Vatican warns of growing "Christianophobia"
ROME (Reuters) - "Christianophobia" is a growing problem around the world and it must be fought with the same determination as anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, the Vatican said on Friday.
Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican's foreign minister, spoke in the wake of attacks against Christians in India that have left at least 13 people dead this week.
Mamberti, addressing a conference in northern Italy, said religious freedom was a vital part of international relations and human dignity.
"In order to promote this dignity in an integral way, so-called 'Christianophobia' should be combated as decisively as 'Islamophobia' and anti-Semitism," he said.
This week in eastern India, thousands of people, most of them Christians, have sought shelter in makeshift government camps, driven from their homes by religious violence.
Hindu mobs burnt more than a dozen churches and attacked Christians after a Hindu leader was killed.
Mamberti said the events in India made the issue of religious liberty today all the more pressing.
While Hindu groups accuse Christian priests of bribing poor tribes and low-caste Hindus to change their faith, the Christians say lower-caste Hindus convert willingly to escape a complex caste system.
Pope Benedict has condemned the violence against Christians in Orissa but also deplored the killing of the Hindu leader.
Italy's foreign ministry said it would summon India's ambassador to demand "incisive action" to prevent further attacks against Christians.
Mamberti said 21 Catholic missionaries were killed in the world in 2007 and lamented that the Christian population of Iraq was now down to about 500,000 from about one million before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Last month, Pope Benedict told Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that minority Christians in Iraq needed more protection.
The Archbishop of Mosul of Iraq's largest Christian denomination, the Chaldean Catholics, was kidnapped in February and found dead two weeks later.
The Vatican has often expressed concern that conflicts in the Middle East are greatly diminishing the Christian population in the areas of the religion's birth.
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