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Human rights, dignity: An Episcopal priest in Brussels fights for justice

ENS Headlines - Monday, December 8, 2014

The Rev. Mark Barwick (second from right) presents findings of a report on human rights violations in Iran to the European Parliament. Photo courtesy of HRWF

[Episcopal News Service] Fulfilling God’s vision of a renewed creation “that respects the dignity and beauty of every individual person on this planet” may be a formidable goal, but the Rev. Mark Barwick lives for that dream of a reconciled world.

Based in Brussels, Belgium, the Episcopal priest says that his work as a policy adviser with Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), a nongovernmental, nonreligious organization, “is a part of that recreation and renewal of human societies.”

As associate priest of All Saints in Waterloo, and vicar of a small congregation at Christ Church in Charleroi – parishes in Belgium that are part of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe – Barwick has always found the need for his faith to be expressed through justice, peace and human dignity for all people. “A faith that is not linked to these values is uninteresting to me,” he said. “St. James said that faith without works is dead. Faith without true commitment to human dignity is not credible.”

Founded in 1989, HRWF works closely with many of the European institutions, particularly the European Parliament, in organizing strategic conferences and training workshops, researching and sharing information, and working hands-on with policymakers on a myriad of human rights issues.

The European Union of 28 states “is primarily a project in peacemaking, to create a more humane community of nations based on justice, human dignity and respect of fundamental human rights,” said Barwick, 58, while sipping coffee next to Brussels’ Schuman metro station in the shadow of the European Parliament.

“The EU as we know it today was born out of war. The 20th century was the scene of terrible brutality,” he said, “Belgium was a blood field.”

Following World War II, a convergence of European nations united to say no more to the bloodshed “and to explore ways to create political and economic integration that makes sense in our diversity that can make a more peaceful and prosperous community,” said Barwick.

This was the vision of Robert Schuman, the mid-20th century French politician for which the Schuman metro station was named, and it is very much alive today with human rights placed as a top priority by the European Union, which turns to HRWF – an active member of the Human Rights and Democracy Network – as a key resource for advice and guidance as it prepares for political debates and sets policy.

Freedom of religion and belief, the promotion of democracy and the rule of law are all major priorities for HRWF, and many of Europe’s decision-makers find the organization’s work in these areas invaluable, said Barwick.

For instance, recently HRWF worked with others to provide training on freedom of religion or belief for the foreign ministry’s diplomatic staff. “It’s about freedom of thought really,” said Barwick, citing Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966, as being the foundation for his organization’s work. “This is one of our marching orders. It’s very clear that everyone should have dignity and freedom to think and believe as they wish.

“Freedom of conscience includes the belief system. That is the first freedom out of which all others come – freedom of association, expression, etc.,” he added. “Human dignity is a gift from God.”

But in many countries people are not free to change their religion, with some imposing death sentences. This reality makes Barwick’s work even more critical, especially amid misunderstandings about faith and culture, and with increased extremism and religious persecution permeating many Middle Eastern, Asian and African countries.

A major focus for HRWF this year has been on people who are imprisoned or subject to a death sentence because of their faith, in countries such as Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. The organization compiled a prisoners’ list naming hundreds of people who are behind bars because of laws forbidding or restricting their basic rights to freedom of religion or belief.

As a trainer in diversity issues, Barwick is committed to raising awareness and understanding of these human rights violations, and hopefully being a catalyst for advocacy and change.

Barwick moved to Brussels 12 years ago to take a post with the Roman Catholic peace movement Pax Christi, focusing primarily on African issues and conflict zones, and he has been working with HRWF for just over two years. He previously served as the regional director of Bread for the World, based in Washington, D.C.

In Brussels circles, Barwick is recognized for having expertise in the intersection between religion and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and he works to combat the polarization that exists between faith and sexuality.

“In political spheres, you often see the humanists and secularists on one side, and then cowering in the corner the small number of religious people, and I am trying to reconcile these groups,” he said. “But there are welcoming faith communities. We are working with this movable middle and also those with religious convictions and exclusionary attitudes to LGBT people. We are trying to change that … trying to find bridge values that apply to everyone.”

In the past year, Barwick also has served as a consultant and trainer for the Budapest Centre for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, work that focuses on violence prevention and alleviating tensions in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Reflecting on his work with Pax Christi, Barwick said that a lot of his time in Africa involved stimulating dialogue among belligerent groups after war. In Liberia, for example, he worked through a local NGO to rebuild relations between the Lorma ethnic group, which included Christian traditionalists, and the Mandingo, which was predominantly Muslim. “Over time the groups would talk about how we could change this situation – not addressing problems in the past, but how can we mold a better future.”

Looking ahead, as an active member of the European Platform on Religious Intolerance and Discrimination, HRWF plans in 2015 to help sponsor a conference on freedom of religion or belief and democracy in the workplace, an issue that has been widely publicized as some European companies have moved to ban Muslim women wearing the hijab while at work.

“It’s not only about there being a visible expression of faith in the workplace, but it also touches on the environment of economic uncertainty,” he said. “We feel that [our work] will have some traction in the parliament. So we try to offer conferences that people will find useful to their own legislative agenda.”

Barwick said that he often wonders if the day-to-day work is making a difference, “but then things happen – a decision made, laws changing, our reports being quoted. The legal framework at the EU level is ever evolving, and we are a part of that. The EU institutions are mandated to listen to civil society, so we have a real opportunity to shape public policy that makes a humane world for us all.”

 — Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

Church continues to act in wake of recent grand jury decisions

ENS Headlines - Monday, December 8, 2014

[Episcopal News Service] An interfaith coalition of clergy, including Episcopalians, gathered at St. Paul’s Chapel on lower Broadway in New York City Dec. 8 for a prayer service in advance of a walk to City Hall where they delivered a clergy-signed letter to elected officials in response to a Dec. 3 grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner.

