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Neil Turner
Neil Turner
World News

Archbishop of Canterbury weighs in on UK Christian persecution as he visits St Oscar Romero’s crypt in El Salvador

by Kelly Valencia

The Archbishop of Canterbury says he would not describe challenges faced by Christians in the UK as persecution but rather as forms of marginalisation.

Most Rev Justin Welby made the remarks to Premier Christian News following his visit to the crypt of St Oscar Romero, a Catholic priest who rose to become Archbishop of El Salvador and became one of the biggest human rights advocates of the country during the 1970s.

Neil Turner

“I think, being here now [in San Salvador], I wouldn't use the word persecution," Archbishop Justin said of the difficulties enountered by some Christians in the UK. 

“But I would use words like marginalisation, like pushing people aside, discounting their views because they're Christians and ignorant. Silencing the people who get got at because they're preaching in the street. The people who are told that because of their Christian views, they're not eligible for this or that job or position or whatever it happens to be.

He went on: “The comments that one hears about, ‘Oh, I don't mind so and so you know, a person in such a position being a Christian as long as they don't let it affect their actions, which is the biggest load of nonsense that I can imagine, because if it doesn't affect your actions, you've got to ask what it means.”

The senior cleric suggested that addressing this marginalisation involves calling it out and encouraging church leaders to avoid separating spiritual issues from social issues like poverty, injustice, cruelty, and abuse.

“The way we deal with that is by calling it out and by people in leading positions in churches not falling into the modernist trick of separating spirit and body,” he added.

During his visit, Archbishop Welby also attended St Romero’s home and visited the church where he was assassinated by a guerilla in 1980.

Neil Turner

Like numerous other countries in Latin America, the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s were overshadowed by crime, gang violence, and civil wars driven by power struggles rather than the welfare of the people. Consequently, many individuals suffered assassination and displacement.

During this turbulent era, the Catholic Church played a pivotal role in aiding those most impacted by the country's violent circumstances.

Reflecting on the violence suffered during that period, Archbishop Justin said the history of El Salvador made him think of that of Nazi Germany, a society that had “gone mad” and had been “consumed by evil” during its darkest history.

“It opened up, for me a sense of looking into the darkness of a country that had gone mad in the way that Nazi Germany did, that it just been consumed by evil. In the case of El Salvador to protect the interests of property owners, not small property, the the big oligarchs. And it was very profound,” he added.

Sister Delmer Ruby at the house at Hospitalito La Divina Providencia where St Romero lived / Neil Turner

Archbishop Justin also visited the University of Central America, run by the Catholic Church, which has a museum for the martyrs where six Jesuits, their housekeeper and the daughter of the housekeeper were murdered in 1989 and drew comparisons with Canterbury’s St Thomas Beckett who was also assassinated during mass for standing up for those most in need.

“They were killed because they were defending the Church and the Church’s right to stand up for people," he said. 

"They [the assassinations] were carried out, not quite on government instruction, but on government encouragement. And they both happened in a sacred place in Canterbury Cathedral for Beckett in the chapel at the hospital for Romero and they were both from people who the government had sought their appointment of because they thought they'd be easily tamed. And they were in fact, radicalised by holding the Archbishop's position."

Archbishop Justin added: “He was radicalised by his sense that he could not abandon those that God had called him to love."

When asked if he had been radicalised by his position, Archbishop Welby said: “What it said to me is, you must not hold anything more valuable than allegiance to Christ, you must love those who are marginalised, who are outcast. And I knew that. There's no doubt I've been to a degree radicalised in my time as Archbishop, but seeing that just put it in such clear terms. And hearing his voice put it in such clear terms."

The Archbishop of Canterbury is currently on a 12-day visit to Central America, which includes Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama and Costa Rica.  

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