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 CNS Story:

TYBURN-ALTON May-10-2012 (720 words) With photo. xxxi

Lord Alton: Religious freedom is intrinsic aspect of human dignity

By Simon Caldwell
Catholic News Service

LONDON (CNS) -- Christians must insist that religious freedom is an intrinsic aspect of human dignity, said a senior British lay Catholic.

Lord Alton of Liverpool, a member of the British House of Lords, also said he considered the loss of religious identity and the increasing loss of faith in Britain as the gravest deprivation of all, and he blamed them on "a combination of the breakdown of strong family and community life along with the deliberate actions of the state."

"The claim for religious freedom is a universal one, securing the freedom of all people of conscience -- Christian or not -- to embrace the religious belief of their choice," he said in the 2012 Tyburn Lecture at London's Tyburn Convent May 9.

The convent, the motherhouse of the Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre, stands close to the site of the Tyburn gallows, where 105 Catholics were martyred during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Lord Alton said English Catholics must never forget the persecution their forefathers endured during the Protestant Reformation, and he said the lessons of that struggle applied to the present time.

In a speech titled "What Price Faith?" he told his audience there was "nowhere better to make the case for knowing the story of our faith -- and recalling the price which has been paid for our right to practice and to share our faith and the things which we believe about the dignity of the human person made in God's image -- than Tyburn."

This was the place, said Lord Alton, where Catholics sacrificed their lives to pave the way "for the religious freedoms and liberties which we enjoy today, and which, too often, we take for granted."

"We must be clear about that struggle and the interconnectedness of history with the present day, and the interconnectedness of the banning of a person's right to wear a cross with the most vicious forms of discrimination and persecution," he said. "The Tyburn story is a story that has great application in our own times.

"Tyburn's is a poignant and disturbing story of immense cruelty and barbarism," Lord Alton continued. "It is a story of a perverted legal system, and it reminds us to what intolerance, the crushing of conscience, and what Thomas More described as the breaking of 'the unity of life' inexorably lead."

He said the story of the Tyburn martyrs must be retold "because of the courage, heroism and virtue which it represents. It must be told because of the high price which was paid. We all know that when a faith is worth dying for, it is worth living for.

"Be clear, when we fail to re-appropriate and tell the story of those who gave their lives that we might be free to believe; when we fail to locate the Tyburn story in today's continuing worldwide struggle for religious freedom, we create freedom without mores -- and whether it is in the culture of the city of London or the new rampant materialism of China, freedom without mores has disastrous consequences," he added.

Lord Alton said that remaining faithful to conscience and faith were never theoretical issues in any of the 16 countries listed by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

"In each of these countries people of different faiths -- from Baha'is to Sufi Muslims -- are being persecuted for their beliefs," he said. "Uniquely, the only group to be persecuted in each and every one of the 16 countries is Christians."

But he said that Article 18 of the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, which guaranteed religious liberty, was being repeatedly violated "with barely a passing murmur of protest or coverage in our media."

"We who have voices must be prepared to use them and our freedoms to speak for those who have none -- and who face the ordeal of Tyburn each day of their lives," Lord Alton said.

The Tyburn Lecture is an annual event arranged by the Benedictine nuns of the convent to aid debate on subjects of national interest.

Previous speakers have included lawyer Cherie Blair, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair; George Weigel, a biographer of Blessed John Paul II, and Gen. Sir Michael Jackson, the former head of the British army.


Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
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