I’d like to start by echoing Fiona’s sentiments and thanking everyone for attending today. As the Chairman of the APPG for FoRB It’s great to see so many people here who strive for justice in the pursuit and defense of FoRB in one room, especially in the shape of civil society actors and stakeholders of the APPG, and I’m grateful to the officers and members of the APPG who stopped by today to hear more about the crucial work you all do. I hope today is mutually beneficial.
As you may already know, Red Wednesday was established by Aid to the Church in Need – a Catholic initiative to stand in solidarity with Christians and those of other religions or beliefs who are persecuted globally, as well as to raise the profile of FoRB more broadly. I would be amiss then, what with the history of the Day being a Catholic one, if I didn’t mention Sir David Amess MP today, for he was always incredibly supportive of Red Wednesday and its endeavours. His funeral was yesterday and with this being the first APPG FoRB event since the death of David, I hope I speak for us all when I say we have lost a truly excellent public servant, a dear friend to many of the Officers and Members of the APPG, and that his sincere conviction in the importance of FoRB is something we should all strive to emulate. So I ask that you all remember David today in your prayers.
At David’s funeral yesterday, the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain read a message from Pope Francis, which called on us “to reject the ways of violence, to combat evil with good, and to help build a society of ever greater justice, fraternity, and solidarity.”
These three goals: justice, fraternity, and solidarity; guide so much of our work in FoRB.
In the quest for justice, there should be a great urgency in protecting the right of freedom of religion or belief. Expression of religion or belief lies at the heart of human fulfilment, and when this right is impeded, the very dignity of that person is violated. Of course, the history of Red Wednesday is a Catholic one, and earlier this year Pope Francis described freedom of religion as “the primary and fundamental human right”. I think many of us might agree.
I find a lot of hope in the idea of fraternity in our work for FoRB. One initiative the APPG has been working on is partnering prisoners of conscience with parliamentarians so as to assist advocating and awareness raising efforts. What’s a great joy is hearing from MPs who wish to partner with people who are imprisoned for a faith or belief that is different from their own. In the wider struggle for freedom of religion or belief in our world, it is encouraging to witness not only the cross-party, but the cross-religious and cross-belief nature of this endeavour and I pray that it only serves to strengthen our fight in promoting FoRB.
Finally, I’ll end with the idea of solidarity. A couple of years ago after the launch of a report by one of the APPG’s stakeholders, David Amess said: “All over the world, faith groups like we have here in Southend West suffer as a result of their beliefs, so it’s important to ensure we speak out for everyone’s freedom of religion or belief.”
This is so true. And looking around today at those gathered, and seeing who we have sharing their testimonies after I wrap up my remarks, I am confident when I say that we all understand how crucial it is to speak out for everyone’s freedom of religion or belief.
Here in the UK we’re in a position where we do not fear for our lives after going to church, or for practising Ramadan, or for finding the life of humanist George Eliot (who celebrated her 202nd birthday earlier this week) to resonate more deeply with us than the life of Jesus. We’re all free to do any of the above and many more. Such a position could lead to complacency, but I’m glad it doesn’t. Instead, many of those gathered in this room are simply spurred on to secure the freedoms they enjoy for others abroad.
My hope for the Ministerial in July is that it not only shines a light on what the UK is doing to promote FoRB internationally, but that it also reveals where more can, and indeed should, be done to make FoRB a reality for all.