(Photo: Catholic News Service/Nancy Phelan Wiechec - United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Facebook photo)
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said that religious freedom concerns in America pale in comparison to the severe persecution Christians experience throughout the world in his final address as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Monday.
"Brother bishops, our legitimate and ongoing struggles to protect our 'first and most cherished freedom' in the United States pale in comparison to the Via Crucis currently being walked by so many of our Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, who are experiencing lethal persecution on a scale that defies belief," Dolan said in his final address to the USCCB General Assembly in Baltimore.
"If our common membership in the mystical body of Christ is to mean anything, then their suffering must be ours as well."
The outgoing USCCB president cited a Pew Research Center poll that pointed out that 75 percent of the world's population lives in regions where the ability to freely practice one's faith is restricted. Dolan also highlighted several incidents around the world in the past year where Muslim and Christian tensions have increased, leading to violence and death.
"While Muslims and Christians have long lived peacefully side-by-side in Zanzibar, for instance, this past year has seen increasing violence. Catholic churches have been burned and priests have been shot. In September one priest was the victim of a horrific acid attack. Nigeria has also been the site of frequent anti-Christian violence, including church bombings on our holiest days," Dolan reminded the audience.
"The situation in India has also been grave, particularly after the Orissa massacre of 2008, where hundreds of Christians were murdered and thousands displaced, and thousands of homes and some 400 churches were torched. Just recently, a Christian couple was recently attacked by an angry mob just because of their faith, their Bibles torn from their hands."
The NY Cardinal then referenced a speech Pope Francis made on global persecution in September, where the leader of the Roman Catholic Church said that stories of suffering should speak to all Christians, as they are all a part of the church and the family of God.
Dolan told the bishops that a number of things can be done to tackle global persecution, including encouraging intercession for the persecuted, and supporting organizations who are directly working in such regions.
"We can also make people aware of the great suffering of our brothers and sisters with all the means at our disposal. Our columns, our blogs, our speeches, and our pastoral letters can reference the subject. We can ask our pastors to preach on it, and to stimulate study sessions or activist groups in their parishes," Dolan continued.
"We can encourage our Catholic media to tell the stories of today's new martyrs, unfortunately abundant. Our good experience defending religious freedom here at home shows that, when we turn our minds to an issue, we can put it on the map. Well, it's time to harness that energy for our fellow members of the household of faith hounded for their beliefs around the world."
During his time as USCCB president, Dolan has also talked about religious freedom concerns in America, in particular the Obamacare mandate that pushes religious employers to offer health insurance that covers birth control, including abortifacient.
In the conclusion to his speech on Monday, Dolan called on his fellow bishops to extend religious freedom efforts "to the dramatic front lines of this battle, where Christians are paying for their fidelity with their lives."
"As the Council reminded us, we are bishops not only for our dioceses, not only for our nation, but for the Church universal." he added.