jQuery Slider

You are here

ROME: Where Even Buddha Grips the Sword

ROME: Where Even Buddha Grips the Sword

This is the case of Myanmar, where members of other faiths are persecuted in the name of Buddhism. Or of Sri Lanka, which will be a destination of the pope's next voyage. As documented by the 2014 report of Aid to the Church in Need, on violations of religious freedom

by Sandro Magister
November 6, 2014

Nebuchadnezzar is still among us. And those who do not worship his idol are thrown into the flames, as in chapter three of the prophet Daniel.

On the very same day on which the 2014 report on religious freedom in the world was made public by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need, in Pakistan a crowd of four hundred enraged Muslims attacked and threw into a burning furnace two young Christian spouses, Shahzad Masih, 28, and his wife Shama, 25, who left four children and were expecting another.

Of the twenty countries classified in the report with the highest level of violations of religious freedom, fourteen are officially Muslim, plus Nigeria which is religiously divided between Christians and Muslims but is under the sway of Boko Haram, one of the bloodiest expressions of radical Islam. Without counting the new self-declared Islamic State that has set itself up between Syria and Iraq, sowing death in the name of Allah.

Islam is not, however, the only religion that fosters acts of systematic repression and persecution of other faiths.

Among the twenty countries with the highest level of intolerance, there is for example one whose dominant religion is Buddhism: Myanmar.

Also predominantly Buddhist is another country with a level of intolerance that is barely lower: Sri Lanka.

In the West, Buddhism is synonymous with peace, compassion, wisdom, ecumenical brotherhood. As is the case with its most universally known figure, the Dalai Lama.

But the reality is much different. Religious freedom is heavily repressed not only in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, but, albeit to a lesser extent, in other predominantly Buddhist countries like Laos, Cambodia, Bhutan, Mongolia.

Sri Lanka will be a destination of the voyage that Pope Francis has put on the agenda for next January.

There Buddhists are 70% of the population, Hindus 12.6%, Muslims 9.7%, and Christians 7.4%, most of them Catholic.

For twenty-five years, until 2009, a civil war bloodied the country, with the central government struggling to subdue the rebellion of the Tamils in the northern part of the island.

The Tamils are mainly Hindu, but the war was more political than religious. After the cease-fire, however, more intolerant tendencies began to grow among the Buddhists, who in the name of the identification between Buddhism and the nation attack and persecute as enemies those who belong to other faiths.

The report of Aid to the Church in Need provides a very detailed account of the violence perpetrated between 2013 and 2014 against Muslims and Christians by the most fanatical Buddhist organizations, with the de facto support of the central government.

As does also, in its chapter on Street Lanka, the voluminous "Black book of the condition of Christians in the world" published these same days in Italy and France and edited by Jean-Michel di Falco, Timothy Radcliffe, and Andrea Riccardi.

But the case of Myanmar is even more grave, and by far. There the timid blossoming of democracy that saw the entrance into parliament in 2012 of the dauntless champion of freedom Aung San Suu Kyi has by no means coincided with a drop in religious intolerance, which on the contrary - as the report of Aid to the Church in Need puts it - "has increased in a dramatic manner with the rise of Buddhist militant nationalism."

Here also, as in Sri Lanka, remote conflicts of an ethnic nature have in recent years turned into aggression and persecution of a religious nature, committed by Buddhist organizations founded and led by monks as well as by the government armed forces.

The persecution is particularly aimed at ethnic Rohingya Muslims and Christians of the Kachin and Chin ethnicities in the north of the country and Karen and Karenni in the east. There is no counting the number of mosques and churches that have been destroyed, the villages put to fire and sword (see photo), the hundreds of thousands of persons forced to flee.

News is coming out of torture and forced conversions to Buddhism, even at a very young age, with schools set up to turn the students of other faiths into little monks with shaved heads and orange robes. Importing Bibles and religious books is illegal. Non-Buddhists are excluded from any career in state offices.

In Myanmar, Buddhists are 80% of the population, Christians 7.8%, Muslims 4%. On the last of these, of the Rohingya ethnicity, the state authorities have imposed a limit of bringing into the world no more than two children per couple.


Among the twenty countries classified in the 2014 report of Aid to the Church in Need with the highest level of violation of religious freedom, there are twelve that have registered a further "worsening" of their condition in the last year:

Central African Republic

The foundation of pontifical right that produced the report

Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Trinity School for Ministry
Go To Top