Pope Francis is inviting Catholics around the world to pray this month for people risking their lives by standing up for fundamental rights.
The pope made the appeal in his prayer intention for April, released on Tuesday.
“Let us pray for those who risk their lives while fighting for fundamental rights under dictatorships, authoritarian regimes and even in democracies in crisis, that they may see their sacrifice and their work bear abundant fruit,” reads the monthly prayer intention, issued 6 April by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network.
The network also released an accompanying video, in which Pope Francis explained the rationale for the prayer intention.
Speaking in Spanish, the pope said: “Defending fundamental human rights demands courage and determination. I’m referring to actively combatting poverty, inequality, the lack of work, land, and housing, and the denial of social and labour rights.”
“Often, in practice, fundamental human rights are not equal for all. There are first-, second-, and third-class people, and those who are disposable. No. They must be equal for all.”
He continued: “In some places, defending people’s dignity can mean going to prison, even without a trial. Or it might mean slander.”
“Every human being has the right to develop fully, and this fundamental right cannot be denied by any country.”
Although the prayer intention and video did not mention any countries by name, the pope has called attention repeatedly in recent weeks to the crisis in Burma following a military coup.
“Once again and with great sadness, I feel the urgency to speak about the tragic situation in Myanmar, where many people, mostly young people, are losing their lives to give hope to their country,” he said at the end of a general audience on 17 March.
The advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners estimates that security forces have killed 570 protesters in the Southeast Asian country as of 5 April.
Freedom House, a U.S.-based NGO, issued a report in March 2020 arguing that democracy was decreasing not only in authoritarian states but also in countries with a long history of upholding basic rights.
Its “Freedom in the World 2020” report found that political rights and civil liberties had deteriorated worldwide for a 14th year in succession.
Among the territories highlighted in the study was Hong Kong. In recent months, Western governments have accused China of undermining the territory’s democratic system.
Under a “national security” law that came into force last summer, a number of local Catholics have been arrested and charged with terrorism, sedition, and foreign collusion.
Pope Francis has not addressed the situation publicly.
The Standard, an English-language newspaper in Hong Kong, said last month that Vatican Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher had defended the Holy See’s approach.
It quoted the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States as saying that, concerning Hong Kong, “I don’t think that ‘grandstanding’ statements can be terribly effective.”
“I think you have to ask what effect [a statement] is going to have? Is it going to produce a positive change, or does it make the situation more complicated for the local Church and for relations with the Holy See? At the moment, we feel that’s the right approach,” Gallagher reportedly said.
Commenting on the pope’s prayer intention for April, Fr. Fréderic Fornos, S.J., international director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, said: “It’s not the first time that Pope Francis has insisted on the importance of people’s fundamental rights.”
“In his latest encyclical, Fratelli tutti, he denounced the fact that ‘While one part of humanity lives in opulence, another part sees its own dignity denied, scorned or trampled upon, and its fundamental rights discarded or violated.’”
“Pope Francis asks us this month to pray for ‘those who risk their lives while fighting for fundamental rights under dictatorships, authoritarian regimes and even in democracies in crisis.’”