The four great murderers of the 20th century—Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot—were united by their hatred of religious faith. Seventy years later, all over the world, from North Korea to Syria, Article 18 is honoured daily in its breach, evident in new concentration camps, abductions, rape, imprisonment, persecution, public flogging, mass murder, beheadings and the mass displacement of millions of people. Not surprisingly, the All-Party Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief, in the title of its influential report, described Article 18 as “an orphaned right”. A Pew Research Center study begun a decade ago found that of the 185 nations studied, religious repression was recorded in 151 of them.

Today’s debate, then, is a moment to encourage Governments to reclaim their patrimony of Article 18; to argue that it be given greater political and diplomatic priority; to insist on the importance of religious literacy as a competence; to discuss the crossover between freedom of religion and belief and a nation’s prosperity and stability; and to reflect on the suffering of those denied this foundational freedom.

Although Christians are persecuted in every country where there are violations of Article 18—from Syria and Iraq, to Sudan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Egypt, Iran, North Korea and many other countries—Muslims, and others, suffer too, especially in the religious wars raging between Sunnis and Shias, so reminiscent of 17th-century Europe. But it does not end there. In a village in Burma, I saw first-hand a mosque that had been set on fire the night before. Muslim villagers had been driven from a village where for generations they had lived alongside their Buddhist neighbours. Now Burma proposes to restrict interfaith marriage and religious conversions. It is, however, a region in which Christian Solidarity Worldwide and the Foreign and Commonwealth are doing some excellent work with lawyers and other civil society actors, promoting Article 18.

Think, too, of those who have no religious belief, such as Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian atheist and blogger sentenced to 1,000 public lashes for publicly expressing his atheism. That has been condemned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as,

“a form of cruel and inhuman punishment”.

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Alexander Aan was imprisoned in Indonesia for two years after saying he did not believe in God. Noble Lords should recall that Article 18 is also about the right not to believe.

Later, we will hear from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who recently said that the “most common feature” of Anglicanism worldwide is that of being persecuted. Twenty-four of the 37 Anglican provinces are in conflict or post-conflict areas. Referring to the 150 Kenyan Christians who were killed on Maundy Thursday, the most reverend Primate said:

“There have been so many martyrs in the last year … They are witnesses, unwilling, unjustly, wickedly, and they are martyrs in both senses of the word”.

We will also hear from my noble friend Lord Sacks, who offered his prayer on Hanukkah last year for,

“people of all faiths working together for the freedom of all faiths”.

My noble friend’s brilliant critique, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, is required reading for anyone trying to comprehend what motivates people to kill Christian students in Kenya, Shia Muslims praying in a mosque in Kuwait, Pakistani Anglicans celebrating the Eucharist in Peshawar or British tourists simply holidaying in Tunisia and for anyone trying to understand the dramatic rise in Christian persecution, the vilification of Islam in some parts of the world and, in Europe, the troubling reawakening of anti-Semitism.

My noble friend’s insights into the shared stories of the Abrahamic faiths—not least the displacement stories of Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel, and Joseph and his brothers—and how they can be used to promote mutual respect, coexistence, reconciliation and the healing of history underline the urgent need for scholars from those faiths to combat the evil being committed in God’s name and to give emphasis to the ancient texts in a way which upholds the dignity of difference—the title of another of my noble friend’s books. If Jews, Muslims and Christians are no longer to see one another as an existential threat, we urgently need a persuasive new narrative, which is capable of forestalling the unceasing incitements to hatred which pour forth from the internet and which capture unformed minds.

It is not just scholars but the media and policymakers who need greater religious literacy and different priorities. How right the BBC’s courageous chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet, is when she says:

“If you don’t understand religion—including the abuse of religion—it’s becoming ever harder to understand our world”.

It is increasingly obvious that liberal democracy simply does not understand the power of the forces that oppose it or how best to counter them. At best, the upholding of Article 18 seems to have Cinderella status. During the Queen’s Speech debate, I cited a reply to Tim Farron MP—for whom this has been quite a notable day—in which Ministers said that the Foreign Office,

“has one full time Desk Officer wholly dedicated to Freedom of Religion or Belief”.

The Answer also stated that,

“the Head and the Deputy Head of HRDD spend approximately 5% and 20% respectively of their time on FoRB issues”.

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To rectify this, will we prioritise Article 18 in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office business plan and across government departments? Has the FCO considered convening an international conference on Article 18—something I have raised with her? Is it an issue we will raise at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta in November?

In May, the Labour Party gave a welcome manifesto commitment to appoint a Canadian-style special envoy to promote Article 18. The Foreign Office resists this, insisting that all our diplomats promote freedom of religion and belief. But that has not been my experience. On returning to Istanbul from a visit to a 1,900 year-old Syrian Orthodox community in Tur Abdin, which was literally under siege, I was told by our UK representative that his role was to represent Britain’s commercial and security interests and that religious freedom was a domestic matter in which he did not want to become involved. Self-evidently, there is a direct connection with our security interests, not least with millions of displaced refugees and migrants now fleeing religious persecution.

Paradoxically, if he had studied the empirical research on the crossover between freedom of religion and belief, and a nation’s stability and prosperity, he might have come to a very different conclusion. Where Article 18 is trampled on, the reverse is also true, as a cursory examination of the hobbled economies of countries such as North Korea and Eritrea immediately reveals. This is not a marginal concern, as the outstanding briefing material for our debate from many human rights organisations makes clear.

Last month, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and I chaired the launch of a report by Human Rights Without Frontiers. Among its catalogue of egregious and serious violations, it says that North Korea, China and Iran had the highest number of people imprisoned, in their thousands, for their religion or belief. It highlights Pakistan, where in 2011 two politicians who questioned the blasphemy laws were shot dead; where Asia Bibi remains imprisoned with four other Christians and nine non-Christians, facing the death sentence for alleged blasphemy; and where Shias and Ahmadis have faced ferocious deadly attacks.

When did we last raise these cases and other abuses of Article 18 with Pakistan, or the use of blasphemy laws in Sudan, where two pastors are currently on trial, facing charges that carry the death sentence? Have we urged Sudan to drop the charges against 10 young female Christian students who face up to 40 lashes because of the clothes they were wearing? What of the Chinese Christian lawyers arrested this week as part of a major crackdown? Will Article 18 be on the agenda for discussion with China’s President when he visits the United Kingdom?

I am a trustee of the charity Aid to the Church in Need, and the noble Baroness the Minister kindly launched its report, Religious Freedom in the World 2014, which found that religious freedom had deteriorated in almost half the countries of the world, with sectarian violence at a six-year high, nowhere more so than in the Middle East, where last week Pope Francis said that Christians are subject to genocide. In a recorded

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message for that launch, His Royal Highness the Princes of Wales condemned “horrendous and heart-breaking” persecution, and spoke of his anguish at the plight of Christianity in the Middle East, in the region of its birth, describing events in Syria and Iraq as an “indescribable tragedy”.

In 1914, Christians made up a quarter of that region’s population. Now they are less than 5%. Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, during a meeting that I chaired here in the House, underlined their traumatic, degrading and inhuman treatment, pleading with the international community to provide protection. Two weeks ago the same plea was made by a remarkable Yazidi woman who gave evidence at a meeting organised by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson. The Yazidi, a former Iraqi Member of Parliament, told us:

“The Yazidi people are going through mass murder. The objective is their annihilation. 3000 Yazidi girls are still in D’aesh hands, suffering rape and abuse. 500 young children have been captured, being trained as killing machines, to fight their own people. This is a genocide and the international community should say so”.

This view has been reinforced this week by reports on “Newsnight” and “Dispatches”. How will we answer that woman? Do we intend to use our voice in the Security Council on behalf of the Yazidis and Assyrian Christians? Do we intend to have the perpetrators brought to justice in the ICC? Are we collating and documenting every instance, from genocide and rape to the abduction of bishops and priests, to the burning of churches and mosques, to the beheading of Eritrean Christians and Egyptian Copts by ISIS in Libya? What are we doing to create safe havens where these minorities might be protected?

In 1933, Franz Werfel published a novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, based on a true story about the Armenian genocide. His books were burnt by the Nazis, no doubt to try to erase humanity’s memory, Hitler having famously asked, “Who now remembers the Armenians?”. The Armenian deportations and genocide claimed the lives of an estimated 1.5 million Armenian Christians. Werfel tells the story of several thousand Christians who took refuge on the mountain of Musa Dagh. The intervention of the French navy led to their dramatic rescue.

A hundred years later, the Yazidis besieged on Mount Sinjar were saved, but their lives are still in the balance. Last week the Belgians made it to Aleppo and brought 200 Yazdis and Christians to safety. For fragile communities facing a perilous future, such as these, could we not do the same? Are we re-examining our asylum rules to reflect the lethal threats faced by families and individuals fleeing their native homelands?

In the longer term, should not the international community have a more consistent approach to Article 18? We denounce some countries while appeasing others who directly enable jihad through financial support or the sale of arms. Western powers are seen as hypocrites when our business interests determine how offended we are by gross human rights abuses. Take Saudi Arabia as one example.

The challenge is vigorously to promote Article 18 through our interventions and our aid programmes, unceasingly countering a fundamentalism that promotes hatred of difference and persecutes those who hold

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different beliefs. For the future, the three Abrahamic religions and Governments need to recapture the idealism of Eleanor Roosevelt, who described the 1948 declaration as,

“the international Magna Carta for all mankind”.

She said that Article 18 freedoms were to be one of the four essential freedoms of mankind. Who can doubt that this essential freedom needs to be given far greater emphasis and priority in these troubled times? I beg to move.

4.35 pm

Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on obtaining this debate, on the eloquent way in which he introduced it and on the tremendous illustrations that he gave of how bad the situation is throughout the world. I do not have the qualifications to follow him, and certainly do not have the qualifications to be in front of many leaders in this debate, but here I am, and I shall try to make the best of it. I also wish to express my deep gratitude to Edward Scott of our Library for the excellent brief he prepared for this debate, which shows the position in great and excruciating detail. I am sure that anyone who has read it will feel tremendous sympathy and a loathing for what is happening to so many of our fellow humans throughout the world for the simple reason that they have adopted a faith or belief, including a non-faith—no belief at all, which is also protected—in the execution of their ordinary lives and have been tremendously badly dealt with on that account.

I declare my interest as a professing Christian for most of my life, and a practising Christian so far as I can. I am sorry to say that I have not reached the extent of perfection in that area which I would have liked. I am glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester is speaking in this debate, although I am very sorry that it will be a valedictory speech. He has given most distinguished service in this House and also in his diocese in an area where there is a great deal of difference and, I hope, also the dignity of difference in ethnic and other communities. I wish him well in his retirement.

Speaking from the government Dispatch Box when she was a Minister in the Home Office, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, expressed the view that her religion defined her personality. This shows that the restriction of a person’s faith or belief is as serious as any other restriction of personal freedom. The brief to which I have referred and the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, show that mistreatment for faith and belief throughout the world extends to much more than restriction of bodily movement. It goes to serious injury and death in the most terrible circumstances.

Yesterday we had outside the House a demonstration relating to prisoners of conscience. This is a most important aspect of the human personality—the internal monitor which tells us that what we are doing is wrong, even when no human eye can see us, and whether or not what we are doing is in according with the tenets of the faith, belief or non-belief we seek to follow.

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In preserving standards in society, listening to conscience is an extremely effective activity. More so even than an effective enforcement system, it can preserve society’s standards. It was valued in our nation during two world wars. Persons with a conscientious objection to military service were exempted from the universal obligation to enlist. It was also shown in relation to the Abortion Act.

Charities based on faith have done tremendous service in many nations throughout the world. It surely is the most terrible damage to a nation’s people that they are debarred from having these services simply on the ground of the faith of the organisation that is providing them. In our own country, we had the problem of the Catholic adoption agencies that were providing an excellent service but which were debarred from continuing to do so because they were not able to offer as full a service as some would have required.

I am sure that leading by example is one important way to contribute in trying to help with this tremendous problem. I am sure there are many other ways, which will be illustrated by the distinguished speakers to follow.

4.41 pm

Lord McFall of Alcluith (Lab): My Lords, it is a privilege to participate in this debate and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing it, as well as on the work that he and the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, have done over many months and years on this issue.

As we know, Article 18 is under threat in over a quarter of the nations in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has given eloquent testimony to what is happening. I want, however, to focus on the domestic—on us. To change the world, first we have to change ourselves. When the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury took office, he said that one of his three principles was the concept of good disagreement. That is a very important concept for us.

As I remember from my childhood in Scotland, the society had been scarred by what the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, has referred to as sibling rivalry—bigoted, religious, sibling rivalry. In 1923, the Church and Nation Committee of the Church of Scotland asked for Irish immigrants to be repatriated. More specifically, it was Catholic Irish immigrants, like my forebears. So if good people had not got together and ensured that that crusade failed, I, for one, would probably not be here today. It was good people walking together. There is still a legacy in Scotland; we have to recognise that sectarianism has not departed. Our own experiences should teach us a lot.

As the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, said in his book, which makes compelling reading, we need faith to strengthen, not to dampen, our shared humanity. He made it very clear, as we all know, that it will be soft power that wins this battle—if we can call it a battle. It will not be hard power. War is won by weapons, but dialogue wins the peace.

I am delighted to see not only the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, but also the noble Lord, Lord Singh, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester who

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have contributed greatly to the dialogue. It is a dialogue with strangers. The biblio-patriarch Abraham has been referred to. Abraham’s test of worthiness, as we know, is the question, “Did you show kindness to strangers?”. Abraham ruled no empire, he commanded no army, he conquered no territory, but today he is revered by 2.5 billion Christians, 1.6 billion Muslims, and 13 million Jews. The Abrahamic faiths and others need to walk much closer together.

That is very hard to envisage today, but we can look back at our short history to see that there have been successes. With Vatican II in the 1960s, Pope John XXIII, in his encyclical Nostra Aetate, transformed the relationship between Catholics and Jews, and 2,000 years of pain and sorrow were diluted as a result of that engagement. That prompts the question: can the world be changed? If the Christian and Jewish relationship can be changed, can the Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Sikh and non-faith relationships be changed as well? Pope Francis’s latest encyclical, Laudato Si’, is an encouraging example because he embraces all humankind. He makes a call in the very first paragraph of the encyclical for care for our common earthly home. He says:

“Nothing in this world is indifferent to us”.

For a very short time in the Labour Government I had the privilege of being Minister for Northern Ireland. I saw examples in the peace process in Northern Ireland, but I shall illustrate just two examples today. The first is Gordon Wilson, whose daughter was killed in the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bomb. He had to hold her hand while she was dying and she said that she loved him. Immediately after that, he came out and said:

“I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge … I will pray for these men tonight and every night”.

The other example that I remember was Father Alec Reid, the late Redemptorist priest from Clonard monastery in Belfast, who was a silent architect of the peace process because he allowed Gerry Adams, John Hume and others to come together to ensure that there was a dialogue and an understanding there. The photograph of Father Reid giving the last rites to soldier David Howes, when he and another colleague ran into a republican funeral, is one that will stay with us.

That is an example of the good of two individuals confronting the evils of terrorism. In a 20th-century world dominated by violence and mayhem in the name of religion, our task, perhaps akin to the task of the miracle of the loaves and fishes in the Bible, is to multiply that number, not 1 millionfold or 10 millionfold but 100 millionfold. Eighteenth-century author Jonathan Swift’s statement is maybe as relevant today, and something for us to remember:

“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another”.

As we go on our journey together, it is worth remembering that.

The Earl of Courtown (Con): My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the debate for a few moments, but I ask noble Lords to remember that it is time-limited to five minutes per speaker. Once the clock reaches five, your Lordships are out of time.

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Lord Thomas of Swynnerton (CB): My Lords, it may be appropriate—

Lord Avebury: My Lords—

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: It is the turn of the Cross Benches.

The Earl of Courtown: Order. There is a speakers list for this debate.

4.48 pm

Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, I join in the congratulations that have been expressed to my noble friend Lord Alton for the powerful way in which he introduced this debate, and indeed for the consistent and wonderful way in which he always defends the rights of people’s religious freedom. On no occasion have I heard him speak more powerfully on the subject than he did today.

My old friend Dennis Wrigley, founder of the Maranatha community, asks if we care that entire Christian communities have been wiped out in the Middle East and what we are prepared to do about it. Those are questions that I hope the Minister will be able to answer.

However, the challenge is in fact much greater than that. Daesh makes no secret of its intention to expand its so-called caliphate from its base in Syria and Iraq so that it covers the rest of the Middle East and north Africa. Ultimately it aims to spread its interpretation of seventh-century Islamic governance and beliefs across the whole world, eliminating all other faiths by conversion or assassination, as it has already demonstrated by the massacres of Yazidis, Christians and Shia and the enslavement of the martyrs’ widows in the territory that it occupies.

William Young of the RAND Corporation observed:

“Al-Baghdadi’s messages have resonated with Sunnis in the region, North Africa, Europe and the United States primarily because he appears successful”.

I agree with his conclusion:

“The faster the Muslim world can be shown that ISIS is not invincible and does not have a divine mandate to rule the Islamic world, the quicker young Muslims and others will stop listening to its messaging”.

The coalition needs to ratchet up military operations against the Daesh and we should explore the willingness of our partners in the 60-state coalition to provide troops for a multinational ground force in Syria. We are providing 75 military instructors and headquarters staff as part of the US-led programme to support the “moderate Syrian opposition”. Can the Minister please identity the groups included in that phrase. They do not include, apparently, the heroic YPG which successfully repelled the Daesh assault on Kobane at the end of last year. Operations on that frontier would have the merit of not undermining the Assad Government’s capacity to hold the Daesh at bay.

The so-called caliphate sends out a powerful signal to extremist Sunni Muslims elsewhere that they can help towards the realisation of the universal Islamic state by destabilising existing kufr Governments through acts of indiscriminate terrorism such as the attack on British tourists in Tunisia. However, the main thrust of Daesh operations this year outside its own territory

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has been attacks against the soft target of Shia mosques in neighbouring Arab countries. In March there were simultaneous attacks on two mosques in Sanaa, capital of Yemen, killing 137 people and injuring 357. In May there were two attacks on Shia mosques in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, killing 29 and injuring more than 85; and on 2 June, a Shia mosque in Kuwait was attacked, killing at least 27 and injuring 227 others.

However, it goes wider than that. In Pakistan, terrorist groups swearing allegiance to the Daesh have been responsible for three major atrocities so far this year: the suicide bombing of an imambargah at Shikarpur in January, which killed 80 and injured 100; a suicide attack on a Shia mosque in Peshawar, capital of troubled Balochistan, in February, killing a least 22 and injuring 80 at Friday prayers; and a gun attack by killers on motorcycles on a bus carrying Ismailis in Karachi in May, killing at least 26 and injuring 13. Eliminating the Daesh, its metastases and its wicked ideology taught in Saudi-funded madrassahs throughout the world must be the main goal of all who believe in freedom of religion.

4.53 pm

The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in the debate and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing it and for all the work he has undertaken in this area over many years. I associate myself very closely with what he said in his very eloquent opening speech and also with the speeches of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and the noble Lord, Lord McFall. I also pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. He will be much missed by this House and I will miss him enormously for the wise advice he has given me on numerous occasions.

We have already heard many examples of the horrific situations around the world where people are persecuted for their religion or for their absence of religion. I witnessed such persecution in its rawest form many times during my visits in 2013 and 2014 to the 37 other provinces of the Anglican communion. Almost half of these provinces are living under persecution; they fear for their lives every day.

I will make two points in the short time available in this debate The first is that the relationship between law and religion is invariably a delicate one. The passionately lived religious life or passionately lived humanist life of many people around the world and in this country cannot be compartmentalised within our legal and political systems. It is not good enough to say that religion is free within the law. As was eloquently pointed out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, religion defines us—it is the fundamental element of who and what we are. Thus, religious freedom and the freedom not to have a religion stands beneath the law, supporting it and creating the circumstances in which you can have effective law, as has been the case in this country since the sealing of Magna Carta 800 years ago, negotiated by my predecessor Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton. In its first clause, it says that,

“the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired”—

sorry, I had better declare an interest there.

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Religion gave birth to the rule of law, particularly through Judaism. The question is therefore: how do we translate this undiminished right and unimpaired liberty into the contemporary situation, where, too often, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, culture, law and religion seem to have incommensurable values? The foundational freedom of religious freedom in the state prevents the state claiming the ultimate loyalty in every area, a loyalty to which it has no right—never has done and never will do—if we believe in the ultimate dignity of the human being.

My second point is that religious freedom is threatened on a global scale, as we have heard, but also in a very complex way. Attacks on religious freedom are often linked to economic circumstances, to sociology, to history and to many other factors. Practically, if we are to defend religious liberty, we have to draw in these other factors. For example, if we want to defend religious freedom around the world—and again I say, the freedom to have no religion—do not sell guns to people who oppress religious freedom; do not launder their money; restrict trade with them; confine the way in which we deal with them; and, above, all, speak frankly and openly, naming them for what they are.

