Pray for Asia’s People, Give Thanks for Freedom to Worship God
As we unite in a solidarity of prayer for people living in difficult conditions in far-off places, we turn to Asia where millions of people are deprived of the freedoms of association and movement, and the rights to speak freely and to worship God. We can start by finding out just what life is like in these far-off places…
We start our spiritual journey in the Republic of Myanmar (née Burma), where the largest religion is Theravada Buddhism.
There the government has launched a campaign of discrimination against the minority Rohingya ethnic group. Most of the Rohingya, who are Muslim, have been denied nationality, even though they have lived in Myanmar for generations. Some 250000 people have been displaced by authority crackdowns on Rohingya villages.
We may remember the story which made international headlines, when boats containing over 1000 Rohingya were moored off the coast of Malaysia while seeking permission to enter as refugees. Following international pressure, Malaysia finally accepted the asylum seekers, but they were detained for months before finally being resettled. Hundreds of thousands more Rohingya find themselves living as refugees in Bangladesh and Thailand.
Let’s visit India
Across the Bay of Bengal is India, home to 1,3 billion people. The majority lives in abject poverty in a society that is still largely governed by a caste system.
The most vulnerable of India’s citizens are its women and children. Amnesty International reported that 327000 crimes against women were reported in 2015. Human trafficking remains rife as women and children are abducted or sold for the sex industry.
Children don’t fare much better and crimes against minors are on the rise. In 2016, the government increased the official working age of children to 14, but this law does not include children working in family enterprises. This exploitation of children robs them of the right to education and a possibility of a better future.
China is another densely populated country, with almost 1,4 billion people. Its Internet environment is heavily controlled. The government has blocked Facebook, Twitter and thousands of websites. Cybersecurity laws force Internet providers to monitor users’ online activity and remove all content deemed to “upset the social order”.
The international media has also repeatedly reported on the plight of the Tibetan people, who continue to be denied their right to self-determination. The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people and one of the world’s best-known spiritual leaders, has been in exile in India since 1959. In July 2016, the authorities began demolishing the Larung Gar Tibetan Institute, dispersing the population living in the vicinity as part of a “correction and rectification exercise”, displacing 5000 people.
Far less reported is the persecution of Christians, most of whom have worshipped in secret for decades. In 2016, the government destroyed 1700 crosses and crucifixes in public spaces.
China does not (yet) recognise the authority of Vatican-appointed Catholic bishops and their obedience to the Church in Rome. This has forced the Church in China to create a local hierarchy that is recognised by the Beijing government.
Pope Francis has placed a special emphasis on improving relations with China. Let us pray for the Holy Father’s efforts so that China’s Catholics draw ever closer to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
Let us make a final stop to North Korea, better known for its nuclear missile tests which sow fear in the hearts of people the world over.
We may be less aware that the government uses its citizens to bring in foreign currency. Labourers are exported to places like Angola, China, Kuwait, Qatar and Russia to work in abysmal conditions. They work long hours and do not receive a salary because employers pay the Pyongyang government, who in turn pay a small stipend to their expatriate workforce.
In order to keep citizens from defecting, they are forced to hand over their passports as soon as they arrive in their new country, limiting their freedom of movement. Many of the workers sent overseas are married men whose families remain at home. This further discourages unhappy workers from seeking political asylum.
We can only wonder what impact this will have on family life in North Korea in decades to come.
This snapshot of life in four Asian countries tells a story — that prevails throughout the Asian continent — of discrimination and a restriction of many of the rights we take for granted.
Next time we freely express our thoughts about the government or drive to Mass, let us think that millions of people in Asia and other parts of the world who are denied these very ordinary rights.
Next time we complain about our salaries and having to work on a weekend, let us spare a prayer for those who don’t get to see the fruits of their labour, miss watching their children grow up, or are working against their will.
Father in heaven, you have chosen us to be your children but you give us the freedom to accept you as our Father. We pray for all our brothers and sisters throughout the world who have been denied their basic freedoms, including the freedom to worship you under your many names. Even though their minds and bodies cannot be free from the shackles of oppressive governments, we pray that their souls may rise up to you and grant them the hope to live in eternal freedom with you. Amen.
All statistics taken from the Amnesty International 2016/2017 Human Rights Report.