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Persecution has ‘strengthened the prophetic role of church’ in Asia, priests say

Despite rising extremism, two missionary priests in Southeast Asia believe that anti-Christian persecution has “strengthened the prophetic role of church.”

“We exercise our role as prophets in our time” in calling out abuses against Christians, said Monsignor Romeo Saniel, who serves as vicar administrator of Jolo in the Philippines and has participated in several peace negotiations between the Philippine government and militant Muslim factions.

Saniel and Father Neville Fernando of Sri Lanka, recently spoke with Crux about the threats Christians face in their respective countries – but also why they believe the Catholic Church is helping to lead the way in peacebuilding and interreligious dialogue.

Both were in New York to participate in “Listening to Survivors of Religious Freedom: The Call to Religious Freedom” panel at the United Nations and sponsored by the papal charity Aid to the Church in Need.

For Fernando, the challenges of combating extremists were cemented this year on Easter Sunday when he was one of the first responders to the brutal attacks across Sri Lanka targeting Christians and killing over 300 people and injuring some 500 others.

Fernando, who is a former Franciscan provincial, was standing outside of St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo when he saw a man carrying what he described to a friend at the time as a “heavy bag.”

Moments after watching the man enter the church, he heard the fatal explosion. He recalls rushing into the church and seeing blood everywhere. As the victims rushed outside, many grabbed onto him for help, leaving him covered in blood, as well.

In the aftermath, he feared that the country – which has enjoyed relative peace since the end of its decades-long civil war in 2009 – would erupt in widespread violence between religious factions.

Yet Fernando said that the country’s Catholic bishops have been united in their efforts to keep the peace.

Read more at Crux 

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