Where a state claims the ultimate right to oppress religious freedom, it stops the last and the strongest barrier against tyranny. From the beginning of time—from the beginning of the Christian era, when the apostles said that they would obey God rather than the Sanhedrin, through the Reformation to the martyrs of communism, to Bonhoeffer and to Archbishop Tutu—up to our own day around the world, we have needed religious freedom as a global defence of freedom.

4.58 pm

Baroness Berridge (Con): My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on his uncanny knack of being successful in the ballot for debates.

I join the most reverend Primate in celebrating Magna Carta, which opens with,

“the English Church shall be free”,

meaning from state intervention, which at that time of course meant the king. Freedom of religion or belief, as set out in Article 18, is another deeply constitutional statement. As the UN special rapporteur illustrated in his comment to me, “There is lots of religion in Vietnam but not a lot of it is free”. The declaration is founded on individuals enjoying human rights when the state knows how to behave, knows its own limits and understands its role as protector of its citizens’ human rights from violation by third parties. In old communist states such as Vietnam, religion is controlled by the state, but another common backdrop to many Article 18 violations is an inappropriate connection between a religious institution or a faith or a stream of one faith, and the state. Often, that institution or faith has such preference that pluralism is suffocated, and, in the extreme, a religion becomes identified with nationality. Is Myanmar’s identity becoming synonymous with being Buddhist? The Rohinga Muslims are denied citizenship and an outcry by Buddhist extremists led the Government to capitulate and confiscate their only identity document.

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I am intrigued that Her Majesty’s Government can exhibit the FCO priority of freedom of religion and belief in our newly opened visa office in Rangoon. I expect my noble friend will have to write to me on this, but how is the United Kingdom able to offer UK visas, regardless of religion, when Rohinga Muslims have no documentation? Is it only wealthy Buddhist tourists or business men—not Muslims or Christians—who can come to the UK? The Rohingans were disenfranchised in this year’s election. It is also proposed that half a million refugees from the Central African Republic, 90% of whom are Muslim, be denied their voting rights. What representations have Her Majesty’s Government made to the CAR’s interim Government? Will this not increase the risk of refugees who are languishing in Chad being recruited to IS, which is already recruiting from neighbouring Sudan?

The trajectory on this issue has spiralled. However, I highlight Vietnam, Myanmar and CAR because they are in, I believe, the doable category. In 2006 Vietnam was removed, with American pressure, from the list of countries of particular concern, but has now fallen back. The UN special rapporteur visited in 2014 and found serious Article 18 violations and,

“credible information that some individuals whom I wanted to meet with had been either under heavy surveillance, warned, intimidated, harassed or prevented from travelling by the police”.

The Human Rights Watch report, Persecuting Evil Way Religion, details state persecution of central highland Christians, many of whom have fled to Cambodia. Cambodia refuses to allow them to claim asylum and returns them, rather like China does to those who escape North Korea. Will the Minister please make representations to Cambodia to allow the UN to process refugees there, if it is unwilling to comply with its international obligations?

It might also be worth mentioning how discerning the UK customer can be and how sensitive brands like Marks & Spencer can be when they source from many manufacturers in Vietnam and Cambodia.

The digital revolution could create further Article 18 violations. According to a report in the Economist, by 2020 80% of adults will have a smartphone that is able to receive different religious messages that state or religious leaders will scarcely be able to control. Will many more people start switching faith, challenging existing political and religious power structures?

We should also keep a close eye on what is happening under the new Government of India. We do not want to add into this space a rise of Hindu militancy which is semi-connected to identity, and to see the persecution of a large number of Muslims and Christians.

Who knows what the future holds? Many Governments, parliamentarians, religious leaders and royalty have, however, grasped the Article 18 issue, and the Pope’s celebrity status at the UN General Assembly in September is incredibly timely. The missing players—consumers and businesses—need to enter the stage, and it looks as if Brazil, at the Olympics, will be introducing the Global Business & Interfaith Understanding Awards, which they hope to become part of the Games. However, if by 2020 violations have flat-lined, that will indeed be an achievement.

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5.03 pm

Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB): My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this important debate, and for his sterling work in putting concern for human rights high on the agenda of this House.

Article 18 of the 1948 UN declaration is unambiguous in its guarantee of freedom of religion and belief. Yet we live in a world where those rights are all too frequently ignored. We have been recently remembering the horror of Srebrenica, where, 20 years ago, 8,000 Muslim men and boys were rounded up by Serb forces and ruthlessly murdered simply because they were Muslims. Last year Sikhs commemorated the 30th anniversary of the brutal murder of thousands of Sikhs in India, simply for being Sikhs. The Middle East has become a cauldron of religious intolerance and unbelievable barbarity. The number of Christians has dwindled alarmingly. We hear daily of thousands fleeing religious persecution in leaky, overcrowded boats, with little food or water.

Where have we gone wrong? In commerce or industry, if a clearly desirable idea or initiative fails again and again, it goes back to the drawing board. Today we need to ask ourselves: why is there widespread abuse of the right to freedom of belief? This important right, like all others embedded in the UN declaration, needs the total commitment of countries with political clout to make it a reality. Unfortunately, even permanent members of the Security Council frequently put trade and political alliances with countries with appalling human rights records above a commitment to human rights. There are many examples, but time permits me to mention only a couple relating to our own country.

During the visit of a Chinese trade delegation in June last year, a government Minister said that we should not allow human rights abuses to “get in the way” of trade. His statement, undermining the UN declaration, went virtually unchallenged. At about the same time, we had a Statement in your Lordships’ House that the Government were pressing for a UN-led inquiry into human rights abuse in Sri Lanka. Fine, but when I asked whether the Government would also support a similar inquiry into the mass killing of Sikhs in India—yes, I know it is a much bigger trading partner—I received a brusque reply that that was a matter for the Indian Government.

I have asked on five occasions the question why the UK Government regard the systematic killing of Sikhs in India as being of no concern to the United Kingdom, only to get the same dismissive non-response. I ask it again today, and hope that noble Lords and Britain’s 500,000 Sikhs will get the courtesy of a proper, considered reply. The great human rights activist, Andrei Sakharov, said that we must be even-handed in looking at human rights abuse. If our country—one of the most enlightened in the world—puts trade above human rights, it is easy to understand why other countries turn a blind eye to rights such as freedom of belief. It is a right so central in Sikhism that our ninth guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, gave his life defending the right of Hindus—a different religion from his own—against forced conversion by the then Mughal rulers.

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We can list human rights abuse for ever and a day without making a jot of difference if we and other great powers continue to put trade and power bloc politics above human rights. We start each day in this House with Prayers to remind us to act in accord with Christ’s teachings. He, like Guru Nanak, reminded us never to put material gain before concern for our fellow beings. We need to act on such far-sighted advice.

I look forward to hearing my friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, and wish him well in his retirement.

5.08 pm

The Lord Bishop of Leicester (Valedictory Speech): My Lords, I want to add my thanks to that of so many others to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing this matter before us, not least as it provides me with an opportunity to make a final speech to your Lordships’ House on a matter of such overwhelming importance.

My retirement, I am delighted to say, will in some small way enhance religious freedom in this House by providing a seat for the first female Lord Spiritual in history to occupy this Bench in the autumn. It is especially good to be following the noble Lord, Lord Singh, whose contributions here testify to the commitment of this House to religious freedom in so many ways.

The spread of global religious revival in the 21st century is described by Mickelthwait and Wooldridge in their book God is Back. They argue that it is fuelled by market competition and a customer-driven approach to salvation. In the five years since its publication, they could not have imagined how those principles would mutate into the present appalling world crisis, so vividly described by so many speakers. The challenge to religious freedoms derives in part from treating faith as a consumer preference rather than the most profound definition of what it is to be human.

In my 16 years as Bishop of Leicester, we have learned much about the principles and practice of religious freedom and the way it shapes the deepest contours of the human psyche. As well as having local applications, that also has international implications. The first principle is that it is not enough simply to defend religious freedom; it has to be positively exercised in ways that encourage others to embrace it. It involves drawing on the spiritual resources of faith to unlock the best in others, to speak on behalf of the voiceless and to create community. When a young Nigerian Christian was murdered in Highfields in Leicester two years ago, there was an immediate retaliatory attack on an entirely innocent Muslim family, killed by a fire bomb on the same day. The tensions were palpable, but were eventually calmed by systematic, careful conversations and the public ritualising of grief and reconciliation on both sides.

Secondly, the principle that religious freedom is an inalienable right means that we interpret an attack on one faith as an attack on all peoples of faith. Treasuring the dignity of every human being includes treasuring the rights of others to their beliefs, especially when we disagree. That is why the Muslim leadership turned out in strength the other day at Leicester Cathedral to respect the victims of the Sousse massacre two weeks ago.

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Thirdly, freedom is not a passive state. It results from the dynamic process of actively learning how others live and what they believe, and of sustained and co-operative support for each other in shared enterprises. Here, too, local practice can inform international strategy. We need to learn the best habits of face-to-face conversations with those we disagree with, especially over the big challenges of the day—climate change, poverty, conversions, gender equality and so on.

It has been an immense privilege to play a small part in the life of this House over the last 12 years and to Convene the Bishops’ Bench for six of them. It has confirmed me in the belief that the presence of the Bishops here serves rather than impedes religious freedom in countless ways. It has been rewarded with friendships, kindnesses, courtesies and opportunities far beyond my expectations or desserts. I am deeply grateful for that and even more grateful for the responsibility to think and speak carefully about how a vision of the kingdom of Jesus Christ can still shape and inform public policy today. Your Lordships’ House deserves the attention, interest and prayers of all people. It will certainly have mine in the years ahead.

5.12 pm

Lord Carey of Clifton (CB): As the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, is not able to be in the House today, it falls to me to thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for his remarkable contribution over many years to this House and to wish him every success in what he goes on to do.

I join other Peers in thanking my noble friend Lord Alton for introducing this debate. As with other important human issues, he is so often the conscience of this House, and we are in his debt once more.

The freedom to think, change one’s mind, change religion, become an atheist, become a believer, and belong to tolerant and open societies is among the blessings of being a human person. Thus enshrined as Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this great moral principle emerged from the last world war, in which millions of people were murdered because they were different. Now, 67 years later, this great article of freedom is under attack in many parts of the world.

Others have described very graphically the situation facing Christian believers and others in many different parts of the world. The recent report, Global Persecution, produced by the Maranatha community, and the report launched in November by the charity Aid to the Church in Need, Religious Freedom in the World, which my noble friend Lord Alton mentioned, describe the way minorities in the Middle East, especially Christians, are being targeted. Speaking about this in November, as my noble friend also mentioned, the Prince of Wales described Christians as being “grotesquely and barbarously assaulted” in the Middle East. Many of us are very grateful to the Prince of Wales for the stance that he has taken on religious freedom over the years. His courageous and forthright statements have won the admiration of many and he has set an example that I fervently wish our senior politicians had the boldness to emulate. But it is not just Christians that Article 18 seeks to protect. It sets forth the humanist

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vision of thought: freedom for the Yazidis in Iraq, for Shia Muslims in Sunni territories and for Sunnis in Shia lands, and the freedom to embrace atheism or agnosticism, should one wish to do so.

The fact that we have to face honestly is that so much of the trouble is in countries dominated by Islam; let us get to the heart of this. Yet, in the past, Islam has flourished as a beacon of civilisation and tolerance. Indeed, one of the finest texts in the Koran states:

“There is no compulsion in religion”.

The verse is often used in interfaith contexts to show the broadmindedness of Islam. But we have to recognise that the plain meaning of that text is questioned by many Muslim scholars today. In my view—dare I say it as a non-Muslim?—this verse contains all that is necessary for Muslims to start the journey towards free, tolerant and pluralist societies. However, the rhetoric is fine but the reality is very different. It grieves me to say that there are not many Muslim-majority countries in which the freedom set out in Article 18 exists. Of course, there are Muslim countries where other faiths are tolerated but, even in those more tolerant nations, Christians cannot share their faith openly and advertise it; and Muslims cannot, with any ease, choose another faith, should they so desire.

Intolerance seems to be spreading. There has recently been a spate of church and mosque burnings in Israel, which is very disappointing as Israel has every justification for claiming to be the only democratic nation in the Middle East. Among the buildings burnt was the famous Tabgha church, which commemorates the multiplication of loaves and fishes in the gospel story.

During my time as Archbishop of Canterbury, I challenged Muslim leaders worldwide to embrace the principle of reciprocity; it remains a dream and an ideal. Here in the United Kingdom there is no barrier to belief and no restriction on believers, as long as we all behave within the breadth of British law. The ideal of reciprocity demands that people of all nations should work together to ensure that freedom to change and grow is granted to all of us, men and women alike.

5.17 pm

Baroness Howells of St Davids (Lab): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who often places a demand on this House to examine what, for believers, is God’s big idea. This debate asks us to examine an idea that was introduced by the creator, as Christians believe. The author Myles Munroe suggests that the idea is beyond the philosophical reserves of human history. The big idea appears to have germinated all religions to which humans adhere. Today we examine the big idea and ask: have we achieved it—a culture of equality, peace, unity and respect for human dignity? No, we have not.

Faith has always played a major role in the lives of individuals and institutions. It is the basis on which we build our lives and our perspective of the world. Faith is the belief that, even in the darkest of times, there is still hope to hold on to. But as our world has become

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more intolerant and more hateful, the candlelight that guides believers from all denominations is being forcibly snuffed out at an alarming rate.

The deprioritisation by the international community of upholding the right to freedom of religion set out in Article 18 has had a detrimental effect on all human rights of the persecuted. Not only are they forced to worship in secret but, if caught, they can be murdered, tortured, imprisoned, beaten and even expelled from public life, including from the right to vote. According to a report by Open Doors, 100 million Christians face persecution worldwide. That is 100 million people from just one faith, having all their rights stripped away. If we show solidarity and do more to protect the rights of marginalised religious groups across the globe, I am sure we shall see an increase in respect for human rights as a whole. Can man ever be truly free if he is not allowed to have his own thoughts? If a believer can stare down the barrel of a gun and state, “My belief shall not be shaken”, we must be brave enough to stand up and say to those oppressive governments, “It is time to protect your civilians, who committed no crime but to have faith”.

However, we must lead by example as faith has long been the bones behind the laws of our country. But now the laws of our country are breaking those bones. How can we champion human rights and freedom if we do not implement Article 18 to its full extent? There has been a worrying trend emerging in British politics, a trend that is moving to oppress the freedoms of religious minorities. We say we are a Christian nation, yet there is nothing Christian in the actions of the Government in recent weeks. Article 18 can be invoked when a Government or organisation enacts a policy that unfairly impacts on minority religious groups. The two-child tax credit limit will have a distinct impact on the rights of many Catholics who, as a choice of their conscience, do not use contraception. Giving them a choice between poverty or breaking their religious code is a distinct attack on freedom of belief and conscience.

Further limitations on religious freedom have come from the heart of Westminster in a package that is supposed to suppress terrorism and protect our western values. I hope this House agrees with me that you cannot protect democracy and freedom by taking away democracy and freedom, yet that appears to be the aim of the Prevent strategy and the passing of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.

5.23 pm

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, not only for initiating the debate but preying on my conscience and encouraging me to contribute. Sadly, history shows us that religious wars and conflicts are not new. However, in modern times there has been more of an acceptance that those of different faiths and none have to get on together and at least tolerate one’s fellow man, if not necessarily love him.

We have heard and will hear from other noble Lords of repression and lack of freedoms in the current unstable world situation. As a Jew, I feel strongly about the Holocaust, which touched my own

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family, who lost a grandmother and an aunt in Poland in the 1940s. So, I was very moved to hear reports of a rescue operation last week to seek, in a modest way, to take action against the barbaric treatment of Christian sects in the IS heartland of Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisation. This appears to be an operation by the Barnabas Fund, an international relief agency for the persecuted church with the financial co-operation of certain Jewish organisations and philanthropists, to transfer Christian families to safe havens. I understand that this in an ongoing project to evacuate Christians from those lands where they have dwelt for 2,000 years. What these Christian communities are experiencing is not new to the Jewish communities throughout the Middle East and North Africa, whose persecution led to an exodus of some 850,000 Jews from Arab lands.

The clash of faiths causes these confrontations. It may seem a paradox but the country in the Middle East that is most welcoming to Christians, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, mentioned in passing, is Israel. Christianity is one of the recognized religions in Israel and is practised by more than 161,000 Israeli citizens—about 2.1% of the population. In Israel, there are approximately 300 Christians who have chosen to convert from Islam. Very sadly, such apostasy is not allowed in much of the rest of the Middle East. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave a graphic description of many of the injustices that take place and which I cover with the word “apostasy”. I will not repeat them as he did it so well.

Adversity, however, does reveal heroes. A few days ago, one of the heroes of the Holocaust died at the age of 106. I refer of course to Sir Nicolas Winton, who organised eight trains to take 669 children to London from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. The British people made room for these refugees and I can only hope that in Britain and the rest of Europe we will rise to the challenge in the present times. We are so fortunate in the United Kingdom but the tolerance we have requires vigilance to ensure that it stays that way. When we see the intolerance of people’s religion and beliefs in many parts of the world, which has been referred to by other noble Lords, we must praise the courage and resilience of those affected; many would have given way to despair.

In the modern world, many now describe themselves as secular. But a very large number of people, as has been mentioned by other noble Lords, follow one of the three Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Although all three of these faiths share a common history and traditions, they too often emphasise their differences rather than their common beliefs. Christianity has, I believe, 2 billion adherents, Islam 1.3 billion, and Judaism, which comes slightly further behind, a mere 14 million. But there are splits within all these religions, be they Catholic-Orthodox, Catholic-Protestant, Shia- Sunni, or Orthodox-Reform. Whatever the differences, as the Motion before us says, we should as a nation uphold freedom of religion and belief and not enforce or impose our beliefs on others by the sword. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, whom I must compliment on his superb speech, talked about defending religious freedom. That is what this is about. But it is also about allowing one to give up

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one’s faith, to change one’s faith, or to have no faith; it is a defence of freedom, of which religion is a part. I will end with the words of Nelson Mandela:

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison”.

5.28 pm

Baroness O’Loan (CB): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for enabling this important debate. Freedom of religion or belief is not only a fundamental human right in itself: as Pope John Paul II said, it is a,

“litmus test for the respect of all other human rights”.

Wherever Article 18 is compromised, other violations almost inevitably follow.

I endorse the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, in relation to the UK’s modelling of support for freedom of religion and conscience and particularly, as a Catholic, his words in relation to the Catholic adoption agencies. Freedom of religion and conscience is very important in this country still. We have Christian medical practitioners who face massive challenges of conscience simply in doing their jobs. They may even have to leave their jobs in order to comply with their conscience. We need as a country to think again about how we enable and reflect support for freedom of religion and conscience.

As we have heard today, millions in the world are deprived of this most basic freedom and face torture, imprisonment, harassment and even death because of their beliefs. But we can make a difference. Despite the current controversy about the outworking of the European Convention on Human Rights, the UK has a proud history of protecting human rights across the world. We have worked closely with the churches—often the last remaining network of communication in conflicted societies.

In recent years the UK has led the world in historic initiatives to tackle some of the most challenging issues, including modern slavery and sexual violence in warfare. With the same level of commitment, cross-party support and co-operation with our partners in the international community, there is an opportunity to make the principles of Article 18 a reality for so many more people. The UN has stated that,

“no manifestation of religion or belief may amount to propaganda for war or advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”.

It is extremely encouraging that the Government have made a manifesto commitment to stand up for freedom of religion and I look forward to hearing more detail from the Minister about how this will be put into practice. In particular, will promoting freedom of religion or belief be included as a specific priority in the FCO business plan? Will extra resources be provided to assist our diplomatic missions, particularly those covering the most difficult parts of the world, in achieving this?

Some of the most appalling abuses are taking place in Iraq and Syria, where ISIL continues to slaughter and enslave adherents of minority religions. I will touch briefly upon Iraq’s Kurdish region, where almost 2 million people have found sanctuary so far. It is a

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testament to the Kurdish Regional Government that although their population has already grown by a staggering 28% as a result of the refugee influx, they continue to keep their doors open and provide security for people fleeing Mosul or the Nineveh Plains. Many of these refugees are Christians or Yazidis who have seen their family members killed, their businesses seized and their places of worship destroyed. Alongside the local authorities, Christian communities are providing shelter, food, et cetera, to the refugees. The Catholic Church in Irbil alone is accommodating more than 125,000 people, including many Yazidi families. Will the Minister outline what support we are providing to help the Kurdish Regional Government and churches in the region?