The letter made the following requests of the elected officials,

  • To join us in calling on New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to automatically appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute all excessive force and wrongful death cases by police officers, and in particular, to immediately appoint a special prosecutor in the wrongful death of Eric Garner.
  • That the New York City Council would expedite a draft legislation making the chokehold illegal, with significant penalties for any officer who uses it (New York City police have been prohibited by department policy from using chokeholds for the past 20 years).

The New York grand jury’s decision came a little more than a week after a St. Louis County grand jury on Nov. 24 decided not to indict Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting death of Michael Brown.

Protests, sometimes violent, have continued throughout the nation in the wake of both grand jury decisions.

Also, Episcopal News Service has compiled a list of diocesan statements made in the aftermath of either or both of the grand jury decisions. The statements include:

Diocese of Arizona

Diocese of California

Diocese of Chicago

Diocese of Connecticut

Diocese of Fort Worth

Diocese of Kansas

Diocese of Long Island

Diocese of Massachusetts

Diocese of Milwaukee

Diocese of Missouri

Diocese of Nevada

Diocese of New Jersey

Diocese of New York

Diocese of Newark

Diocese of Northern Michigan

Diocese of Olympia

Diocese of Southern Ohio

Diocese of Springfield

Diocese of Texas

Diocese of Washington and Washington National Cathedral

Diocese of West Missouri

Diocese of Western New York

Diocese of Western North Carolina

Prayers needed for the Philippines in the wake of Cyclone Hagupit

ENS Headlines - Monday, December 8, 2014

[Anglican Board of Mission] Super typhoon Hagupit (Ruby), which has now been downgraded to a tropical cyclone, hit the central Philippines late on Dec. 6 with heavy winds destroying houses, bridges and other objects in its path.

Cyclone Ruby was expected to follow a similar course to last year’s super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) which killed over 7,000 people and left more than 1 million homeless.

The official death toll from the tropical cyclone is expected to rise with the cyclone moving very slowly west-northwest across the Philippines. Many people are still sheltering in evacuation centers as their homes have been destroyed or too dangerous to return to. There is the danger of flash flooding and landslides due to heavy rain caused by the cyclone.

Floyd Lalwet, the Episcopal Church in the Philippine’s (ECP) provincial secretary and national development officer, shared his thoughts with us about the communities which were affected by the previous super typhoon, now faced with another one:

“This bad news comes at a time when the Episcopal Church’s disaster response project in Yolanda-affected communities is proceeding very well, with many stories that uplift the spirit and inspire other communities.

“Let us pray that all our communities in the expected path of the storm be spared from devastation.”

Lalwet told ABM that a relief operation would be traveling to the region Dec. 8 to assess the situation.

Please continue to pray for the ECP and those affected by the cyclone in the Philippines, especially when they are still recovering from the devastation of typhoon Yolanda.

ABM will continue to provide updates on the website as they are received.

Celebrating 30 years of Korea-Japan Anglican mission partnership

ENS Headlines - Monday, December 8, 2014

[Nippon Sei Ko Kai ] The Japanese and Korean Anglican Churches, which began official partnership in 1984, celebrated their 30th anniversary from Oct. 20-23 on Jeju Island, Korea.

The Most Rev. Nathaniel Makoto Uematsu, primate of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (the Anglican Church in Japan), and the Most Rev. Paul Keun Sang Kim, presiding bishop of the Anglican Church of Korea, convened the meeting of bishops, clergy and lay participants (including representatives of shared missions, women’s and youth groups) from the three Korean and 11 Japanese dioceses.

Both churches have been addressing various aspects of cooperation, such as the implementation of bilateral youth seminars, social study tours in Korea, the organizing of the World Anglican Peace Council and offering positions for Korean mission partners in Japan, as well as mutual attendance at several bishops’ consecrations since 2004’s 20th anniversary of the Korea-Japan Anglican Mission Partnership Conference.

There do remain, however, various challenges that must be overcome between the two countries at large, including differing interpretations of history, the issue of “comfort women,” and territorial disputes. Recently and especially, the problem of “Hate Speech” and rising anti-Korean sentiment in Japan have even drawn some serious attention from the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. They have warned that a result of such anti-social activities is the increased risk of criminal acts against the Korean minority.

In this 30th anniversary year of the partnership, both churches discussed their roles within the East Asian region, under the banner theme of “Life, Justice, and Peace,” and declared that the Korea-Japan Anglican Mission Partnership should reinforce its alliance and good relationship. The conference adopted a statement laying out 11 key issues to aid this including various activities such as the continuing exchange of youth and women’s groups and defending the human rights of those in the minority.

The complete statement is due to be available on the NSKK homepage.

Southern Africa’s archbishop responds to extremist murders

ENS Headlines - Monday, December 8, 2014

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Anglican Archbishop of Southern Africa has spoken of his distress at the news of the murder of two hostages by Al-Qaeda in Yemen.

South African teacher Pierre Korkie and U.K.-born U.S. journalist Luke Somers were killed on Saturday by the al-Qaeda militants during a failed rescue operation by joint U.S. and Yemeni special forces in the southern Shabwa region.

Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba Dec. 8 issued a statement:

“Sad and shocked at the death of Pierre Korkie, we in the Anglican Church sends our condolences to his wife, Yolande, and their family.

“As we mourn his death and that of Luke Somers, we call on all nations involved to expose those who maintain the extremism of groups such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

“We need to ask who benefits from their terror tactics and what is missing in our efforts to end such hostage-taking and killing. And we need also to address the grievances which fuel such extremism.

“May the hope of Advent prevail and surround the world.”