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March 29, 2023

Europeans and Christians

Three Italian missionaries have been massacred in Burundi. The killer, already apprehended, explained his gesture as revenge for the land that now belongs to the Catholic mission but which, before, belonged to his family. The futile motive as well as the barbarism of the murder – brutal disfiguration with a stone, beheading of one of the three victims, rape in spite of the extremely old age of the women – suggest a madman’s doing. However, what may look like an atrocious, yet common fact of common criminality, might be something different in reality. Something much more concerning. Another Italian missionary who was working with the three female victims in Bujumbura and who runs a youth centre in one of the poorest city neighbourhoods has a different version of the story than the local police. He recalls a similar case occurring some years back, when another ‘madman’ murdered a couple of missionaries (with the woman being pregnant), although his insanity afterwards seemed to be a mere cover for an ordered assassinate.

One meant to discourage the presence of Western missionaries and of Westerners in general. Newly designated head of European diplomacy Federica Mogherini also speaks of the anti-Christian range that seems to be periodically bursting in various parts of the world. Actually, statistics are quite clear: of all religious communities, Christians are the most persecuted globally. Why? The Italian priest in Bujumbura believes such assassinates to be attacks on pacification – political stability in Burundi is undermined by the now smoking conflict of the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups – and civilising work of Western missionaries. The youth centre he runs is an oasis of civilisation in a violent and poor country, victim of arbitrary decision: it is home to the largest library in the area, provides free access to computers, vocational workshops and so on. At the end of the day, it is the classic strategy adopted by Christian missionaries in regions suffering from a shortage of civilisation – an ambiguous concept, but one that simply does not deserve to be demonised so easily in the name of multiculturalism. Christian and European civilisation has often been a determining stimulus for other regions and ethnicities. Missionaries have not always been the perverse servants to greedy conquistadores, avid of subjugations of populations. Although relations between Christianity and modern political civilisation is more ambiguous than it may seem from the outside – remember the polemics related to the refusal to constitutionally vouch for the ‘Christian roots of Europe’ – attacks on Christians in our times concern religion less and are more gestures of political conflict. As Christians in the MidEast regions were seen by Persians, Arabs or Turks as potential allies of the Byzantium, Christians of today, even if they are Asians or Africans, are being attacked as representatives of a despised Western civilisation. It’s a cruel irony of history, because these ‘Eastern’ Christian communities have many times been persecuted for religious heresy by Orthodox Byzantines and seen just as badly by Catholics. However, setting aside the meanders of history, current missionaries is a mainly humanitarian one, in the tail of a more general Western philosophy, preoccupied with defending human dignity as much as possible. But – detractors’ reply came – can dignity be understood in a particular manner, in a certain religious and political culture  claim to be universally valid? The multiculturalism that has dominated the West for decades now brought along the fresher air of a relativism with ethnic ramifications, reaching us just how perfidious the ‘unique enemy’ can be, how subtle and perverse the abuse that it encourages, at least implicitly, can be. But this sort of relativism is not an ‘absolute’, if for no other reason, at least because it would undermine societies in the name of a myriad of ‘single truths’. The dialogue of religions and cultures should be one of ‘lawful’ competition, not just of mutual tolerance. There is a dynamism of personalities or society a more fluid understanding of identity corresponds to. These identities evolve, refine themselves, even metamorphosize, and the continuous spiritual competition feeds them with vitality. If we look at history, we will observe that the more polymorphic ages *religious, political, cultural) have rather induced sterility. For all such reasons, we should not be ashamed of being responsible Christians and Europeans.

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