Reference has already been made to the thousands of Rohingya Muslims who are making treacherous and often fatal journeys across the Andaman Sea, trying to escape escalating persecution at the hands of Burma’s authorities. Hate speech and xenophobic attacks are allowed to continue unchallenged. The Rohingya have been denied citizenship, cajoled into camps and prevented from accessing humanitarian assistance. The Burmese Government have also passed a package of laws targeting religious minorities which may prevent people converting, marrying or even starting a family. These laws have been condemned by Burma’s first Catholic cardinal, Charles Bo. In a response to me in this Chamber recently, the Minister agreed with that condemnation. Will she update us on the UK’s response to the Burmese package of laws? I would also be grateful for an outline of any recent discussions with other states about the rescue and accommodation of Rohingya refugees.

In Iran, under the principle of the absolute rule of the clergy—velayat-e faqih—during this Ramadan at least 900 people were arrested and many were flogged for not fasting. There is no freedom not to be religious. Many of the sentences against the youth were carried out in public. I would be most grateful if the Minister could confirm the representations that have been made in respect of this. I am encouraged by the Government’s commitment and welcome the opportunity to discuss how the UK will play its part.

5.33 pm

Lord Sheikh (Con): My Lords, I speak today as a Muslim. I also speak as somebody who cherishes the role that all faiths and communities play. I undertake a lot of work with other religious groups. I am a patron of several Muslim and non-Muslim organisations that promote religious harmony.

Our respective religions teach us valuable lessons in morality, help us interpret the world around us and give us guidance when we are in need. For many people, their religion is very precious to them. I agree wholeheartedly with the Motion: a greater priority should be given by the United Kingdom and the international community to upholding freedom of religion and belief.

It is right that everybody in the world should be entitled to this freedom. However, it is being violated by some misguided people. This debate is very topical because of events taking place across the Middle East

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and north Africa. My glorious religion of Islam is being hijacked by a tiny minority who have misrepresented it and wholly, totally wrongly portrayed the true message of Islam. I emphasise that Islam is indeed a religion of peace.

What is happening in these countries is strongly against the principles of Islam. What Daesh is doing and saying in Syria, Iraq and other places is totally wrong and un-Islamic. I remind them that it is written in the Holy Koran that there should be no compulsion in religion and that no one should be forced to become a Muslim. The Holy Koran celebrates different beliefs as a means of connecting with people. It is written in the Holy Koran:

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another”.

My religion teaches us to know and be friendly to people of other faiths. Islam is one of the Abrahamic religions and, according to Islam, the People of the Book are the Jews and Christians. The books of Allah are the Holy Koran, the Torah, the Gospel of Jesus and the Psalms of David. There has been a case in London where a Somali Muslim mosque was damaged and the Jewish community allowed them to pray in the synagogue. We appreciate this very much.

Two of the most successful emperors of India were Akbar the Great, who was a Muslim, and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who was a Sikh. They both allowed all religious groups to live in harmony in their empires. I hold great personal admiration for Maharaja Ranjit Singh. I have written a book about him that will be published shortly. There are more similarities than differences between people, and we should highlight the similarities in order to establish closer links between communities. It should also be noted that allowing freedom of religion often brings stability and prosperity to a country. As a businessman, I have found it to be beneficial for economic and social development, as well as for the religious communities themselves.

We must use this debate to commend and celebrate what is happening in the United Kingdom. Although the Church of England is the official church, people of all religions are allowed to practise their respective faiths. We are a tolerant and respectful people. This country should be viewed as a model for others to follow. We cannot overstate the importance attached to upholding Article 18, yet so many abuses and violations of it continue to take place. We must lead the world in ensuring that people feel free to practise their religion, both in private and in public. May God help us to achieve this.

5.38 pm

Lord Sacks (CB): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for enabling us again to address this vital issue of religious freedom, and I salute the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for chairing the APPG on International Religious Freedom or Belief. I salute the courage of both of them in confronting perhaps the single greatest humanitarian issue of our time. I add my thanks to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for his warm, wise and inspiring contributions to public life, and wish him blessings in the years ahead.

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Three things have happened to change the religious landscape of the world. First, the secular nationalist regimes that appeared in many parts of the world in the 20th century have given rise to powerful religious counter-revolutions. Secondly, these counter-revolutions are led by religion in its most extreme, adversarial and anti-Western form. Thirdly, the revolution in information technology has allowed these groups to form, organise and communicate to actual and potential followers throughout the world with astonishing speed. The internet is to radical political religions what printing was to Martin Luther. It allows them to circumvent and outflank all existing structures of power. The result has been the politicisation of religion and the religionising of politics, which, throughout history, has been a deadly combination. In the long run, it will threaten us all, because in a global age no country or culture is an island.

We must do, minimally, three things. First, given that religious freedom is enshrined as Article 18 in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there should be, under the auspices of the United Nations, a global gathering of religious leaders and thinkers to formulate an agreed set of principles that are sustainable theologically within their respective faiths and on which member nations can be called to account. Otherwise, Article 18 will continue to be a utopian ideal.

Secondly, we must do the theological work. That is fundamental. After the wars of religion of the 16th and 17th centuries, a group of thinkers, among them John Milton, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Benedict Spinoza, sat down, reread the Bible and formulated some of the most important ideas ever formulated about state and society: the social contract, the moral limits of power, the liberty of conscience, the doctrine of toleration and the very concept of human rights. These were religious ideals based on the Bible, which is what John F Kennedy meant when he said in his inaugural address that,

“the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God”.

We have not yet done the theological work for a global society in the information age, and not all religions in the world are yet fully part of that conversation. But if we neglect the theology, all else will fail.

Thirdly, we must stand together—the people of all faiths and of none—for we are all at risk. Christians are being persecuted throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. Jews are facing a new and resurgent anti-Semitism. Muslims who stand on the wrong side of the Sunni-Shia divide are being killed in great numbers. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha’i and others face persecution in some parts of the world. There must be some set of principles that we can appeal to, and be held accountable to, if our common humanity is to survive our religious differences. Religious freedom is about our common humanity, and we must fight for it if we are not to lose it. This, I believe, is the issue of our time.

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5.43 pm

Lord Harrison (Lab): My Lords, I speak in today’s debate as a loyal member of God’s Opposition. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for highlighting both the freedom of religion and the freedom of belief in the titles of this Article 18 debate and of the all-party group over which the noble Baroness so impressively presides. I also thank Christian Solidarity Worldwide, not only for providing me with excellent material concerning the persecution of atheists and secularists in Egypt and Indonesia but for its pastoral prison visit to Alex Aan, jailed in Jakarta as an atheist.

We atheists must show solidarity with our religious colleagues over religious persecution, especially at a time when atheists and secularists are increasingly joining the growing list of people persecuted worldwide for the beliefs they uphold, whether religious or otherwise. The horror of machete-wielding Islamists slaying humanist bloggers in Bangladesh recently was admirably highlighted by the brave Bonya Ahmed in her recent address to the British Humanist Association at the annual Voltaire lecture.

In the United Kingdom, many will be heartened by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent observation that religious freedom demands space to be challenged and defended, without responding destructively. This echoed Rowan Williams’s reservation in 2013 that sometimes UK and US Christians exaggerate mild discomfort over social issues such as pro-gay legislation while failing to emphasise systematic brutality and often murderous hostility practised by religious fanatics abroad.

I asked the Minister why humanists and atheists in Britain are still thoughtlessly excluded from contributing to Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day”. Why does the DCMS stolidly exclude the Defence Humanists, formerly the UK Armed Forces Humanist Association, from the annual Cenotaph commemoration? Do dead non-believers, fallen in war defending our cherished values, not deserve a silent vigil in the public square? And why are we conducting this debate in the House of Lords, which still reserves a privileged place for the state religion?

I encourage colleagues not to take the opportunity of the occasional ad hominem criticism of distinguished atheists such as Richard Dawkins. I ask the Minister to reply to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about the FCO and whether we are promoting business and trade, which I thoroughly encourage. However, we should use some of our resources to ensure that we promote Article 18 in all its aspects. Can she also update us on what is happening with the blasphemy laws in Malta, and in Iceland, although it is not part of the European Union?

Finally, will Her Majesty’s Government ensure that the hopes and aspirations of non-believers like me are not suppressed by careless oversight when we take our rightful place in the public square?

5.48 pm

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass (Ind UU): My Lords, I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Alton for his tenacity in pursuing this issue. No one whom I have known during my 32 years in Parliament has

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been so consistent in his adherence to and struggle for the proper implementation of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I intend to use the very short time available to me to consider whether we in the United Kingdom lead by example in respect of our own practice of Article 18 or whether we are a society where leadership is generally content to pay mere lip service. Often it appears to me that we are regularly subjected to the excitement of individualistic excesses that elevate individual selfishness above and beyond the traditional and tried practices and discipline with which I grew up.

Of course society evolves, but why does that mean that some, like the Reverend Richard Page JP, a faithful, public-spirited magistrate in Kent for 15 years and a long-respected member of the Family Court, should be officially and publicly pilloried because, as a practising Christian, he expressed to colleagues, in private, how he was able to reconcile his public duties with his Christian faith? Is there any justice in the fact that the Lord Chancellor in the previous coalition Government should seek to justify having suspended Richard Page by having imposed remedial training in a manner that is little different from the brain-washing and conditioning so beloved of totalitarian states?

Do not tell me that the environment is different. It is not about the difference between chairs and chains; it is about the impact on society. Richard Page’s persecution by Lord Chancellor Grayling began on 2 July 2014 and continues into the second year. In the interim, he is denied even the right to express his opinion to the press. So what was Richard Page’s offence that has nullified the last days of an exemplary working life? He had stated that his lawful and considered judgment that it is better for children to be adopted by both a father and a mother derived from his faith. When a same-sex male couple from Belfast sought precedence over a normal foster couple, he made a decision. Well done Richard Page—and I say that as a father and grandfather.

Where will this case lead? Back in 2010, ex-Lord Chancellor Grayling had been on the other side of the fence when he had supported the rights of owners of bed and breakfast establishments to refuse accommodation to gay couples. Perhaps I should quote the ex-Lord Chancellor at that time, but I shall not. I shall simply ask: what could possibly have induced him to change? Is the future of children less relevant than who may soil the bed linen? Where does this presumptuous and intellectually questionable logic take us in respect of the sixth and eighth commandments? Sorry, I must not mention such things as the sixth and eighth commandments. It is a good job I cannot be suspended—although some may seek to explore the possibility.

I was, of course, alluding to how we must implement our laws on theft and murder. If some intellectual snob decides to undermine them, I take it that the rest of us may be denied any right to mention our Christian or social heritage. I just do not have time to elaborate on other current matters of conscience, such as where Christian bakers are now, apparently, bound by law to promote and advocate matters that offend

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their Christian faith. Is that what equality is? Of course, I am protected here—unlike those street preachers in our society who the police are so easily persuaded have given offence.

I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us about the implementation and continuation of Article 18 within our society.

5.53 pm

Lord Scott of Foscote (CB): My Lords, I am very grateful, as are noble Lords who have expressed their feelings to me, to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for arranging this debate. I have heard nothing in the course of it with which I have found any possible point of disagreement. I do not want to repeat everything everybody else has said far more lucidly and fluently than I can. I just want to add a few family details that give me a perspective that may be a little different.

Both of my grandfathers were Church of England clergyman. I was brought up as an Anglican and I was sent, as was my sister, to an Anglican school. This was in South Africa. We both came over to England, where all my relations were Anglicans. Accordingly, when in Chicago in 1959 I met, fell in love with and married a Panamanian Latin American Catholic, I wondered what her reception by the rest of the family would be. It was absolutely perfect. They loved her and had the same feelings towards her as I had become accustomed to them having towards me.

The reason I mention this is that that was in a way a mixed marriage, because Anglicans marrying Catholics was not that usual in South Africa. I do not know if it was usual in England, as I was not in England then. The two of us were blessed with four children—two boys and two girls—each of whom was christened and brought up as a Catholic. When I married my wife, I had to sign a chit to say that I agreed to all my children being brought up as Catholics. I was perfectly happy with that. The four children we had are themselves all married and had children, so I have 12 grandchildren.

Two of my children converted and became Muslims. Of my 12 grandchildren, seven of them are Muslims—I was going to say “little Muslims”, but they are not so little, because the oldest is 21 or 22. Of the 12 grandchildren, seven are Muslims, three are Catholic and two are not really anything. Their relationship with one another is as close—as familial—as it could possibly be. They all know that there are differences between them and that they are of different religions, and it does not matter a jot. I can see no conceivable reason why it should. The ones who have no religion at all are always quite curious about what the others believe. The ones who have a religion, have two different religions—Christianity and Islam—which are both monotheistic religions. I do not know whether this is how they would put it, but as far as I am concerned, if there is a God, which I certainly hope there is, they are all worshipping the same God, albeit in slightly different ways.

I simply cannot believe that the divine being—assuming there is one—really minds a jot in what manner the worship takes place, provided that it is sincere and truly meant. Accordingly, having Muslims and Christians

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in one family has been no problem at all. They stay with one another; they stay with their aunts and uncles of different religions; the Muslims come and stay with their Christian aunts and uncles and vice versa.

I have been saddened by listening to the remarks made by a number of your Lordships. I am sure that they all relate accurately the horrors and sadnesses that have happened, but nothing of my own experience of a family with mixed Muslims and Christians bears any resemblance to that. Nor do I see any reason why it should with anyone else. As I have said, the fact that there are different religions should not matter, and I believe does not matter. That is the only addition I wanted to make to what has already been said, with which I fully agree.

5.58 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords, since the noble Lord, Lord Alton, initiated a more general debate a year ago, the situation has surely become worse in terms of compliance with the universal declaration. I am appalled by the hypocrisy of so many countries ready to sign up to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and yet ready to deny their citizens those same rights. Of course, one worrying development since the 1948 universal declaration is the development of non-state actors such as Boko Haram, ISIS or failed states such as the Central African Republic where the Government do not exist or are incapable of preventing violations. But the 1948 principles are universal and attempts to circumvent them by devices such as blasphemy laws should fail. There are no exemptions. We should support all persecuted minorities. I note that of the 49 countries of a Muslim culture, 17 tolerate no other religion. What should we do—what can we do—about these violations?

I shall avoid a Cook’s tour of all the defaulting countries, but I shall draw attention to some key themes. First, we are fortunate to have so much material available from official, semi-official and unofficial sources. We in this country are blessed to have so many non-governmental organisations in the field, many of them based here, such as CSW, Open Doors, Maranatha, Barnabas and Aid to the Church in Need. As a general point, although our focus today is on Article 18, those countries that respect religious minorities are also those with the best human rights records across the board.

Secondly, there are many temptations for Governments and diplomats in the field. The professional deformation of diplomats is the wish to be loved and not to offend, so often, human rights are marginalised or given a lower status in the hierarchy. Governments may claim that they use a big stick but they do so only in private, although I accept that in certain cases, such as China, private representations may be the most effective means to help individuals. The other temptation is to be strong on the weak but weak on the strong. For example, of the nine countries designated by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, three, including Saudi Arabia, are,

“for reasons of important national interest”,

given an indefinite waiver, which clearly undermines the impact of that.

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Thirdly, we in the UK are fortunate because of our membership of so many international organisations. The question surely is: what use do we make of that membership? What value do we add in terms of violations of religious and human rights? What initiatives, for example, have we made in the UN, where we are now a member of the UN Human Rights Council? In the EU, do we believe that the External Action Service is adequately staffed? Are there human rights experts in the Cabinet of the high representative? Do we support conditionality in aid and development policies? The Commonwealth, as we know, has made grand declarations such as the Harare declaration and the Commonwealth Charter, yet 10 Commonwealth countries appear in the Open Doors watch list, including Malaysia, where recently life has become much harder for Christians.

Broadly, we in the UK give a relatively good example of human rights at home. However, mention has already been made of the disastrous policy in respect of the Catholic adoption agencies and the suffering of young people as a result. By passing to other agencies, this could quite easily have been avoided.

The FCO’s human rights report has improved over the years. Consultation with NGOs has become more formalised but we need to look carefully at models in other countries and see whether we can improve our position, because we have not reached perfection. I do not have time to look at all the examples, such as the example of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom or what the State Department does in its annual report on international religious freedom to encourage improvements and to give help to immigration officials.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con): Could the noble Lord conclude his remarks?

Lord Anderson of Swansea: We should not be afraid to learn from others. I commend the work of the Minister, but we must rely not on individuals but on improving our institutions as well.

6.04 pm

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood (CB): My Lords, it is unsurprising that the bulk of today’s debate should have focused on the many ghastly violations of Article 18 that, alas, continue to disfigure so many parts of the world. However, with some small encouragement from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, whose introduction to this debate was, as ever, compelling, I intend instead to focus on a much narrower question that sometimes arises: when the right to manifest—not to hold, but to manifest—one’s religion or belief must surrender to the rights and interests of others. It is a question that has exercised the courts of this country and elsewhere on a number of occasions.

Article 18 of the universal declaration appears on the face of it to confer two unqualified rights: the right to freedom of religion or belief, and the right to manifest that religion or belief. But that is not quite so. It is widely recognised not to be so in international law, including, most relevantly for our purposes, in Article 9 of the European Convention, which, of course, is the equivalent provision and is now incorporated under domestic law here. Article 9.1 of the convention is in effectively identical terms to Article 18 of the

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universal declaration, but Article 9.2 makes it plain that the manifestation of one’s religion or belief is a qualified, not an absolute, right. It provides for limitations to the right,

“in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

It is generally the protection of the rights and freedoms of others and, above all, the increasing recognition of the rights of others, in particular gays and lesbians, not to be discriminated against that has led to much of the litigation under this provision.

Take the Supreme Court case of Bull and Bull—touched on recently, if perhaps a little tendentiously, by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis—which held that Christian hotelkeepers, however strongly held their belief that homosexual practices are sinful, could not on that ground alone refuse to let a double-bed room to a homosexual couple. The court pointed out that Strasbourg requires very weighty reasons to justify discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Another case mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, was the Northern Irish one, just two months back, which held that a bakery had unlawfully discriminated against a gay supporter of same-sex marriage for whom they had initially agreed, but later refused, to bake a cake iced with a logo including the slogan, “Support gay marriage”.

There was also Strasbourg’s decision two years ago, in a group of United Kingdom cases concerning religion in the workplace, to dismiss three of the four applications, including those of Lillian Ladele, a civil registrar for Islington, who was disciplined for violating the borough’s “dignity for all” policy by refusing to register partnerships because of her belief that homosexuality is sinful; and Gary McFarlane, a sex therapist dismissed by Relate, a counselling charity, for refusing, on the same grounds, to provide sex therapy for same-sex couples. Similarly, under Article 9.2, in 2005, in the Williamson case, the appeal committee in this House rejected the claimants’ asserted right as teachers and parents at a school established specifically to provide Christian education based on biblical observance to use corporal punishment despite contrary legislation. Indeed, the next year in the Denbigh High School case we rejected a Muslim schoolgirl’s claim to have been wrongly excluded from the school unless she wore the school uniform instead of the jilbab she insisted on wearing. Many of your Lordships will recall too the recent Crown Court ruling that a woman must remove her Muslim veil, charged as she was with victim intimidation, so that the jury could properly observe her facial expression.

These are just some of the many cases which show that, absolute though one’s right to freedom of religion and belief is, in deciding whether to exercise it there are other important interests and considerations in play. Believe whatever you wish, but in your behaviour think of others too. Surely that is a sound precept.

6.09 pm

Lord Alderdice (LD): My Lords, we have all been done a great service by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of

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Liverpool, in obtaining this debate and giving us the opportunity not just to speak but to listen and think about these matters.

I, too, start by declaring interests. One is the research work that I do at Oxford University and the other is that of being, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, a practising Christian—practising for many years but seemingly no nearer to expertise, but that is the way of these things.

I want not to go back over the many things that have been said by other noble Lords but to refer to some of my own experience in these matters. Very understandably, noble Lords have outlined the horrible evidences of religious intolerance and radical political belief which have led to horrible violence and which continue, seemingly ever worsening, all around the world. It is understandable that we focus on that because it raises our emotions of fear, anguish, hurt and sometimes even hate, but of course what we are speaking about there is the right to life, not just the right to a belief or a religious faith. In a way, we are both very privileged and a little disadvantaged by working in this place, where there is an enormous amount of tolerance. People are prepared to listen to each other and to accept great differences of belief of different kinds.

In passing, I say that we are foolish if we think that there is religious belief and unbelief. The truth is that people who do not have religious beliefs have beliefs of their own. Perhaps there has tended to be the notion that we can resolve a lot of these matters if we simply put religious beliefs into a private box and have a society where some other kind of belief—whatever it is—runs the show or has a prevailing effect. However, the truth is that religious faith, like any other kind of belief, impacts entirely on your way of being in the world and on your community and its way of being in the world. Thinking that somehow or other it is possible to say, “Well, that doesn’t really matter”, says something about your kind of belief; it does not say anything about whether you are a believer of some description. You cannot not believe: you have a set of views, and it is very important for us to understand that.

I come to this with my own background in a particular part of the United Kingdom. Sometimes people would like to forget that it is part of the United Kingdom because of some of the symptoms of behaviour there, particularly in relation to matters such as this, but I am afraid that it is. Maybe it reminds the rest of the United Kingdom of its history and background. Many of the things that are still troublesome in Northern Ireland were troublesome in the rest of the United Kingdom not so very long ago. Noble Lords would not expect me, from these Benches, to speak out particularly strongly in favour of the presence of an established church, although I have to say that in these last decades the Church of England has had a markedly positive effect, both in this Chamber and elsewhere. I particularly want to acknowledge the contribution of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester over many years. When I was Convenor of these Benches, I very much appreciated his work as Convenor of those Benches. I also want to mention the work of the most reverend Primate, who has taken a very strong line on these issues.

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I got to know the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in his role as Liberal spokesman on Northern Ireland. Back then, we had to face up to the fact that people had sets of beliefs which led to very intolerant behaviour and attitudes to each other. If I had gone to university in this part of the United Kingdom in the latter part of the 19th century, before the Liberal changes to universities legislation, I, as a dissenter, would not have been able to take a degree at Oxford or Cambridge.

Therefore, on the question of how we deal with these matters, we have progressed in certain ways but I fear that we have not progressed as much as we would like to believe we have, because there is a certain liberal intolerance towards people with various kinds of religious belief. That is clear—it has been mentioned—and it is absolutely true. I have seen it among a number of colleagues in various places. The view is, “It really would be much better if people just piped down about those kinds of things because they can be put in a private box”. However, they cannot. It may be inconvenient and difficult but the fact is that these are matters that drive people and are of profound importance to them. We have to struggle with these questions. As we try to struggle with them, what kinds of things can we take into account?

We must understand that, when it comes to tolerance in these matters, we face a very difficult challenge. The challenge is to differentiate between matters that we usually consider all together. The question of fundamentalism transcends all kinds of beliefs, religious and otherwise. I would find it much easier to reach agreement with people of different religious views, and people whose views are not religious, who had a liberal perspective on these matters. I would find myself much more different from Christians, or others of any description, who took a fundamentalist approach to these things—including those who are fundamentalist atheists. This notion of the way in which we hold our beliefs is extremely important. The noble Lord, Lord Sacks, picked up an extremely important part of this, which is that secular authoritarianism has led, as a reaction, to religious fundamentalism. We must acknowledge and understand that, and that has not been easy to deal with. An example is Turkey, where it was easy to support a secular regime and then be astonished at the reaction.

Secondly, we must differentiate between fundamentalism and radicalisation and the use of violence and terror. These are not the same thing. The vast majority of fundamentalists may well be intolerant of the religious beliefs of others—fundamentalism and conservatism are very different things—but that does not necessarily mean that they support violence. Indeed, many of those who support violence, including people in Daesh, do not come to it from a religious perspective at all. When His Holiness the Pope came to Ireland and said on bended knee to Catholic nationalist republicans, “Stop the violence”, they took no notice of him. They did not pay attention because the actual driver was something quite different. In a long conversation with a leading figure in al-Qaeda many years ago, I was talking about religious tolerance and he said, “Wait a minute. My issue is not about religion. It is about political identity and political problems”.

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So, as we try to explore these questions, we must hold back our emotions—because they are very strong—and think more deeply about these issues across the religious differences and across the differences between those who have religious faith and those whose set of beliefs is different. Therefore, to me, the most important question to the Minister is this: can the Foreign Office, DCLG and other departments of government give more attention and resource to thinking and research on these matters? That would deepen our understanding, so that when we respond—in all the difficult circumstances inside and outside our country—we may to do so with a depth of understanding that helps us to add to and make a difference to wider thinking about these matters, rather than simply reacting from our very understandable feelings.

6.18 pm

Lord Bach (Lab): My Lords, the ability of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to secure debates in this House has long been one of the wonders of the world. It may well have something to do with the important and fascinating subjects he selects for his debates. The debate on Article 18 has almost become an annual event, and so it should be. However, I wonder whether, without the noble Lord’s energy and commitment, it would have been. Congratulations are due to him, and to all the other very distinguished Peers who have spoken so well and movingly.

In some ways I find myself in a position where I do not have much that is original to add. We have heard marvellous speeches that have made the important points that must be made, and made again, until the world takes notice. In this debate we have heard horrific examples of appalling intolerance and discrimination from all over our planet and affecting all religions. On behalf of the Opposition I will try to say something useful and pose some questions for the Minister, who is, if I may say so, exactly the right Minister to be answering this debate.

Before I do, I hope that the House will indulge me for a moment or two—perhaps rather longer than would normally be the case—if I say something about the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, or Bishop Tim as he is universally known in Leicester and Leicestershire. I am proud to call myself a friend as well as a colleague. I live in the diocese he has led for the last 16 years, and I only wish that more noble Lords present today had been present at the service held last Saturday at Leicester Cathedral to celebrate his tenure. There was hardly a dry eye in the house. The respect and affection in which he is held by all—rich and poor, black and white, old and young—was shown not just by the packed cathedral, with people following the service from outside, but by the extraordinary feeling that a unique and very special person who had influenced Leicester so much, with all its diversity, was actually leaving.

The right reverend Prelate will be hugely missed in the city and in the county, just as he will be in this House. Above all, he seems to me as good an example as I have ever known of the priest in the public space—a phrase I do not like. In other words, he speaks to his community about issues that actually affect their daily lives. His passion for social justice, I

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know, has been heightened by his experience in Leicester. Frankly, I do not think that this House or our country can afford to lose him. On a slightly lighter note, how can one not admire a bishop who chooses for his desert island discs a song by the boy band, One Direction, and whose chosen luxury item was an infinite supply of golf balls?

Let us get back to this debate, not least the contribution of the right reverend Prelate himself. It has centred on the increasing violations of Article 18, as it affects Christianity and, equally importantly, all other religions and beliefs. The Human Rights and Democracy Report 2014,produced by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is a deeply depressing document but it forces us to face up to the reality that in our world today there are shocking examples, both collective and individual, of how religion is used—or perhaps, more properly, abused—to discriminate and act against others.

One of the worst consequences of any general election is that Parliament loses outstanding men and women who either retire or are unsuccessful in the election itself. These people, who come from all parties, of course, are often experts in particular policy areas, and their knowledge and experience is very much missed. One such, I would argue, is the former shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander who enjoyed a deserved reputation as an expert in the field that we are debating today. Some noble Lords will remember his article in the Telegraph at Christmas 2014, when he said:

“Faith leaders beyond the Christian community have been forceful in their campaigns on anti-Christian persecution, including former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who described it as ‘one of the crimes against humanity of our time’ and stated he was ‘appalled at the lack of protest it has evoked’. Just like anti-Semitism or Islamaphobia, anti-Christian persecution must be named for the evil that it is, and challenged systematically by people of faith and of no faith. Government should be doing much more to try and harness the concern, expertise and understanding of faith leaders from across the UK and beyond”.

He went on to say:

“A multi-faith advisory council on religious freedom should be established within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office”

In the same article, Mr Alexander suggested that the role of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, as Minister of Faith in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which was then removed to the Department for Communities and Local Government, should be returned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He hoped that Her Majesty’s Government would follow the lead of the United States and Canada in appointing an international ambassador for tackling religious persecution—in other words, a global envoy for religious freedom reporting directly to the Foreign Secretary of the day. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned, that was in my party’s manifesto in the election in May. Have the Government any plans to appoint such an ambassador or envoy and, if not, what reason can there be for not doing so? I also want to ask about the Minister of Faith role and the setting up of a multi-faith advisory committee.

No one doubts Her Majesty’s Government’s good faith in this debate, least of all that of the Minister, who represents her department so well, both in this

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House and outside it. No one is suggesting that there are any easy answers to the problem of the increased violation of Article 18. However, I suggest to the House that the steps Mr Alexander put forward might well be useful in showing the world that Britain is even more determined to fight religious intolerance wherever and whenever we see it. For far too long Article 18 has been justifiably called an orphaned right. It is well past time that this description no longer applied and that Article 18, at long last, becomes more of a reality.

6.26 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, freedom of religion or belief and the right to hold no belief is a key human right. It is under attack in almost every corner of the globe. We see Muslims sentenced to death for blasphemy; Christians burned in brick ovens or forced to give birth in chains; Yazidis trapped on mountains, their women abused as sex slaves; innocents attacked in their churches, synagogues and mosques, the very places they should feel most safe; and sledgehammers taken to religious and cultural artefacts in an attempt to obliterate centuries of faith and civilisation. The ongoing assault on freedom of religion or belief is absolutely unacceptable, and noble Lords have made that clear in their views today.

I would like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this very important debate, and to everyone who has made such valuable contributions today. If I may, I particularly add my support to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, in his tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester—it was well said by the noble Lord.

The debate has made very clear the scope and scale of the challenge. I would like to touch on some of the major challenges to freedom of religion or belief, explain why this Government have indeed made it a priority and inform the House of the work that we are doing to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief, and the right to hold no belief, around the world.

The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, referred to the blasphemy laws in Malta. We oppose blasphemy laws wherever they still exist.

This Government understand the scope and scale of the challenge—we, too, are horrified. The brutal terrorist group known as ISIL, or Daesh, is making the headlines every day with images of Christians executed on beaches or civilians being thrown off buildings for refusing to abandon their beliefs. I know that it is not just a matter of the cases that make the headlines. It is the steady and systematic bias against people on the basis of their faith, denying them a fair trial, proper investigation of complaints to the police and even adequate education for their children, all of which is potentially more far-reaching. Where there is a culture of impunity, which we condemn, people are taught to believe that followers of other religions are fair game, and then mob violence can so easily follow—and does. Where children are taught to hate those with different beliefs, this provides fertile soil for extremism to take root.

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Freedom of religion or belief is not just an optional extra, or nice to have; it is the key human right. It allows each citizen to follow their conscience in the way they see fit. As this Government made clear in our manifesto:

“We will stand up for the freedom of people of all religions—and non-religious people—to practise their beliefs in peace and safety”.

We are committed to defending the full right exactly as set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—that is,

“the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.

Quite apart from any legal or moral obligation, we promote religious freedom as essential to our social, cultural and economic development. That is why this Government have made freedom of religion and belief a priority, not just in the FCO but across government. It is enshrined in international law, it makes social sense and it is morally right.

So what are we doing? We have been working on this issue through a comprehensive multilateral, bilateral and projects-based approach. The UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 of March 2011 calls on all UN member states to take action against intolerance on the basis of religion or belief, and to promote the free and equal participation in society of all—both the religious and the non-religious. It has given us that important starting point. I vividly remember a meeting in Morocco earlier this year, in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, during which ambassadors from all points of the religious compass spoke to me of this resolution as something to hold onto in a time of crisis. We will continue to use our influence and diplomatic networks as effectively as possible. We are playing an active part in a new international contact group on FoRB, convened by Canada. Last month, I met the US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, David Saperstein, and we discussed areas where the international community might work more closely together. We will continue to encourage the EU to ensure that its guidelines on FoRB are put into practice in individual countries.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, asked whether we would reconsider having a global ambassador. We have our global ambassadors. They have their reach in every country on the globe and know how important it is that they promote freedom of religion and belief. It is not contradictory to say that we can trade with certain countries, provided that they do not contravene international humanitarian law. Our trade with them does not undermine our right to stand up for not only freedom of religion and belief but other human rights; we make that clear.

We are just as active on bilateral channels. Every Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office acts as an ambassador for this fundamental right. Each one of us, as a Minister, raises and promotes these issues in the countries or organisations for which we have responsibility. My noble friend Lady Berridge and others referred to Burma. We have raised our concern about the situation of the Rohingya community in all our recent ministerial contacts with the Burmese Government. Most recently, my honourable friend Mr Swire called the Burmese ambassador to the FCO on 18 May to express our concern about the Rohingya

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situation and the related migrant crisis in the Bay of Bengal. We urged Burma to act swiftly to deal with the humanitarian implications, but also to address the underlying causes.

We also seek to protect religious freedom through our project work. We support projects to tackle discriminatory legislation and attitudes, and we are working with human rights and faith-based organisations across the world to promote dialogue, build capacity, foster links and strengthen understanding. I had hoped to give a few examples but I will have to leave that for another occasion or I will not be able to allow the noble Lord, Lord Alton, a moment or two to respond; I know that we are pressing up against the deadline.

We are already addressing the question of how to make sure that freedom of religion and belief is addressed throughout the world. We use our full range of diplomatic response. However, I recognise—and I agree with noble Lords—that there remains so much more to do. I want to see us step up our engagement with individual Governments. Countries around the world need to know that Britain will stand up for this fundamental right. We must not be shy about coming forward.

In reply to the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others, I can say that we are deeply concerned at the imposition of the death penalty for blasphemy in the case of Asia Bibi and we hope that the verdict will be overturned on appeal.

The Prime Minister has raised our concern about the blasphemy law with Nawaz Sharif, and the UK supports the EU-led action to continue to raise this case with the Pakistan authorities.

Turning to the case of the Sudanese pastors, which was raised by the noble Lord, our ambassador has raised it at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Khartoum and with representatives of the ruling National Congress Party. As recently as 9 July, the UK special representative to Sudan and South Sudan raised our concerns about these specific cases with the Sudanese ambassador. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also referred to charges against Christian students. We will continue to call on the Government of Sudan to bring all their legislation in line with their constitutional and international human rights commitments. Noble Lords can be assured that these matters are part of the everyday work of our ambassadors around the world where FoRB is under threat.

I also want us as a Government to focus even more strongly on making freedom of religion or belief part of the answer to extremism. Where freedom of religion is protected, extremist ideologies are much less likely to take root. I want us to continue our focus on supporting the right of persecuted Christians, as well as those of all religions and none, to be able to stay in the Middle East, the region of their birth. We are already playing a leading role on this issue. At a UN Security Council debate on religious minorities in March, Tobias Ellwood, Minister for the Middle East, called for bold leadership from Governments and communities in the region to work for tolerance and reconciliation.

Over the coming months, we will continue to deepen our already strong engagement with academics, think tanks, NGOs, faith representatives and parliamentarians

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on how we may best develop our policies to support religious minorities in the Middle East. I was delighted to meet members of the APPG on International Religious Freedom or Belief recently, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with them as we further develop our policies.

We work with regional allies, helping them to ensure that the right legal frameworks are in place and supporting training initiatives to ensure that state and religious bodies understand the rights held by people from minorities. We are also considering further programmes to address the climate of impunity and legal discrimination, through training for security and police forces and sharing of UK best practice on reporting and prosecution of crimes. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about how important it is that we are able to provide support and training to the Iraqi Government to ensure people are protected, particularly in the north, to which he referred.

In parallel, I strongly believe that equipping our diplomats with a greater understanding of the key role faith plays in global politics helps us collectively to make better policy judgments and to understand when and where we can work with the grain of religious beliefs to further our human rights and other objectives. Therefore, we are increasing religious literacy training among FCO staff and across the whole of Whitehall. We are running regular training courses on religion and foreign policy, with a lively series of lunchtime seminars, and our new diplomatic academy contains an online foundation level module on religious literacy. FoRB is embedded in the work of all parts of the FCO both at home and abroad.

Just last month, I was pleased to host the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar in conversation about religion and foreign policy. It was a marvellous experience to see the place crowded with more than 200 diplomats and people from across all departments in Whitehall, with people around the world listening to that very important conversation. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, urged the Government that there should be cross-departmental thoughtfulness about investment in these matters. I agree with him, and we are addressing that.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised particular questions about China. I will be brief and say that we are saddened by reports that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche has died in detention in China. We have raised his case with the Chinese authorities on a number of occasions, including during the UK-China human rights dialogue in April this year. We support and encourage the EU statement of 15 July which said that the EU expected the Chinese authorities to investigate and make public the circumstances surrounding Tenzin’s death.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also asked about the Chinese Christian lawyers who were arrested this week as part of a major crackdown. He asked what will happen with the Chinese state visit later this year and whether Article 18 will be on the agenda for discussions with China’s President when he visits the UK. The full programme for the visit is not yet fully fleshed out—and one would not expect it to be at this stage. However, we pay very close attention to the human rights situation in China. We are deeply concerned by reports of the

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number of human rights lawyers and activists who have been detained since 9 July and we fully support the EU statement of 15 July, which states that the detentions raise serious questions about China’s commitment to strengthening the rule of law, and called for the release of those detained for seeking to protect rights provided by the Chinese constitution.

We have regular discussions with the Chinese authorities, including on human rights and rule-of-law issues. They will hear what I have said in public today—my colleagues have also said it in private—and I am sure they will be aware that these matters will be raised, not only by politicians but by the public, when the Chinese state visit takes place. I am sure that discussions about that visit will be wide ranging and naturally the Chinese Government will have an input. But as a country we believe firmly in making clear our commitment to human rights and we have an expectation that the Chinese Government will listen to that. They will take their own view naturally, as they always do.

The noble Lord, Lord Singh, raised the question of the mistreatment of Sikhs in India. Our High Commission in India regularly discusses minority issues, including Sikh prisoners, with the Indian Government and state authorities. We will continue to monitor the situation and maintain our dialogue with Indian officials.

Around the House there has been, over many years, a determination that we should keep a regular dialogue on matters of human rights. The discussion on freedom of religion or belief has perhaps received a better and more considered approach in this Chamber than almost any other, around not only Westminster but the devolved communities. It is important that we are able to maintain that discussion.

Perhaps there was just one Peer who raised the question of why we still have, in this House, the presence of those who have a right, because of their place in the Church of England, to be here. I strongly support their position because I find that their presence is always challenging—refreshing, but most decidedly challenging. But it is important that we welcome on the Cross Benches representatives of other faiths. I think that that enriches the debate here.

This morning, we were able to read an article by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the Times. He made me reflect on the fact that Governments need to find ways to ensure that the transformational power of religious belief is able to play out in our societies. We must have countries where everyone is free to follow their own belief, to change their religion, or to choose to follow no religion at all. In those societies we find that life is fairer and more prosperous. His Grace made the point:

“Curtailing religious freedom in the name of other freedoms runs the risk of discarding one of the most important and creative forces in human beings”.

What he says, I could never improve upon.

6.44 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, characteristically, the Minister has given the House a considered, detailed, thoughtful and extremely helpful reply to this extremely well-informed debate—characteristic itself of the place that the House of Lords is. That point was made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. We have

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heard from people of all faiths and denominations and none, and all the speeches shed light on the nature of Article 18. The Minister just said that it is part of the answer to extremism and I entirely agree. I particularly welcome what she said about the importance of religious literacy and what she is doing to encourage people to understand better the forces that are driving on these malign forces in so many parts of the world today.

The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, with whom I work on the All-Party Group on International Religious Freedom or Belief, where she does such a wonderful job, talked about my “uncanny knack” of coming up in the ballot—a point also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. Perhaps I should try my hand at the National Lottery. More seriously, it makes the point that the House should have an annual debate on human rights in Government time and I hope that the Minister will think about providing  that so that it will not be left to the vagaries of the ballot, helpful though it is that we have been able to have this debate today.

Many noble Lords have given me undeserved generosity in the remarks they have made, none more so than the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. As we walk in here each day, most of us probably pass the western wall of Westminster Abbey, where, among other things, we can see the statute of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was murdered in El Salvador. Only a week ago the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was honoured in Mr Speaker’s House for all the work he did on behalf of Oscar Romero. Combined with that, the work he has done for human rights over the past 50 or 60 years really is unparalleled. At the age of 17, when I was interviewed by a local newspaper, I was asked if I wanted to go into politics. I said, “Not really, but if ever I did I hope I would be like Eric Lubbock”—as he then was. If people are looking for a role model, they could do no better than look at the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

Fifty years later there are other role models for the rising generation . I was very struck by the remarks of Malala Yousafzai, whom the Taliban tried to murder in Pakistan because she rightly insisted on a girl’s right to an education :

One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world”

Malala’s challenge and the fate of the abducted schoolgirls in Nigeria or those denied an education in Pakistan go to the heart of Article 18. It is at the heart of what we have been debating today and it is a theme to which we must persistently return.

It was the most reverend Primate who in his concluding remarks invoked Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Christian theologian who was executed by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer said:

We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds … we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence … intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical … What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians”.

We should not become worn down either, whatever price has to be paid. We have enormous privileges, opportunities, liberties and freedoms in this place and we must use them to speak out on behalf of those to whom so much reference has been made today. The theme of conscience has come up again and again, whether in the domestic or international context. That, too, goes to the heart of Article 18. It is about the balance of rights that were referred to in the debate.

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The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, in his valedictory address, enjoined and encouraged us to persist in what he called our defence of freedom of religion and belief. It is a message that we should all take to heart. We should never cease to use our privileges to speak up in the way that he has done for so long and so persistently. One noble Lord said that he could not understand the presence of the Bishops as an established part of your Lordships’ House. Others have been declaring interests; my Anglican wife is the daughter of a priest of 60 years’ standing in the Anglican Church, as his father was for 50 years. There are eight ordained Anglican clergy on my wife’s side of the family. I sometimes feel that it is a little like a family business. It seems to me—I know that my wife will want me to say this—that we are really blessed by the presence of the Bishops in this House, no one more so than the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. At the conclusion of this debate, we all wish him the very best in his retirement.

Motion agreed.

Also see Justin Welby in The Times:



On Thursday July 16th  2015 David Alton will lead a House of Lords debate on Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights – the right to believe, not to believe, or to change your belief.

He says: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born out of the infamies of the twentieth century – from the Armenian genocide to the depredations of Stalin, Hitler and the Holocaust.

In response to the persecution of millions of people, targeted because of their religion or beliefs, Article 18 insisted on the freedom of all men and women to cherish and uphold their faith or beliefs – or to change them.

Seventy years later, from North Korea to Syria – and all over the world – Article 18 is honoured daily in its breach – evident in contemporary concentration camps, abductions, rape, imprisonment, displacement, persecution, public flogging, mass murder, and beheadings.

The House of Lords debate will be an opportunity to build on the All-Party Report “Article 18 – an orphaned right”; to highlight countries where Article 18 is under attack today; to discuss the clear links between freedom of religion and belief, a nation’s prosperity, stability, and the other rights enjoyed or denied its citizens; and to insist on greater political and diplomatic priority being given to upholding Article 18.


Among those who will speak are the Crossbench Peer, the former Chief Rabbi, Lord (Jonathan) Sacks, whose most recent book focuses on religious liberty and Baroness (Elizabeth) Berridge, the Conservative Peer who chairs the All Party Group on Freedom of Religion and Belief.


 “Religious persecution of Christians around the globe”: the future prognosis: David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool). – Geopolitical Report on Religious Persecution

Franz Werfel’s disturbing and prophetic novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (Die vierzig Tage des Musa Dagh), written in 1933 , tells the story of genocide against Armenian Christians and foreshadows the rise of Hitler – whose Nazi thugs were burning Werfel’s books, in his native Austria and in Germany.

Franz Werfel

Franz werfel

Franz werfel

In this centenary of those events it is worth reminding ourselves of how the Ottomans attempted to eradicate the Armenian Christians and perpetrated further acts of genocide against their other Christian minorities, including Greeks and Assyrians – incubating that most dangerous pestilence: the hatred of whole peoples.

Hitler and Armenian genocide

Not only should we recall those terrible events in order to give the lie to Hitler’s question “who now remembers the Armenians?” – insisting that we will never forget – but also because that deadly phenomenon of deportations, concentration camps, rape and killings did not end in 1915 with the Ottomans. Hitler thought he could get away with it because people hadn’t really protested against the genocide, and there wouldn’t be any consequences for him. He assumed (correctly) that people would murmur but not take any real action and therefore he could continue his reign of terror against the Jews and others.

There is an old Armenian saying, echoed in Musa Dagh, that “to be an Armenian is an impossibility”. It is a saying which, in the 1930s, would be understood by Jews, and which today is the experience of persecuted Christians – from North Korea to Pakistan, from China to Sudan: the world over. Prince Charles has described threats to Christians in the Middle East as “an indescribable tragedy”.

christians in the middle east 1

In the last census of the Ottoman era, conducted in 1914, Christians made up a quarter of the Middle East’s population. Now they are less than 5%. Christians in the Middle East represent less than 1% of the world’s Christians. If the current demographic trends continue, the Middle East’s population of 12 million Christians will be halved by 2020.  As things stand, the current prognosis for Middle Eastern Christians could be fatal.  

Systematic persecution is not a new phenomenon – consider the fate of St.Stephen or the persecutions of Nero or Diocletian – or even the Armenians – whose ancient kingdom became, in the fourth century, the first nation to officially embrace Christianity and who, according to Eusebius and Tertullian, were subjected to persecution by the Romans. The Empire had outlawed the new growing Christian faith and condemned all Christians to death.

Those events were recalled, this month, in the Glyndebourne premiere of Gaaetano Donizetti’s opera, Polyeucte, based on Pierre Corneille’s play about the martyrdom of Saint Polyeuctus and set in the third century in Melitiene, the capital of ancient Armenia. 

Sixteen hundred year later the campaigns against the Armenian Christians and, in German South West Africa (Namibia) of racial extermination of the Herero and Nama people, would become the victims the first genocides of the twentieth century.

Franz Werfel 2

Werfel’s brilliant Musa Dagh homes in on a small community of 5,000 Armenians living in Hatay Province, with links to communities in, Zeitun, Alexandretta, Aleppo, and Mosul – where perpetrators of genocidal, systematic, crimes against humanity once again persecute with impunity.

Although, according to Gyula Orban, an official of Aid to the Church In Need, the Catholic relief agency founded by Norbertine priest Fr Werenfried Von Straaten, approximately 10 percent of the 2 billion Christians in the world suffer persecution, where other than Syria and Iraq might a review of the plight of the world’s persecuted Christians begin?

This month, Aleppo’s Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart described how his archbishopric in Aleppo – already hit more than 20 times by mortar shells – had once again come under fire and how Christians had lost lives, homes and livelihoods – and are being traumatised by the conflict.

He says: “ISIS, which has already killed thousands in the region, is terrifying the faithful in Aleppo. After attacks on Maloula, Mosul, Idleb and Palmyra, what is the West waiting for before it intervenes? What are the great nations waiting for before they put a halt to these monstrosities. Let me cry with my people, violated and murdered. Allow me to stand by numerous families in Aleppo who are in mourning. Because of this ugly and barbarous war, they have lost so many loved ones, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters and cherished children.”

The region’s Chaldean Bishop, Antoine Audo, says that Aleppo’s 250,000 Christians have dwindled to below 100,000. Thousands have been killed, churches and ancient monasteries  blown up, whole communities forced to flee, bishops and priests  – such as Father Jacob Murad, Bishops Hanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazici – abducted, some executed. Torture, beheadings and even ‘crucifixion’ – the hanging of corpses of those they have executed on crosses – has become commonplace. Syrian Christians living in IS controlled areas are forced to convert or pay the punitive jizya tax.

christians in the middle east2

In the seventh century Christians, in what is now Syria, had to pay half an ounce of gold to pay for the privilege of living under the protection of the Caliphate. If they didn’t pay they had two options: they could convert of “face the sword”. In February 2014, 20 or so Christian families still living in the northern Syrian town of Raqqa were given the same choice. The cost of protection is now the equivalent of $650 in Syrian pounds, a large amount for people struggling to make ends meet in a war zone.

Syria and Iraq, those hatcheries of Jihadism, have seen vast tracts of their territories become lawless and ungovernable with fault lines opening between Islamic extremists and moderates, between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and between Sunnis and Shias – with funds and arms flowing in from the Gulf and Tehran.

Caught in the cross fire have been the law abiding minority communities – mainly Christians – who have lived in places like Aleppo and the Nineveh Plains for 2,000 years and continue to worship and speak in the Aramaic language of Jesus.

christians in the middle east Assyrians

In recent weeks joint Assyrian and Kurdish forces recaptured a number of Christian villages in north eastern Syria from ISIS – although many of the original occupants remain unaccounted for and many of their homes have been left booby-trapped.

And will the international community do any more to protect them in the future than it has in the past?  The failure to respond to Chaldean and Assyrian requests for a protected area for Christians near Nineveh is a scandal.   

No wonder so many contemplate dangerous attempts to flee – including treacherous journeys across the Mediterranean. 


The brutality of ISIS – or Daesh -, devoid of mercy, manifests itself in deadly beheadings accompanied by the year zero blitzkrieg of antiquities and ancient artefacts, in the depraved destruction of Christian churches, and the defilement of Shia mosques. The fall of Palmyra follows the bulldozing of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, the blowing up of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhas and the Sufi monuments in Mali.

The Maronite Bishop Elias Sleman of Laodicea says Christians have been specifically targeted: "Christians are increasingly targeted in horrible and unspeakable massacres”.

The Maronite Bishop Elias Sleman of Laodicea says Christians have been specifically targeted: “Christians are increasingly targeted in horrible and unspeakable massacres”.

The Irish philosopher and British politician, Edmund Burke said that “our past is the capital of life” and what we are witnessing at the hands of ISIS is an attempt to eradicate the collective memory of humanity, destroying all that is “different” – while cynically smuggling and selling on the antiquities which they do not destroy to fund their campaign of mass murder – with Turkey turning a blind eye.

ISIS presents this as a clash of civilisations but the manner in which they debase all that is civilised simply pits civilisation against barbarism. ISIS is not just at war with civilisation, it is also at war with other Muslims and those of other faith traditions.

ISIS describes itself as the Islamic State – but this is a misnomer: it is certainly not a State and many Muslim scholars challenge the Islamic basis on which it forces Christians to convert or die invoking the Qur’ānic injunction that there should be no compulsion in religion (lā ikrāha fī ‘l-dīn :Q.2:256).

It is said that al-Qaeda has cut its links to one of its most deadly affiliates, ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

It is said that al-Qaeda has cut its links to one of its most deadly affiliates, ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

The same visceral hatred of Christians has been nurtured by other radical groups – from the Taliban to al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.

Last month, jihadist ideology led to the deaths of 147 students and staff in Kenya’s Garissa University College, with Christian students specifically singled out by al-Shabaab-affiliated Islamist militants.

Pakistan Christians

Earlier this year, in Pakistan – following the 2013 killing of 85 Anglicans who were praying in their church at Peshawar –the same hatred  led to the burning alive in a kiln of a Christian couple by a mob of 1,300 people while their young children were forced to watch. This week, in the British Parliament, MPs raised the tragic case of Nauman Masih, a 15 year old Christian boy, who on 9 April 2015, in Lahore, was beaten, tortured and burnt alive after he was identified as a Christian.

MPs called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

Given the failure to bring to hold to account those who, in 2011, murdered the country’s only Christian Cabinet Minister, Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, don’t hold your breath.

shahbaz bhatti posters

At the time of Pakistan’s foundation its first President, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, said: “Minorities, to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded. Their religion, faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship. They will have their protection with regard to their religion, faith, their life and their culture. They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste and creed.”

In 2015, in a population of over 172 million people, only about 1.5% (3 million) is Christians – half Catholic, half Protestant, – minorities are neither safeguarded or protected. 

Boko Haram protest

Think, too, of Nigeria and the depredations of Boko Haram – graphically illustrated by the abduction of young girls and the murder, in cold blood, of twenty nine students of the Federal Government College in Buni Yadi, Yobe State, while they slept in their student hostels.

Churches have been bombed,  pastors executed, Christians targeted and, despite the Government’s insistence that it is tackling Boko Haram, Reuters reports recent attacks, in the past few days, which have led to more than 80 people being killed.  Boko Haram openly say their interim goal is “to eradicate Christians from certain parts of the country.”

Boko Haram say they want to destroy all westerrn ideas, including democracy, and replace Ngieria's federal constitution with Sharia law.

Boko Haram say they want to destroy all westerrn ideas, including democracy, and replace Ngieria’s federal constitution with Sharia law.

The north-south conflict in Nigeria is reminiscent of Sudan – when, during the civil war, 2 million, mainly Christian people, were killed. Khartoum continues to target whole communities – having dropped more than 2500 bombs on its civilian, predominantly Christian, populations of Blue Nile and South Kordofan. In addition it has committed crimes against humanity in Darfur, which I have visited, and where they are being ethnically cleansed by co-religionists.


This unremitting violence has led to massive displacements and generated vast numbers of refugees. Eritrea, Sudan’s near neighbour, is the North Korea of Africa – and last month’s UN Commission report suggests crimes against humanity may have been committed there. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Eritrea, is responsible for around 18% of the 200,000 people who reached Europe in 2014.  Having reached Libya some Eritreans Christians have then been cruelly beheaded by ISIS – in yet another display of their barbarism.

christians in the middle east2 eritreans christians in the middle east  eritreans

Protestors recently gathered in London, outside the Eritrean Embassy, to mark the thirteenth anniversary of the imposition of severe restrictions on churches in Eritrea, the deposing and house arrest of the Eritrean patriarch, Abune Antonnios and imprisonment of other Christians.

Eritrea is one of the world’s most repressive regimes and the largest refugee-producing countries. Freedom of religion and belief – guaranteed by Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights – means nothing in Eritrea.

There is a direct correlation between the denial of Article 18 Freedoms – to believe, not to believe, or to change your belief – and the denial of other freedoms, the generation of violence, displacements, and the desperation which leads to the exodus of refugees.

article 18 an orphaned rightArticle 18

By contrast, in those countries where Article 18 is honoured and upheld there is a direct correlation with internal harmony, development, prosperity and progress (something which China should study more closely).

Freedom of belief is at the heart of the struggle for the future of whole societies and countries.
Take Egypt – which was recently horrified by the beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts who were working in Libya.

In 2013 I suggested that we should 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, and why August 2013 represent Egypt’s Kritallnacht.  

Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, Berlin, after Kristallnacht in 1938

It was one of many churches which was attacked – along with Christian homes and businesses. Under  President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi the situation has improved but Dr.Mohamed Abul-Ghar, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, warned that the forced displacement of Coptic families by customary meetings is contrary to the Constitution, the principles of citizenship, humanity and justice – remarks which came against a backdrop of the displacement of a number of Coptic families in Beni Suef because a member of these families was accused of allegedly publishing cartoons of the Prophet of Islam on his Facebook account. The man is illiterate.

Abul-Ghar wrote in Al-Masry Al-Youm “Have you seen or heard about an Egyptian Muslim forced to leave his home by a customary meeting whatever his mistake is? So there is clear injustice and if there is a suspicion against a Copt, why is not he treated like a Muslim and referred to the public prosecutor?” 

The Egyptian writer and novelist Fatima Naaot in a message to the President, says that the displacement of Christian families from their villages and the burning of their homes in the presence of security forces is a scandal that undermines the sovereignty of the Egyptian state and indicates the absence of the rule of law and the fall of the prestige of the Government and the President. 

Last month the Egyptian TV presenter, Islam al-Beheiry, was sentenced to five years in prison with labour for “contempt of religion.”
  At the beginning of this year President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi gave a speech at Cairo’s Al-Azhar in which he called for a “religious revolution” to re-examine those aspects of Islamic thinking that “make an enemy of the whole world.” Yet, despite his timely and important call for religious renewal, ‘contempt of religion’ and blasphemy charges are occurring more frequently. These can be an impediment to healthy and constructive religious debate and can encourage vindictive acts.

Assyrians hold banners as they march in solidarity with the Assyrians abducted by Islamic State fighters in Syria earlier this week, in Beirut

It against this background – from Syria and Iraq, to Sudan, Pakistan, Egypt, Iran, and many other countries in which Christians and others are persecuted for their beliefs – that June 2015 has witnessed the staging of a UN human rights conference on combatting intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief.

I couldn’t work out whether it was a black sense of humour or a rather astute move to have asked Saudi Arabia to host this event in Jeddah.

Given that Saudi is one of the worst violators of religious freedom, and that Saudi Wahhabism has fuelled so many of these conflicts, it did seem comparable to inviting Herod into the kindergarten.  


Given the West’s oil dependent, arms providing, symbiotic relationship with Saudi it is hard to imagine much being said at that Conference about the Saudi human rights activist, Raif Badawi, languishing in prison for the crime of religious dissent and under threat of further public flogging and potential execution – let alone its outright persecution of Christians. Saudi Arabia ranks sixth on the 2014 World Watch List of most repressive countries for Christians, a list compiled by the charity, Open Doors.

When a country like Saudi Arabia passes legislation defining atheists as terrorists, beheads or tortures its citizens, and refuses to protect the right of minorities to follow their beliefs, or to have no belief, is it any wonder that such actions are mimicked by ISIS? Saudi Arabia beheads people in the public square – 100 executions already this year –  a practice routinely practised by ISIS.

The aim of the Jeddah Conference was to discuss how to effectively implement UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 on combating religious intolerance, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against people due to their religion or beliefs.  

Unlike ISIS, Saudi Arabia really is an Islamic State and it would be the first place to start in heralding an acceptance of pluralism of belief and the upholding of diversity and difference. 

christians in the middle east11

In his opening speech to the Conference, OIC Secretary-General Iyad Ameen Madani said that the international human rights community attached great importance to combating religious intolerance. Madani correctly observed that religious hatred needs to be addressed at all levels, including the need to ascertain the limits of freedom of expression to determine where it ends and transforms into incitement to hatred.

Beyond conferences and speeches, remains the challenge to world leaders to champion and uphold the rule of law and the protection of minorities. That is the antidote to Jihadist ideology, not assassination squads or endless bombardments.

The casualties of genocide and crimes against humanity in Sudan

The casualties of genocide and crimes against humanity in Sudan

The challenge is to bring to justice war lords and regime leaders responsible for persecution and atrocities; to increase the effectiveness of the International Criminal Court (not providing impunity to indicted leaders such as Sudan’s Omar al Bashir, as South Africa recently did); to systematically collect evidence; to  document these atrocities and to demand that the Security Council instigate prosecutions.

Dag Hammarskjold7

We also need to create more safe havens to protect beleaguered groups of Christians, and others, and every Foreign Minister needs to promote Article 18 obligations. Dag Hammarskjold, one of the great Secretary Generals of the UN, once said that “The UN wasn’t founded to take mankind to paradise but rather to save humanity from hell.”  It’s hard to see that, in vast tracts of the world, the international community is achieving even that limited objective.

The UN, our Western legislators, policy makers and media need to become literate about religion. How right is the BBC’s courageous Chief Correspondent, Lyse Doucet, when she says: “If you don’t understand religion – including the abuse of religion – it’s becoming ever harder to understand our world.”

At the heart of all these challenges is the central question of how we learn to live together, tolerantly respecting and rejoicing in the dignity of difference; emphasising our common humanity; promoting the ability of members of all religious faiths to manifest their religion; and allow all people to contribute openly and on an equal footing to society.


Malala Yousafzai, whom the Taliban tried to murder in Pakistan because she insisted on a girl’s right to an education, rightly insists that “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world”.  Are we going to stand with Malala against those who try to deny women education, who use education to promote hatred of difference, who teach that non adherents are destined for the fires of hell and murder in God’s name?

Our aid programmes and humanitarian interventions must surely reflect our own values and be used to protect minorities, to provide security, and to open the possibility of decent lives for those currently trying to flee their native home lands. We can apply “soft power” – or smart power – in the way we provide aid but also, where necessary, by shutting it off, or threatening to shut it off – and in the ways we broadcast, educate and share our own values.

Meanwhile, the immediate and over-arching concern must be the plight of Middle Eastern Christians, a shrinking and threatened minority throughout the region, subjected to the most traumatic, degrading and inhuman treatment. It’s as simple as that.

christians in the middle east6

The international community needs to be more consistent in its moral outrage. It denounces some countries for their suppression of minorities while appeasing others who directly enable jihad through financial support or the sale of arms. No wonder Western powers are seen as hypocrites when our business interests determine how offended we are by gross human rights abuses.

These people are being crushed in the mill, dying out, and need help. That is the future unless we act.

christians in the middle east14

This is not about Christians versus Muslims. Religious persecution is taking place all over the world and whoever is responsible should be in our sights. A Pew research Centre Study begun a decade a ago has found that of the 185 nations studied religious repression was recorded in 151 of them.


It is irresponsible and indifferent for the international community to show disproportionate concern for fringe issues and politically correct concerns while ignoring and failing to understand the forces behind this flood of chaos.

Turning an indifferent blind eye merely emboldens the perpetrators to further spread their hatred.

The dramatic rise in the persecution of Christians has been accompanied by a vilification of Islam and, in Europe especially, the reawakening of Anti-Semitism. 

For the future, the three Abrahamic religions need to ask deep questions of themselves about what they can to remedy these distempers – and become transformative agents in conflict management, reconciliation and healing.

Egypt's Copts are under daily attack

Egypt’s Copts are under daily attack

Where secular governments are manifestly failing – and are too often tone deaf when it comes to religion, simply failing to understand the power of the forces which are at work – can the great faiths, with their innate claim to our deepest impulses, motivate their adherents to be peace makers, peace builders, protectors of minorities, and practitioners of pluralism, tolerance, mutual respect, and the upholding of the rule of law?  

Can we devote comparable energy into countering religious extremism as the energy which has been used to spread religious extremism? 

Could we not form a generation of religious leaders and educators to promote faith that is based on altruism, tolerance and love – the common good – not faith that designates all others as enemies of yourself and your God?

It was Churchill who said “what is the use of living if it is not strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?” – and that we should never give up.


Our muddled and tortured world needs to make the cause of those who suffer for their religion or belief the great cause of our times.

Christians, Jews and Muslims privileged to live in free societies need to challenge our key cold indifference, speak up and defend humanity.

I began by citing Franz Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.

Armenian genocide 2Armenian GenocideArmenian genocide 5Armenian genocide 6

It  has a complex ending. Part of the novel’s denouement – based on fact – sees the rescue of many of the besieged Armenian Christians by the French navy.  The French respond to distress signals and the sight of the Red Cross emblem.  The question for us is will we, in our day, see the distress signals of today’s besieged Christian communities and respond in like manner or merely feign indifference?

christians in the middle east17christians in the middle east20christians in the middle east8

2015 Queens Speech Debate – the cruel ideology of Daesh and their orgy of violence in Iraq and Syria

ISIS march on Palmyra

ISIS march on Palmyra

5.40 pm: Thursday May 28th 2015

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):⁠

My Lords, in welcoming the talented team of Ministers who have responsibility for international affairs and security issues, it is clear from the debate today on the gracious Speech that there are no shortage of challenges facing them.

In my remarks, I should like to follow those who have spoken about the particular challenge that is posed by ISIS.

Last week, the barbaric beheadings in Palmyra, accompanied by the blitzkrieg of antiquities and ancient colonnades, graphically illustrated the nature of the depraved ideology that animates ISIS or Daesh, while, in a double victory, its capture of Ramadi underlines the serious threat that it poses and, as other noble Lords have said, the urgency with which we must re-evaluate our military and diplomatic approach.

ISIS may call itself a state but, despite its name, it is not a state, merely a cruel ideology. As a report published today reminds us, ISIS continues to attract adherents from the United Kingdom, including young women whose allegiance and imagination we have failed to capture.

The orgy of violence for which ISIS has been responsible, and which has already destroyed the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, along with Hatra and Khorsabad, accompanied by the carnage and slaughter of innocent people, cannot be left uncontested, neither at a military level nor in the battle for ideas.

We are pitted against an ideology that thinks nothing of defiling Shia mosques, destroying Christian churches, blowing up Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhas and eradicating the Sufi monuments in Mali.

It was Edmund Burke who remarked that, “Our past is the capital of life”.

What we are witnessing is an attempt to eradicate the past and eliminate humanity’s collective memory, while cynically smuggling and selling on the antiquities that are not destroyed to fund this campaign of mass murder.

Last month, jihadist ideology led to the deaths of 147 students and staff in Kenya’s Garissa University College, with Christian students specifically singled out; to the burning alive in a kiln of a Christian couple in Pakistan by a mob of 1,300 people while their young children were forced to watch; to the abduction of young girls in Nigeria by Boko Haram; to the beheading in Libya of 21 Egyptian Copts who were working there; and to the beheading of 30 Ethiopian Christians trying to flee these depravities.

Since 2011, more than 4 million Syrians have been killed or forced to flee their homes, with around 30,000 people added every single day to the 140 million people worldwide who are affected by conflict or natural disasters such as that which has occurred in Nepal.

Is it any wonder that the desperate, from Rohingya Muslims to Middle Eastern Christians, take to the high seas to try to escape?

Since 2011, of the 4 million Syrian refugees, the United Kingdom has offered shelter to just 187, a point that my noble friend Lord Williams referred to in his excellent speech. Let us compare that to the 1.2 million refugees that Lebanon has accepted. Of course, the long-term answer is for people to be able to return to live in peace in their own homes, but we are further away from that than ever.

Echoing what the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, said earlier in her magnificent maiden speech, I say that today’s realities in the region were spelled out by the United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict—an issue in which I know the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has taken a particular and significant interest. The special representative reported last week that young Iraqi and Syrian women, particularly from the Yazidi community, are subjected to the most traumatic, degrading and inhuman treatment before being sold in slave markets to the highest bidders.

Human Rights Watch reported on the girl, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, who had been traded more than 20 times, but that same report describes how traumatised girls had been banned from using headscarves after some used them to hang themselves.

At the start of this Parliament, I hope that the Government will take more effective action to have those responsible for such atrocities brought to justice before the International Criminal Court, a move that we should initiate in the Security Council.

Championing and upholding the rule of law is the antidote to this ideology, not assassination squads or endless bombardments.

We also need to create more safe havens, a point which my noble friend Lord Hylton and I and other noble Lords from all sides of your Lordships’ House addressed recently in a letter to one of the national newspapers. We need to do that in the affected regions to stem the flow of migrants. We need also to promote Article 18 obligations.

When a country like Saudi Arabia passes legislation defining atheists as terrorists, beheads its citizens, and refuses to protect the right of minorities to follow their beliefs, or to have no belief, is it any wonder that such actions are mimicked by Daesh?

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, referred earlier to Saudi pressure on the United Kingdom to draw up a report on the Muslim Brotherhood. Perhaps when the Minister comes to reply she will tell us when that is likely to be published.

At the heart of all these issues is the challenge of learning to live together and of respecting difference.

Our failure to make the battle of ideas a priority was underlined recently in a reply to the Member of Parliament for Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron, when it was stated by the Foreign Office that just,

“one full time Desk Officer”


“wholly dedicated to Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB)”,

and that,

“the Head and the Deputy Head of HRDD spend approximately 5% and 20% respectively of their time on FoRB issues”.

Understanding authentic religion and the forces that threaten it is more of a foreign affairs imperative than ever before, and the resources we put into promoting Article 18 should reflect that reality.

I hope that freedom of religion and belief will be a specific priority in the FCO business plan and that the Government will make common cause with the Labour Party, which gave a manifesto commitment to appoint a special envoy to promote Article 18.

I also hope that, in the battle of ideas, we will think again about our foolish cuts to the British Council budget, from £190 million to £154 million. We should not emasculate the BBC World Service. We should promote the Commonwealth, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said in his remarks, particularly as an agency for education in parts of the world that will change only with the opportunities of education.

In conclusion, it is sometimes suggested that Britain should retreat from the world and relinquish our international responsibilities.

How right was that great Pole Maximilian Kolbe, who was murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz, and who said:

“The most deadly poison of our times is indifference”.

Such indifference would be bad for Britain and even worse for the rest of the world.

5.50 pm

Maximilian Kolbe - murdered by the Nazis

Maximilian Kolbe – murdered by the Nazis



Parliament Debates The Government’s Call for Military Action Against ISIS Links to today’s debates: It is said that al-Qaeda has cut its links to one of its most deadly affiliates, ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham At the beginning of this month it was reported that since this calamitous conflict began in Syria, in March 2011,the number of dead had topped 150,000, with 6.2 million internally displaced people – a number without parallel in any other country – and nearly 11 million people in need. More than two million Syrians have now fled, marking a nearly 10-fold increase from a year ago. Earlier this month the UNHCR said: “Syria is haemorrhaging women, children and men who cross borders often with little more than the clothes on their backs” In the past 12 months, around 1.8 million people have flooded out of Syria, and an average of 5,000 continue to cross into neighbouring countries each day. In August, UNHCR said that the number of Syrian children living as refugees has exceeded one million. This week alone 130,000 displaced Syrian Kurds have flooded into Turkey. In addition, thanks to ISIS, there are 1.8m people displaced in Iraq. I arrived in Damascus on the very day when the war broke out between Iran and Iraq—a war that claimed some million lives I first visited Syria in 1980 and arrived in Damascus on the day on which war broke out between Iran and Iraq—a war that claimed a million lives. In the decades which have followed disfiguring violence and war have shaped events in the region, leaving in its wake a bitter trail of orphaned children, widowed mothers, hoards of suffering displaced people, refugees and broken towns and cities. Barrel Bombs have rained down on Aleppo It is hard to imagine that a campaign of aerial bombardment in Syria will make that dire situation any better. Indeed, as we attack ISIS command centres, their insurgents will hide themselves in civilian settings and every time a Cruise missile hits the wrong target and kills non-combatants it will radicalise and recruit yet more fighters to their cause. However brave and better armed the Kurdish Peshmerga and Free Syrian Army may be – and we had better hope that this time the arms we provide do not fall in to the hands of ISIS – endless air strikes and drone warfare will not achieve our objectives. We must also be wary of the danger of assuming, especially in the case of countries like Iran, that the old proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is true. Military force alone will not kill the religious ideology that created and sustains ISIS, Boko Haram, the Al Nursa Front, al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, Hezbollah and the countless mutations which are committed to violence to achieve their ends. By definition, military action cannot kill ideas or beliefs so our central task must be to convince Muslim majority societies, that their own interests demand toleration of minorities and the equality and freedom of people of other faiths. It illustrates the size of this challenge that when an Afghan graduate student submitted a research paper arguing, from the Koran, that Islam supports the equality of men and women, his professors reported him to the police. After being charged with blasphemy he was convicted and given a death sentence. This and beheadings, crucifixions, rapes and enslavement, all underline the scale of the battle for hearts and minds in which we have to be engaged. Until these societies move toward pluralism, encourage religious freedom and respect diversity, they will not enjoy the peace, stability, internal security, and economic growth, for which all people crave. But, in the immediate situation in which we now find ourselves, we could do a lot worse that revisiting the initiative taken by Sir John Major in 1991 during the mass exodus in the first Gulf War. The UN-mandated safe-haven and the subsequent no-fly zone enabled Kurdish refugees to return to their homes and to establish a de-facto autonomous region, which continued until the fall of the Saddam regime in 2003, and which in recent weeks has once again become a vital place of refuge for Iraq’s minorities. If, once again, we established a no-fly zone along the Turkish-Syrian border or, ultimately right across Syria, it would at least provide air cover to the FSA, the Iraqi army, and the Peshmerga as they seek to reclaim territory – the size of the UK – which has been needlessly and foreseeably lost to the Islamic State who, with an estimated 10,000 fighters, have been allowed to strike with deadly impunity. Their caliphate has now been imitated by the equally deadly Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. One other thing we must urgently do is to dry up the sources of ISIS revenue. On June 17th I asked the Government about the sources of funding which ISIS have received allowing them “to build up an amazing military capability” with the then Minister responding that she was “not sure about any direct funding”. On July 23rd, in an article in The Times I urged the West to press the Gulf States to end funding for ISIS. It is said that they garner £600,000 a day from selling oil on the black market. The sale of antiquities – some 8000 years old – and ransom money is estimated to give them a daily income of £1.2 million. We must ruthlessly follow the trail of money and expose those who are financing the orgy of killing. Last week, Sabah Mikhail Brakho, the chairman of Iraq’s Beth Nahrain National Union, called on the Gulf States to stop funding ISIS. He said “Financing for ISIS comes from the Arab Gulf countries, whether through governments or individuals. This is sometimes done openly, such as by Qatar, and sometimes secretly, such as by Saudi Arabia, as well as by a number of Kuwaiti individuals,” Earlier this month Western press and intelligence reports indicated that states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, are the main supporters of Jihadist groups in the region. The Daily Telegraph reported that Qatar’s Aspire Sports Academy hosted a number of religious lectures during Ramadan that were attended by Islamist preachers known for their extremism or links with terrorism. They included Sheikh Mohammed Arifi who encouraged Muslims to swell the ranks of militant groups in Syria: “We will not overcome humiliation except by jihad,” he said. Although he was subsequently prevented from entering Britain, on July 14 he gave a lecture at the Aspire Festival in Doha, where he was honoured by two members of the Qatari royal family. The festival was also attended by Nabil Wadhi, sponsor of the Major Kuwaiti Campaign to support 12,000 Islamic fighters in Syria. This campaign claims that it could collect millions of dollars to buy anti-aircraft missiles and was also planning to buy thermal missiles. The Islamic State has been years in the making and it is a crisis which we should have averted. In a House of Lords debate back on February 27th I referred to the “Afghanisation” of Syria, and pressed the Government for more clarity about the indiscriminating way in which support had been given to so-called opposition groups, largely at war with one another; and the need to hold the Assad regime to account for its use of chemical weapons; the Sarin gas which has been used against civilians in the suburbs of Damascus; the barrel bombs which have rained down on Aleppo. In singling out ISIS during that debate I asked for the Government’s assessment of the areas which they controlled, their use of suicide bombers, the radicalisation of recruits, citing the example of an engineering student from the University of Liverpool who had been killed in military action, and argued that “vast tracts falling under the control of dangerous jihadist groups, would hardly represent progress.” Earlier that week I had sent the Government a report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict which described how Jihadi humanitarian assistance teams appeared to be facilitating the entry of fighters, via Turkey. I hope Parliament will be told the numbers of Britons involved with ISIS and the flow of money into their coffers. I would also like to hear something about the plight of the region’s minorities – In February, in arguing that the situation had been exacerbated by the flow of arms into Syria, I warned of the dangers posed to the region’s minorities whom ISIS required to pay tribute, to convert or to leave and asked “what we are doing to provide direct help to these beleaguered minorities”. As long ago as 2008 and 2010 I raised concerns in the House of Lords House about the Yazidis and the “assassinations and kidnappings” which they faced. In the debate in February I quoted the account of a Christian, Basman Kassouha, who described how ISIS had “stormed my house, giving me one hour to evacuate or else they will kill me … I’m heartbroken. I’ve lost everything”. I cited evidence of genocide from Bishop Elias Sleman who said that “Christians are increasingly targeted in horrible and unspeakable massacres” and asked that we carefully collate such accounts for a day of reckoning. I asked in February that we use our voice in the Security Council to refer these atrocities to the International Criminal Court and said that failure to do so would bring “great dishonour on this country.” I ask, again, what have we done to plead for the rule of international law; and, if the ICC cannot be used, for the creation of a Regional Court in which perpetrators of atrocities which the Prime Minister described on Wednesday as “literally medieval in character” are brought to justice. What are we doing to ensure that the Government of Iraq will have a clear objective to enable communities who have lived in Iraq for almost 2000 years to do so again and to exercise their full rights and to discharge their duties as citizens? And what of the Yazids and Christians who have fled to the Kurdish region? What more can we do to help them? Time is not on our side. The harsh Iraqi winter is approaching. Social tensions between Kurds and Arabs, between local governments and migrants will grow and erupt if they are not headed off. The UK Government has generously given £23 million but the government needs to set out how they are working with international partners to ensure sustained funding for the humanitarian crisis, and efficiency of delivery. The Foreign Affairs Committee’s inquiry into The UK’s response to Extremism and Instability in North and West Africa delivered a salutary warning. Of the intervention in Libya in 2011 it said “considerable resources were expended ensuring that military goals were successfully achieved (for which the Government deserves credit), but there was a failure to anticipate, and therefore mitigate, the regional fallout from the intervention, which has been enormous and, in some cases, disastrous” Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. In other words, following military action will the same thing happen again? Back in February 1 quoted a Dutch priest, Father Franz Van der Lugt, trapped in the old city of Homs who said, “Our city has become a lawless jungle”. He had insisted that “We love life, we want to live. And we do not want to sink in a sea of pain and suffering.” On April 7th it was reported that Fr.Van der Lugt had been murdered by Jihadists. The night before the February debate, Mosul had fallen to ISIS and 120,000 Christians were reported to have fled to the Plains of Nineveh. I asked what we were doing to protect them. Our total failure to provide protection was illustrated by crucifixions, kidnappings and beheading of Christians carried out by ISIS and which I raised in the House of Lords on June 11th. I quoted The Times who said we cannot be “spectators at this carnage”. Those Muslims who have spoken out or defied ISIS have suffered a similar fate. The head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, Professor Dr Mehmet Gormez, told the World Islamic Scholars Peace, Moderation and Common Sense Initiative, that globally 1,000 Muslims are being killed each day – 90 per cent of their killers are also Muslims. In combatting the Islamic State the US and the West will argue that we are part of a coalition which includes Sunni Muslim States but, as we all know, it is much easier to take military action than it is to end conflict. For the sake of all the innocent people who are caught up in this violence, we need to understand, and grapple with, ideas and beliefs which militate against peaceful co-existence and not place all our faith in a campaign of aerial bombardment. Coiexist

Archive 2 – more indexed archived speeches and articles.

Also see:


Speech on the BBC’s Role in Society – 2003

A speech on the withdrawal of food and fluids from patients 2003

Coercive Population Control in China – 2001

Speech by Lord Alton of Liverpool: Second Reading of the Education Bill

Paying the Price for Family Breakdown

Responsible Fathers: A Parable For the Return of Prodigal Fathers.

Sunday worship from Didsbury -1999

2003 – “RELIGIOUS TERRORISM” – the case for faith in secular societies.

Civic Virtue and The Beautiful Game: October 2003

Danny Smith’s book on Jubilee Campaign – an introduction

The Glories of Islamic Art brought to life by a Jewish Collector

Knowing Your Genetic Identity: 11th August 2002

Liverpool Law Society Speech – 2003

First be reconciled – Lenten Address 2002

Living on the Edge – Lenten Address 2003

Walk of Faith – Lenten Address 2004.

The Politics of Cloning – 2003

Proceeds of Crime – and people trafficking – 2002

Darfur and North Korea – debate on the Queens Speech 2006

Human Cloning

Friday October 13th 2006, Centro Pro Unione, Via S.Maria dell’ Anima 30, Rome.

Can We Get By Without God?

Lecture at Scranton University on Friday November 1st,2002: The Duty To Engage In Active Citizenship.

Speech on the BBC’s Role in Society – 2003

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the convergence of the media and telecommunications industries clearly demanded an end to the split of responsibilities between five regulators. I therefore support one of the principal objectives of the Bill—the creation of Ofcom—the question to which my noble friend Lord Currie of Marylebone returned us. Everyone in the House will wish him well in the onerous duties that lie ahead of him as he chairs Ofcom.

If this one-stop regulator is to be able to withstand huge vested interests and not be swamped by them, it could indeed become the guardian of consumers’ interests and a watchdog with real teeth. However, before setting the seal to the Bill, we would do well to consider carefully the two fatal flaws identified by the

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noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. He rightly homed in on how best to deepen further the quality of programming.

Within the public service and private sector Ofcom will need to be the guardian of the public’s access to a wide spectrum of good quality programmes. In Committee we shall no doubt debate the efficacy of the BBC’s Board of Governors and the desirability or otherwise of additional accountability to the National Audit Office. There is a good argument for revisiting those two questions in the context of the renewal of the BBC Charter in 2006 once we have evaluated the impact of Ofcom. I also wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will tell us when he replies to the debate what more the Government might do to provide the right of appeal against contested decisions of Ofcom.

Ofcom will not only need to weigh the conflicting and competing demands of broadcasters, it will also have to be far more engaged in issues of quality and accountability. Last year I hosted a lecture by Greg Dyke at Liverpool John Moores University where I hold a chair. I declare that interest. Echoing something of what Sir John Reith said in 1931 when he dedicated the BBC to the service of the nation, Greg Dyke said:

“The role of the BBC is to inform, educate and entertain. The first two are quintessential values of citizenship. I would also argue that the third is also citizenship. It is about the quality of our lives.

Robust democracy depends upon a healthy sense of citizenship. Broadcasting plays an essential role and provides an analytical tool for making informed decisions”.

In 1931, when Sir John Reith and the other governors of the BBC dedicated Broadcasting House to the service of the country, he said—these words are on the wall of Broadcasting House as one enters its foyer—

“It is their prayer that good seed sown may bring forth a good harvest and that the people, inclining their ear to whatsoever things are beautiful and honest and of good report, may tread the path of wisdom and righteousness”.

Those are timeless values which we need to continue in both public and private broadcasting.

Like it or not, the media have become one of the most potent forces in our personal lives and one of the most powerful influences on our communities and their values. That can, of course, have a corrosive as well as a benign effect. Bruce Gyngell, as managing director of Tyne Tees Television, understood that well when he said:

“What we are doing to our sensibilities and moral values and, more important, those of our children, when, day after day, we broadcast an unremitting diet of violence . . . television is in danger of becoming a mire of salaciousness and violence”.

In saying that he sounded the same kind of warning that we heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester earlier.

Undoubtedly, Ofcom and its consumer panel will need to do far more to curb the exponential increase in gratuitously violent material which is broadcast on television. One of the central recommendations of the Joint Scrutiny Committee of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, was that Ofcom’s primary duty should be

“to serve the interests of all citizens”.

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It is a pity that those who drafted the Bill chose the language of consumerism rather than duties towards citizens and the community. Here I endorse much that was said by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who rightly said that we should not rely so much on market forces. Clearly, an individual consumer may desire, for instance, to see an unremitting diet of violence, but is that in the community’s interests?

Only last week the Broadcasting Standards Commission and the ITC published a report indicating that more than half of the public believe that there is too much violence on TV, and that the level is increasing. That report coincided with a study published on 9th March by Professor Jeffrey Johnson of Colombia University, and the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

It concluded that children exposed to violent programmes are at greater risk of becoming aggressive young adults. He said:

“Media violence contributes to a more violent society”.

One year ago the US Surgeon-General concluded that,

“televised violence, indeed, does have an adverse effect on certain members of our society”.

As television, the flickering box in the corner, has replaced the flickering fire around which families once sat and conversed, the line between fantasy and fact, reality and unreality, truth and lies is often blurred. An average adult in Britain spends at least 27 hours a week in front of the television. The television hierarchy insist that there is no correlation between what people watch—unreality—and how they subsequently behave—reality.

Yet the advertising industry spends a colossal £4 billion a year trying to sell us its wares via television. Clearly, it believes that what one watches affects how one behaves; otherwise, that phenomenal outlay would be a monstrous waste of money. Professor Elizabeth Newsome, and nearly 30 of the UK’s leading child psychologists, psychiatrists and paediatricians said that they had been “naive” in underestimating the link between what children see and how they behave.

Ten years ago I was successful in another place in securing amendments to the Criminal Justice Act that curbed video violence. At the time in a letter to me, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, got to the heart of the matter when he asked:

“What proof are we looking for? Does the railway company wait for someone to be killed by a train before fencing off the railway line”?

I was sorry that a further amendment that I promoted, which sought to allow viewers to purchase TV sets with a “V” chip (V for violence)—a chip that automatically screened out violent images—was narrowly defeated. I hope that Ofcom will return to that issue and carefully assess programme output and issues such as the watershed.

However, violence should not be Ofcom’s only concern. It will also need to be proactive on issues such as taste and tolerance. I give the House one example. Channel 4’s recent programme, “Beijing Swings”, which included an adult eating part of a dead unborn child, should have led to significant penalties against

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the programme makers. I invited the chairman of Channel 4, Vanni Treves, to come to your Lordships House to screen the programme and to take part in a discussion with your Lordships about the motives in screening that barbarism and the extraordinary justification of the programme as art. In a letter declining that invitation, Mr Treves stated:

“More generally, however, these works are not only of interest in themselves but represent significant works in the Chinese avant-garde art movement. ‘Eating People’ by Zhu Yu was staged and photographed in Beijing at his ‘Open Studio’ and was exhibited in the Shanghai Biennale later the same year. It was also featured in a show curated by the artist Ai Wei Wei and widely seen as the most important show of contemporary art ever staged in mainland China . . . The finished programme was referred to the Director of Television who viewed it before transmission. It was his view that though deeply shocking and disturbing it exemplified the dark message of the Season as a whole”.

It seems to me that that plumbed new depths.

In addition to the high hopes that many of us have for Ofcom in dealing with these questions of taste, tolerance and violence, the Bill also encourages a more competitive broadcasting environment. I have no intrinsic objection to that. A more coherent and efficient ITV should not be feared and with appropriate safeguards would continue to provide strong regional programmes. ITV’s ability to own ITN outright would also enhance its news coverage and should not be feared either.

Paradoxically, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, Clause 337’s impediment on religious broadcasters runs counter to that spirit. It also runs counter to European convention rights and international experience. It will mean that Ofcom will be undermined if there is one law for the Medes who declare themselves openly to be religious, and another for the Persians who omit to declare themselves as religious. In that regard, I very much support what the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said earlier. If it comes to a Division, I will most certainly support her on that question.

Ofcom will have the power to grant, refuse or revoke licences, to impose fines, and to implement broadcasting codes including criteria on fit and proper persons to engage in ownership or broadcasting. That is exactly how things should be. Ofcom will be in a position to evaluate which people should hold licences. Parliament’s job should surely be to insist on common standards of diversity, tolerance, quality and decency. In so far as the Bill sets out to achieve those objectives, I will support it. Where it does not, I hope that it will be challenged and amended in Committee.


A speech on the withdrawal of food and fluids from patients 2003

Food and fluid, defined in this Bill as ‘sustenance’ have always been regarded as basic care to which everybody is entitled. Your Lordships should be under no illusions that acceptance of the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration from non-dying patients has consistently been identified by the pro-euthanasia lobby as the pre-cursor to the legalisation of positive euthanasia.

“If we can get people to accept the removal of all treatment and care – especially the removal of food and fluids – they will see what a painful way this is to die and then, in the patient’s best interests, they will accept the lethal injection.” – Dr Helgha Kuhse, pro-euthanasia bioethicist, speaking at the Fifth Biennial Congress of Societies for the Right to Die, September 1984. Dr Kuhse’s views are shared by Professor Sheila McLean who referred to Bland and similar judgements as a form of non-voluntary euthanasia. She and a number of other advocates of euthanasia were members of the BMA committee which produced “Withholding and Withdrawing Life Prolonging Medical Treatment”.

We are told that this Bill is unnecessary as it simply makes illegal something that is already illegal, namely killing patients.

If it were only that simple. The killing of non-dying patients in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) and similar conditions by the withdrawal or withholding of sustenance was authorised by your Lordships’ House in the Bland judgement and is supported by the medical establishment.

The Patients’ Protection Bill is about restoring integrity and coherence to the law of homicide. Until the Bland judgement in 1993 the common law was quite clear. It was always wrong to have as the purpose of one’s conduct to bring about another person’s death for any reason other than the requirements of justice. This common law principle is enshrined in Article 2 of The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Prior to 1993 it was a clearly understood part of the common law that murder can be committed not only by a positive act but also by omission in situations where there is a duty to provide what is omitted. This covered doctors, who owe their patients a duty of care.

In the Bland case, your Lordships held that to stop feeding Tony Bland was a lawful omission. Tube feeding was medical treatment which the doctors were under no duty to provide because it was not in the patient’s best interests, was futile, and was a course of conduct endorsed by a responsible body of medical opinion.

Three out of the five Law Lords stated (the others not dissenting) that the aim, or purpose, of withdrawing tube-feeding was to bring about Tony Bland’s death.

Lord Mustill: “… is essential to face up squarely to the true nature of what is proposed….Emollient expressions such as “letting nature take its course” and “easing the passing” may have their uses, but they are out of place here, for they conceal both the ethical and the legal issues, and I will try to avoid them….. The conclusion that the declarations can be upheld depends crucially on a distinction drawn by the criminal law between acts and omissions, and carries with it inescapably a distinction between, on the one hand what is often called “mercy killing”, where active steps are taken in a medical context to terminate the life of a suffering patient, and a situation such as the present where the proposed conduct has the aim for equally humane reasons of terminating the life of Anthony Bland by withholding from him the basic necessities of life. The acute unease which I feel about adopting this way through the legal and ethical maze is I believe due in an important part to the sensation that however much the terminologies may differ the ethical status of the two courses of action is for all relevant purposes indistinguishable.”

Prior to Bland, such conduct was incompatible with the duty of care owed to a patient. Following Bland conduct aimed at ending a patient’s life, providing it counts as an omission, may well be deemed as compatible with the exercise of the duty of care for a patient if doctors judge that patient’s life no longer worthwhile.

Why, if the Government is so sure of its moral stand is it misleading the public? I have a letter here from a Minister in the Department of Health in which he claims that it is untrue to state that the purpose of withdrawing food and fluid from Tony Bland was to cause his death. This is patently untrue.

The Bland case can be starkly contrasted with the case of one of my former constituents, Andrew Devine.

The House will remember that in 1989, 96 people died at Hillsborough. Several of my then constituents were among the fatalities and others were injured. One was Andrew Devine, who like Tony Bland went into a deep coma. Their conditions were identical.

Shortly after the Hillsborough tragedy I visited Andrew and his parents. As the years I passed I have followed Andrew’s progress. Last week I spoke to Andrew’s mother, who over the intervening fourteen years has fought for her son’s life. Having been told by medics that “Andrew will never be able to swallow or to eat food”. Mrs. Devine told me she felt that her son had “been written off” and that it “would be a waste of resources to treat him.”

The medics also said that it would be clear within two years whether Andrew was going to make any progress. In fact, it took five years. They told his parents “nothing can be done” when quite a lot could be done and was done. Many of your Lordships will recall the front page story from The Guardian in 1997 when Andrew’s parents talked publicly about the improvements that had taken place in his health. Andrew now eats heartily and eats solids – against all the predictions.

Mrs. Devine is adamant that “From our point of view it was a hard enough battle to fight for the things we needed without being offered the chance to do away with Andrew. ” She says: “Starving or dehydrating someone is an unpleasant death – you might as well give a lethal injection.”

Through their love and devotion Andrew’s parents found the Brain Injury Rehabilitation and Development Centre at Broughton, near Chester, not because they were referred there, but because they found it via a television programme. They took Andrew to London, to the Royal Hospital for Neuro Disabilities at Westhill, in Putney, and paid for his first course of treatment themselves.

Mrs. Devine argues that the law needs to be strengthened because “economic pressures to free beds would be overwhelming; the pressure would be enormous.” And yet, precisely that pressure is now being exerted, hence the need for legislation of the sort proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Knight.

Withdrawal of feeding, including oral feeding, is now being extended to patients who are not in PVS. In June 1999 the BMA published guidance on Withholding and Withdrawing Life-prolonging Medical Treatment in which they considered it appropriate to withdraw tube feeding from “patients who have suffered a stroke or have severe dementia”.

This unethical practice has received support from the GMC in their 2002 publication, ‘Withholding and Withdrawing Life-prolonging Treatments: Good Practice in Decision-making.’ Sadly, the Government has shown no intention of protecting patients from the BMA guidelines. In their latest consultation document, ‘Making Decisions – Helping People Who Have Difficulty Deciding for Themselves’, nutrition and hydration are referred to throughout as medical treatment.

It is simply not good enough to say that killing patients is already illegal therefore there is no need for this Bill. The decision of your Lordships’ House in Bland, its confirmation in subsequent cases and guidance emanating from the BMA and GMC have left the law, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Mustill, “both morally and intellectually misshapen”. This Bill seeks to restore moral and intellectual clarity to the law. To allow doctors to withdraw sustenance from patients with the purpose of ending their lives subverts the law of murder. Hence the urgent need for this Bill.

Tube feeding or sustenance is not medical treatment. It is basic care. Many people with cystic fibrosis are fed by gastric tube and live an otherwise normal life. Others with paralysis of the throat and swallowing mechanism feed via nasal tubes. There has been great progress made by nurses, doctors, dieticians and speech therapists working together to help those with swallowing difficulties. If swallowing is impossible, thirst should be relieved by fluids delivered by the least invasive method possible in the circumstances.

In all the time that my colleagues and I have spent debating this matter I have yet to hear a convincing explanation as to why nutrition and hydration, however so delivered, should be classified as medical treatment and not basic care. What medical ailment is being treated? Since when have hunger or thirst been considered an illness? Perhaps the noble Lord, the Minister could clarify this when he/she replies. If non-dying patients are denied nutrition and hydration then the inevitable consequence is death within days, whatever the pathology.

By calling nutrition and hydration “medical treatment” the courts, the Government, the BMA and the GMC have overmedicalised sustenance and have opened the way to the killing of vulnerable, particularly elderly, patients in our hospitals. Regardless of whether nutrition and hydration is delivered by a spoon, by PEG, or by nasogastric tube, this does not alter the substance of what is being delivered. The means of delivery may be artificial – not the sustenance itself. To talk of artificial nutrition and hydration is a complete misnomer.

Lord Hoffman noted this in his judgement in Bland:

“If someone allows a small child or invalid in his care to starve to death, we do not say that he allowed nature to take its course. We think that he has committed a particularly wicked crime. We treat him as if he had introduced an external agency of death. It is the same ethical principle which requires doctors and hospitals to provide patients in their care with such medical attention and nursing as they are reasonably able to give……The giving of food to a helpful person is so much the quintessential example of kindness and humanity that it is hard to imagine a case in which it would be morally right to withhold it.”

The Bill focuses on “the purpose” of the person responsible for the care of a patient. This draws upon the common sense understanding of the notion of ‘purpose’ which is integral to the law and to ethics. We always distinguish someone’s purpose in acting from other consequences, even those which may be foreseen.

If a person responsible for the care of a patient withholds or withdraws sustenance with the purpose of causing death, their conduct will be unlawful.

Nothing in the Bill obstructs good medical practice. The Bill does not impose any requirement on doctors to strive to keep alive patients who are dying. The role of doctors in terminal illness is to provide as peaceful and pain free death as possible.

The Bill does not make unlawful the withholding or withdrawal of sustenance from a patient who is in the process of dying and where the placement of feeding tubes would be regarded as unduly intrusive and inappropriate or where the risk of placing the feeding tube would be excessive. This is far removed from the deliberate withholding or withdrawing of sustenance with the purpose of causing the death of a patient who is not otherwise dying.

The last thing I want to see are good doctors being exposed to complaints or the risk of prosecution at the behest of aggrieved relatives.

This is why ‘purpose’ is the key. Those responsible for patient care should not fear this Bill. As the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics observed, “juries are asked every day to assess intention in all sorts of cases” (para. 243) and could do so if there was any reason to suspect that the doctor’s purpose was to kill. When sustenance is withdrawn for ethically and legally acceptable reasons the data about a patient’s clinical condition and the observations of other carers will support the person responsible for the care of the patient. Contrary to some assertions, this Bill will not encourage the practice of ‘defensive medicine’.

Nor will this Bill restrict patient autonomy. A doctor’s respect for a competent patient’s refusal of sustenance would involve no intention on his part other than a concern not to commit the tort of battery, of which he would be guilty in imposing sustenance contrary to a competent patient’s wishes.

Where health professionals remain concerned about the practical impact of this Bill my colleagues and I are happy to meet with them in order to discuss their legitimate concerns further. What we cannot do is sit back and do nothing.

The noble Baroness Knight has given some disturbing examples of the withholding and withdrawal of nutrition and hydration from non-dying patients that has inevitably resulted in their deaths. Elderly patients with dementia or strokes appear most at risk. Last July we had the damning report from the Commission for Health Improvement following their investigation into elderly deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital. There are many other appalling cases I could cite – a large number of them collected by the patient lobby group ‘SOS-NHS’ – that demonstrate why vulnerable patients need the protection that this Bill provides.

Patient groups like ‘SOS-NHS’ are particularly concerned about the increasingly common practice of sedating patients and then deliberately withholding nutrition and hydration until the patient dies. Having been sedated, the patient is unable to demand sustenance and his or her distress may not be readily apparent. The death certificate will commonly state that the cause of death was the underlying medical condition, not dehydration.

Such practices must end. The medical establishment has shown no desire to put its own house in order. Hence the introduction of this Bill.

The 1994 Report from the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics concluded that the Bland judgement should not be enshrined in statute.

“We consider that the progressive development and ultimate acceptance of the notion that some treatment is inappropriate should make it unnecessary to consider the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration, except in circumstances where its administration is in itself evidently burdensome to the patient.”

Sadly, their conclusions have been ignored and the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration from non-dying patients has become an accepted element of medical practice.

Food and water are basic human needs that should never be withdrawn or withheld if the purpose in so doing is to hasten or otherwise cause the death of the patient.

The pro-euthanasia lobby see acceptance for the withdrawal or withholding of sustenance from patients who are not dying as the first major hurdle to overcome on the road towards the legalisation of assisted suicide and positive euthanasia. After all they argue, if it is legitimate to subject patients to a slow, painful and distressing death by starvation and dehydration, surely it is ‘more compassionate’ to give them a lethal injection that will ensure a swift death?

We must wake up to the pro-euthanasia agenda being promoted in our hospitals. To purposefully starve or dehydrate patients to death is unethical and should be illegal. I support this Bill.


Coercive Population Control in China – 2001

Extracts from Hansard

(a) Lord Alton’s speech at Committee Stage – 16th July 2001

I signed Amendments Nos. 23 and 24, together with the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who apologises to the House, as she is on parliamentary business in Indonesia at the moment, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who is absent on parliamentary business elsewhere.

It might be convenient to speak to Amendment No. 26A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, at the same time. I strongly support the intentions behind it. The amendment would go a long way to deal with some of the questions raised in Amendments Nos. 23 and 24.

This is a timely and topical debate, not least because of the decision in the past few days to award the Olympic Games to China, where coercive population control is regularly practised. Some Members of your

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Lordships’ House may have read an article in today’s Daily Telegraph by Sion Simon, who is the Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Erdington. He said:

“The totalitarian brutality of the Chinese government is not in dispute. By the regime’s own admission, it has executed more than 1,700 people in little more than the past two months. The most common crimes among the dead were forms of disobedience which in the rest of the world would be called expression”.

The decision on the venue for the Olympic Games has met huge criticism throughout the country. As an example of that, I cite yesterday’s Independent on Sunday:

“Optimists suggest that the Olympic spirit will ensure that China cleans up its human rights act in time for the Games”.

But, the paper says,

“Think again. No, we can expect the Beijing Games to model themselves on Berlin in 1936–with dissenters brutally swept aside in a grotesque attempt to showcase a totalitarian regime … Don’t be taken in”.

The reason for drawing a parallel with that decision is that over the past 20 years successive governments have argued that we should do business with China in the whole area of reproductive rights and that, sooner or later, we shall be effective in preventing the coercive population policies pursued there. I do not mention this issue simply because of a distaste for abuses of human rights in China; I have taken a long and sustained interest in this matter since the Chinese Government introduced the policy in 1980.

Indeed, looking back to my time in another place, together with the Member of Parliament for Congleton, Mrs Ann Winterton, in 1995 I initiated a debate there following the broadcast of a programme entitled “The Dying Rooms” by Channel 4. Brian Woods, the director of the programme, wrote about his harrowing visit to a number of orphanages in China at that time. He said:

“Every single baby in this orphanage was a girl … the only boys were mentally or physically disabled. 95 per cent of the babies we saw were able-bodied girls”.

He also said:

“The most shocking orphanage we visited lay, ironically, just twenty minutes from one of the five star international hotels that herald China’s emergence from economic isolation”.

That programme followed another broadcast by BBC2 called “Women of the Yellow Earth”. Both programmes highlighted how forced abortion, forced sterilisation and the forcible fitting of IUCDs for women had been commonplace in China since the one-child policy was introduced in 1980. The simple test that I suggested in the debate in another place in 1995 was whether or not we would permit such procedures to take place here. If not, I asked, what in the world were we doing funding them in China?

At that time, I took those arguments to the then Minister responsible for overseas development, the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey. I had two meetings with her. I saw the present Secretary of State, Clare Short, for whom I have considerable respect, not long after she came to office. To use a phrase that probably explains that we both held trenchant views on either side of the argument, we held a very frank discussion.

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The noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, and Clare Short have argued consistently in the same context as the arguments put forward for the Olympic Games being held in Beijing–that is, if we were inside we might be able to affect the population policies being pursued by the Chinese Population Association. Successive governments have also argued that we do not fund the Chinese Population Association directly. However, no one has disputed that the funds that we do provide to the United Nations Population Fund–the UNFPA–and to the International Planned Parenthood Federation–IPPF–go into the CPA and, thence, into the one-child policy. Ministers have always accepted that, and I shall allude to it again during the course of my remarks.

During the past 15 years or so both in another place and here I have regularly tabled Questions to Ministers on these subjects. The noble Baroness, Lady Amos, replied to a Question which I tabled in March this year when I raised with her the matter of a report which appeared in the Sunday Times. I shall return to that report in a moment. In reply, she said:

“The incident in Hubei Province is deplorable, and the Government remain concerned about reports of reproductive abuses and other human rights abuses in China. But we also believe that programmes of the kind supported by UNFPA can contribute to improving policy and practice, and to

helping to bring about a climate where coercion and abuse will no longer be tolerated”.–[Official Report,

6/3/01; cols. WA24-25.]

Therefore, the argument remains the same: if we stay within, somehow we shall be able to influence events. The purpose of this amendment is to say that surely the point has now been reached where we can see that that policy has not succeeded and that, therefore, the moment has now come to change the policy.

The report in the Sunday Times to which I referred was based on evidence produced by Amnesty International. Michael Sheridan said:

“A retired doctor had rescued the newborn child from the cesspit of a men’s lavatory, where he had been tossed to die. Liu Juyu took the baby to a clinic, where she was confronted by five birth control officials. Amnesty says they snatched the baby, threw him to the ground, kicked him and took him away to be drowned in a paddy field.

The child had been born in breach of local quotas enforced by the officials, who feared higher-level punishment if their targets were not met”.

In the same report, another case referred to,

“mass demonstrations … held in Changsha, Hunan province, after cadres tortured to death a man who would not reveal the whereabouts of his wife, who was believed to be pregnant”.

Those are not lurid reports dreamed up by journalists. Amnesty International’s citing of that case highlighted the growing resistance in China to such brutal methods. Perhaps later in the week–I have tabled an Unstarred Question on these matters for Wednesday–I shall have the opportunity to return in further detail to what Amnesty said.

There has been a change of mood in relation to these issues. Considerable change has occurred in the United States, for example, following hearings in Congress held on 10th June 1998 to which I shall refer

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again in a moment. The very first act of the incoming Bush Administration was to stop the funding of such programmes.

Change has also taken place here. When Mr Gary Streeter was appointed as the spokesman on overseas aid for the Opposition, I went to see him and we had an extremely useful discussion. He promised me that he would take the issue most seriously. As a consequence, I was delighted to read in the Conservative Party manifesto at the general election an undertaking that these policies would be reassessed. Therefore, I was even more pleased when the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, moved this amendment today and provided us with the opportunity to discuss–not in an adversarial, partisan way–the issue further as the summer proceeds between now and Report stage on 16th October.

Instinctively, I would wish to divide the House on the matter, but not today. I want people to have the chance to consider the issue and to see whether we can make a common purpose and recognise that all the evidence that is emerging shows that the previous policy of hoping for the best is simply not working.

When Congressman Chris Smith spoke to the congressional hearing, he cited the example of the Nuremberg trials. He said then that forced abortion was rightly denounced as a crime against humanity by the Nuremberg tribunal. He said that the United Nations should be organising an international tribunal to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of the Chinese population control programme. Indeed, he added, it continues to fund and congratulate them.

In evidence to that Select Committee, an extraordinary account was given by Gao Xiao Duan, who was herself a birth control official in China. She had managed to flee from China and gave evidence directly to Congress. She said:

“Should a woman be found pregnant without a certificate, abortion surgery is performed immediately, regardless of how many months she is pregnant”.

Elsewhere in her evidence, she said:

“Following are a few practices carried out in the wake of ‘planned-birth supervision’

I. House dismantling … this practice not only exists in our province, but in rural areas in other provinces as well”.

When referring to sterilisation she said:

“The proportion of women sterilized after giving birth is extraordinarily high”.

She continued:

“During my 14-year tenure … I witnessed how many brothers and sisters were persecuted by the Chinese communist government for violating its ‘planned-birth policy.’ Many of them were crippled for life, and many of them were victims of mental disorders resulting from their abortions. Many families were ruined or destroyed. My conscience was always gnawing at my heart … Once I found a woman who was nine months pregnant, but did not have a birth-allowed certificate. According to the policy, she was forced to undergo an abortion surgery. In the operation room, I saw how the aborted child’s lips were suckling, how its limbs were stretching. A physician injected poison into its skull, and the child died, and it was thrown into the trashcan. To help a tyrant do evils was not what I wanted. I could not bear seeing all those mothers grief-stricken by induced delivery and sterilization. I could not live with this on my conscience. I, too, after all, am a mother”.

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Harry Wu, the human rights activist who was imprisoned in China for many years, also gave evidence. There is not time this evening to go into great detail, but I am sure that Members of the Committee would wish to hear one or two of his statements. He said:

“In Communist China, grassroots PBP cadres”–

that is, planned birth policy cadres–

“are stationed in every village. Those communist party and government cadres are the most immediate tools for dominating the people … They must watch every woman in the village, their duty being to promptly force women violators to undergo sterilization and abortion surgeries … PBP is targeted against every woman, every family”.

The evidence continues to amass. The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture made available to me documents from the research directorate of the immigration and refugee board in Ottawa, Canada. In its evidence, it said:

“Beyond sheer population growth, the Chinese government has acknowledged that it is facing two difficult demographic issues–an ageing population and a growing gender imbalance … both of which are in part related to its population policies of the past decades”.

That refers to the fact that there is now a disproportionate balance between the sexes–about 120 boys are now born for every 100 girls. The Sunday Telegraph of 22nd September 1998 highlighted the consequences of that policy in an article entitled, “China’s kidnapped wives”. Of the practise of kidnapping young women, it stated:

“It has become a huge and lucrative business in China. In the five years up to 1996, 88,000 women who had been kidnapped were released by the police–and 143,000 kidnappers caught and prosecuted”.

That is a direct result of the fact that the number of women available is not the same as the number of men living in that country. The article continues:

“The kidnap trade has grown up for one simple reason: the massive imbalance of the sexes in the Chinese population. According to the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences, there are now 120 males for every 100 females in China.

The shortage of women is a result of Communist China’s one-baby rule–and the deep-grained peasant desire for that one baby to be a boy. Approximately nine out of every 10 of the millions of abortions performed in China each year are, experts say, aimed at getting rid of a female foetus”.

Those are some of the consequences of the approach. Another consequence is called the “little emperor” syndrome. Inevitably, if a baby is a single child, he or she is often doted on in such a way that he or she becomes spoilt and grows to be socially immature and unable to relate properly to other children.

The report that the medical foundation made available to me suggests that the policy simply does not work anyway. It states:

“Some sources question the efficacy of the country’s population policy, pointing out that the country’s fertility rate dropped significantly in the 1970s, but that there has been no subsequent marked decline after the policy’s implementation”.

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The report also refers to corruption. Many officials abuse the system because they have more than one child although they require others to conform to the policy.

I realise that time is short and I do not intend to detain the Committee for much longer. However, this is a rare opportunity to debate a crucially important question. This country provides vast sums that go towards the policy. The UK Government gave the equivalent of £15 million to UNFPA in 1999 and the equivalent of £5.8 million to IPPS in 1999. In addition, they donated an estimated £39.5 million directly to China through concessionary financing arrangements.

There is much evidence showing the way in which the money has been abused. I could cite Dr John Aird’s book, Slaughter of the Innocents, or the evidence of Amnesty International or the medical foundation. A couple of years ago the BBC World Service reported that riots had broken out near the southern city of Gaozhou,

“after government officials moved in to enforce the country’s one child family planning policy”.

I have referred to the gender gap and the condition of orphanages. According to the latest available figures, which were compiled in 1994, about 1.7 million children are abandoned each year. The vast majority of those who are eventually admitted to orphanages are female, although some are disabled or in poor health.

China is the only country in the world in which it is illegal to have a brother or a sister. It is extraordinary that millions of pounds–British taxpayers’ funds–have been poured into those policies over the years.

In this context we also need to consider the distorting effect on the population in that country and the abusive approach used in countries such as Tibet, in which the Tibetan population has been deliberately reduced by coercive population means. We should also consider the abuse of women through forced sterilisation, forced abortions and the forced fitting of IUCDs. Those matters and the massive destruction of life should cause us seriously to reconsider whether we should make our resources available to support such an approach. I therefore with great pleasure support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings.

(b) Lord Alton’s Unstarred Question on Human Rights in China – 18th July 2001

Lord Alton of Liverpool rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of human rights abuses in China, and whether they intend to re-assess the funding of agencies involved in population control measures in China.

The noble Lordsaid: I ask this Unstarred Question against the backdrop of massive violations and abuses of human rights in China. I am extremely grateful to those noble Lordsfrom all sides of the House who have indicated their willingness to contribute to the debate.

Amnesty International has pointed out that the Chinese,

“in their latest ‘strike hard campaign’, have managed to execute more people in three months than the rest of the world put together for the last three years”.

Over 1,700 people have been executed since April. Amnesty states that:

“few would have received a fair trial”.

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Political rights, freedom of expression and association, the abuse of religious liberties and intolerable interference in people’s personal and family lives all characterise life in China today. Yet we appear remarkably silent and complacent. From the decision to stage the Olympic Games in Beijing to our silence on Tibet, from our continued aid programme and deepening of business ties, we have demonstrated a calculated indifference to widespread suffering and misery in that country.

Today, I wish briefly to concentrate on two specific instances of human rights abuses. On Monday last, during the Committee stage of the International Development Bill, I supported an amendment from the Opposition Front Bench seeking to end British funding for agencies involved in the one-child policy in China. During my speech, reported at column 1327 of the Official Report, I documented examples of appalling abuses of the human rights of women and their families. On 16th October, the House will return to these issues at Report stage. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will use the intervening period to reflect on the evidence that I laid before your Lordships’ House.

In particular, I hope that the Government will reassess their argument that because there is a non-coercive population policy being pursued in 32 counties, this mitigates the use of coercion in the other 2,500 counties in China, or in its 335 prefectures, 666 cities and 717 other urban districts.

This barbaric policy of forced abortion, the compulsory sterilisation of women and the compulsory fitting of inter-uterine devices, accompanied by infanticide and terror, has been pursued now for some 20 years. British taxpayers’ money has been poured into the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the United Nations Population Fund, which in turn pour money into two agencies of the Chinese communist state, the SFPC (State Family Planning Commission) and the CFPA (Chinese Family Planning Association).

The CFPA is a full member of IPPF and has been headed since its inception by Chinese government officials. It has a declared aim to “implement government population policies”. Quin Zinzhong, one of the Ministers who has overseen that policy, said:

“The size of the family is far too important to be left to the couple. Births are a matter of state planning”.

In one province the slogan,

“It is better to have more graves than one more child”,

has been used.

Over the past 20 years, apologists for this policy have argued that it needs time to work; that the West will ultimately be able to influence a more enlightened approach; and that this funding is a legitimate use of our aid programme. But I invite your Lordships to measure those arguments against the following four reference points and to ask what horrors have to occur before we, like the American Administration, reassess this policy.

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First, Catherine Baber of Amnesty International, says:

“We are especially worried about people being put into detention to put pressure on pregnant relatives to undergo forced abortions. As far as we are concerned, that amounts to torture”.

Secondly, the US State Department confirmed in a recent report that women had been incarcerated in “re-education centres” and “forced to submit to abortions”. Thirdly, the BBC reported that refugees arriving in Australia had cited coercive family planning as one of their reasons for leaving China. And, fourthly, Tibetan dissidents, who were quoted in the Tibet Vigil on 24th August last year, said:

“What is the UK doing helping to fund birth control policies in Tibet, an occupied country? . . . China’s inhumane policies of enforced sterilisation and abortion amount to genocide”.

In an intervention in the debate on Monday, I cited the Government’s own document, China: Population Issues, where the department admits that the involvement of the UNFPA and the IPPF has,

“not led the Chinese to moderate their policies or to stop abuses”.

The former executive director of the UNFPA, Nafis Sadiq, said:

“China has every reason to feel proud and pleased with its remarkable achievements in family planning policy . . . Now China could offer its experiences and special experts to other countries”.

A few weeks ago, Amnesty International highlighted the cases of a baby boy, born above the permitted quota level, who was kicked to death by family planning officials. That case was reported in the Sunday Times. Amnesty International also reported the case of a man who was tortured to death because he would not reveal the whereabouts of his pregnant wife. I find it extraordinary that no-one disputes that these outrages occur daily, and yet we persist in issuing weak words of disapproval and providing funding which finds its way to the perpetrators of these deeds.

China’s repression of its citizens also manifests itself through religious persecution. The 1989 events culminating in the Tiananmen Square massacre precipitated an increased repression of all activity which the Chinese state perceived as a threat, including religious practice. The tone was set by “Document No. 6” issued by the Communist Party Central Committee in February 1991, which called for the elimination of all “illegal” religious groups. Within the last year, 130 evangelical Christians were detained in Henan province. They were all members of the Fangcheng Church, one of many Protestant house churches. They were sent to re-education centres.

Amnesty International say that 24 Roman Catholics, including a priest and 20 nuns, were detained in Fujian province, where police found them holding church services in a mushroom processing factory. Father Liu Shaozhang was so badly beaten by police that he vomited blood, and the whereabouts of many of the other detainees remains unknown.

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Many of your Lordships will have seen the report which appeared recently in The Times. It concerned a 79 year-old Catholic bishop who had been re-arrested. He had already spent 30 years in Chinese prisons. The report from Oliver August said:

“Bishop Shi has long been a target of police harassment. A police spokesman said: ‘We have been hunting for him since 1996’ . . . ordained in 1982 after spending 30 years in prison. He was back in a labour camp between 1990 and 1993”.

And he has subsequently been re-arrested.

When I wrote to the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in London, I received a reply dated 19th June from Zhao Jun, the charge d’affaires, who said:

“in China, religious believers have not been subjected to suppression or prosecution in whatever form. No religious believers have been punished for their religious belief or normal religious activities. They will be dealt with only when they violate the law. The policy of freedom of religious belief remains unchanged”.

But whether it is in regard to the Falun Gong, Buddhist monks and priests, Christian evangelicals or Catholics, all the evidence that has been accumulated by both the human rights group, the Jubilee Campaign, and by Amnesty International proves otherwise.

I have four specific suggestions. First, that there should be sustained international pressure on the Chinese Government to permit religious freedom in China and to release all those detained for their peaceful religious beliefs and practices. Secondly, that the system of official religious organisations and the requirement that one must join them in order to worship should be abolished. These organisations are often used as instruments of control and repression by the state. Thirdly, that the restrictions placed on the publishing and distribution of the Bible in China should be lifted. Fourthly, the state’s prohibition against Sunday schools and the giving of Christian teaching and baptism to young people under the age of 18 should also be lifted.

China systematically uses re-education centres and imprisonment for religious believers and political reformers. These include political dissidents, such as members of the banned China Democratic Party, and anti-corruption and environmental campaigners. Suppression of the Internet, arrests, detentions, unfair trials and executions, the imprisonment of hundreds of Buddhist monks, Christians and members of Falun Gong, and the barbaric treatment of women and children through the one-child policy, must surely cause each one of us to question how we can persist with a policy of business, sport and aid as usual.

Lord Alton’s Speech at 3rd Reading – 25th October 2001

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who have spoken to the amendment so eloquently and effectively.

As the noble Lord reminded us, the amendment has its genesis in an amendment tabled at Committee stage by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. I supported the amendment then and am happy to do so again today.

Perhaps I may associate myself with remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in connection with the health of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Many Members from other parts of the House will join with friends of the noble Baroness in wishing her a swift recovery to full health. We want to see her back in her place taking part in our debates very soon.

In Committee I suggested a simple test for the amendment. Would we permit such policies or practices to take place here, and, if not, what on earth were we doing funding them in other parts of the world? Following that debate and my Unstarred Question on the issue in July, I was grateful to the BBC for transmitting a report from Beijing highlighting the way in which the “one child policy”, as it was described by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, targets little girls. I am grateful to the corporation for the moving footage that it showed of the brave Chinese woman who had rescued five new-born baby girls who had been dumped on the local garbage heap because their parents were in breach of the “one child” quota. Sadly, that same woman said that she had to leave behind many others.

We understand the good reasons why the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, cannot be present today, and acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, will be most effective in dealing with the Government’s

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arguments in her place. At earlier stages of the Bill, the noble Baroness set out five arguments in total as to why the amendment should be resisted. Perhaps I may summarise them.

The first concerned free choice. The noble Baroness said that the Government are totally opposed to any kind of coercion in matters relating to childbearing. I doubt whether anyone in this House would disagree. The second and third arguments suggested that, by working from within, we should somehow be changing policies with which we disagreed. The noble Baroness specifically said that the IPPF and UNFPA could act as forces for positive change. The fourth argument was that, because some good is being done, we could be relaxed about policies of which we disapprove, with particular regard to China. The final argument was that if we accepted the proposed amendments,

“embedding current policies and priorities in legislation [we] could restrict our ability to make the most effective contribution possible to the elimination of poverty and to the welfare of people”.–[Official Report, 18/10/01; col. 730.]

It is proper to address those arguments, which have run through all stages of the Bill.

In the United States, the same arguments have been put. But our American allies have reached conclusions that are diametrically opposed to those of Her Majesty’s Government. Their decision to end all funding of what they describe as brutal and inhumane policies of coercion is one that we have a chance to emulate today. It is my belief that we should redeploy the resources that are currently used for such policies into the humanitarian relief programmes that are so desperately needed in places such as Afghanistan. Although my remarks are made with regard to the continuing human rights abuses in China, the amendment applies more widely, wherever UK government funding is complicit in coercive population control.

As I said, the Government place great stock on bilateral human rights dialogue with China and on the role of the UNFPA and the IPPF as positive forces for change. During the debate on my Unstarred Question on 18th July, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, illustrated the problem. The noble Lord asked:

“Has China been persuaded to live up to the standards of the UN covenants it has signed, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights? Has China been persuaded to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama? Has it given Tibet real control over its own affairs? Has China’s persecution of Tibetans and the suppression of their traditional culture and religion ended? Has the boy designated as the Panchen Lama been produced? … The answer on all counts is a resounding ‘No'”.–[Official Report, 18/7/01; col. 1559.]

The noble Baroness, Lady Amos, admitted on behalf of the Government that the human rights situation in China “remains bleak” and the process of dialogue,

“has achieved little in terms of promoting positive change in Tibet and on the freedom of religion and the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners”.–[Official Report, 18/7/01; col. 1575.]

So, by the Government’s own admission, the bilateral human rights dialogue with China is failing to curb widespread and appalling human rights abuses.

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Looking more specifically at population control in China, up-to-date evidence suggests that the UNFPA and the IPPF, which together receive about £20 million in unrestricted government grants each year, are not only failing to prevent coercive population control but are implicated in the coercive practices of the Chinese state family planning organisations.

Only last week, the United States Congress International Relations Committee held a hearing into,

“Coercive Population Control in China: New Evidence of Forced Abortion and Forced Sterilisation”.

Perhaps I may say in parenthesis that I have been disappointed that the International Development Select Committee and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in another place have never examined these policies in the detail with which they have been examined in Congress. Nor has any Select Committee in this place. If nothing else comes out of our debates during the course of the Bill, we fervently hope that one of those committees will do as the United States has done and call evidence on these questions.

The US committee heard last week that in January 1998 the UNFPA signed a four-year agreement with Beijing. Under it, the UNFPA would operate in 32 counties throughout China. In each of those counties the central local authorities agreed that there would be no coercion and no birth quotas and that abortion would not be promoted as a method of family planning. Indeed, when I spoke to the Secretary of State, Ms Clare Short, about this issue some three years ago, she pointed to that project and said that we must wait and see what happened there. She said that it might well denote a change in the attitude of the Chinese administration.

Yet after hearing last week first-hand testimony from one of those counties, Henry Hyde, the chairman of the House of Congress International Relations Committee, concluded,

“that, after three years, the new arrangement is not working”.

That directly contradicts the Government’s arguments that we must give the UNFPA and the IPPF more time and that somehow they might then be able to act as positive forces for change and that assistance given is based upon principles of free and informed choice. None of those arguments stands up to scrutiny; they simply are not true.

First-hand testimony of the persistence of coercive population control in areas in China where the UNFPA operates, and, indeed, the collusion of the UNFPA in such coercion, was provided to the committee on international relations by Josephine Guy, the director of governmental affairs of America 21. Her investigation in China began as recently as 27th September of this year. The evidence she uncovered cannot therefore be dismissed as out-of-date, rather it demonstrates the continuing horrors of coercive population control which we aid and abet through continued funding of the UNFPA and the IPPF. I shall provide your Lordships with some examples.

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On 27th September, Guy’s team interviewed women in a family planning clinic about a mile from the county office of the UNFPA. They interviewed a 19 year-old who told them that she was too young to be pregnant according to the unbending family planning policy. While she was receiving a non-voluntary abortion in an adjacent room, her friends pleaded that she be allowed to keep the baby. However, they were told that there was no choice as the law forbade that. At another location a woman testified to that same group–this evidence was also presented to the committee last week–that she became pregnant despite an earlier attempt by family planning officials forcibly to sterilise her. That attempt failed. She became pregnant again and was forcibly sterilised a second time. She told Guy’s team that had she refused, family planning crews would have torn her house down. The House will recall that in Committee I provided evidence of that happening on a regular and systematic basis in many parts of China.

Josephine Guy was also told of the non-voluntary use of IUDs and mandatory examination so that family planning officials could ensure that women had not removed IUDs in violation of policy. Fines and imprisonment for contravening family planning policy are commonplace and, according to Harry Wu, the executive director of the Laogai Research Foundation, who also gave evidence to the committee, local officials acting upon government orders still strictly enforce quotas.

We should be absolutely clear that the Chinese Government remain firmly committed to the need for coercion in family planning. The Chinese Premier, Zhu Rongji, said on 13th October 1999 that,

“China will continue to enforce its effective family planning policy in the new century in order to create a favourable environment for further development”.

In its White Paper on population, released on 19th December 2000, the People’s Republic of China avowed to continue the one-child policy for another 50 years. The CFPA, which is run by government officials with the declared aim to “implement government population polices”, is, of course, a full member of the IPPF whom we fund.

The UNFPA is highly implicated in the Chinese Government’s coercive programme and yet continues to receive millions of pounds of UK taxpayers’ money. Josephine Guy’s team graphically illustrate the extent of collusion between the UNFPA and Chinese family planning officials. Following last month’s investigations they concluded that,

“Through discrete contact made with local officials, we located the County Government Building. Within this building, we located the Office of Family Planning. And within the Office of Family Planning, we located the UNFPA office. Through local officials, we learned the UNFPA works in and through this Office of Family Planning. We photographed the UNFPA office desk, which faces&