A new agency has been formed to support persecuted religious minorities around the world. The Christian Forum in Support of Persecuted Religious Minorities Worldwide, was launched following a conference on 20 July in London, which attracted nearly 200 participants. Supporters include the Barnabas Fund, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Christians Aware, Church Mission Society (CMS), Churches' Commission on Mission of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CCOM), International Centre for Reconciliation, Coventry Cathedral and the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG). The aim of the forum will be to share information, raise awareness within the church and the wider world and 'respond appropriately and encourage prayer and action.' During the conference, Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon of Kaduna, Nigeria, spoke of the plight of the Christian community in Muslim-majority North Nigeria. The progressive introduction of full Islamic Shari'ah law since October 1999 has led to widespread discrimination against Christians and inter-communal violence which has resulted in hundreds of deaths. Dr Joseph D'Souza of the All India Christian Council, painted a bleak picture of discrimination, intolerance, violence, death and destruction in areas of India where Hindu militants have turned on Muslim and Christian minorities. Following his experience in India where Muslims and Christians are working together, Dr D'Souza was particularly keen to aid a Christian forum with a mandate to support all religious minorities regardless of faith. Bishop Tom Butler of Southwark who chaired the conference said: "Many religious minorities in different parts of the world face persecution. It is good that a Christian forum should pay attention to their plight." Bishop Mano Rumalshah of USPG, said: "our determination to realise this vision is not for our own egos but as an obligation and commitment to our faith. I hope we actively support this cause and bring hope to millions around the world who suffer because of their chosen relationship with their God." Simon Barrow, Secretary of the CCOM said: "Religious freedom is vital for peace and justice in the world today. The new Forum is a practical expression of concern for the plight of Christians and church leaders in many parts of the world where this is not fully recognised or implemented." "But Christian concern for human rights should never be selective or self-seeking. Though we have a priority concern for the plight of our Christian sisters and brothers around the world, the Gospel also impels us to struggle with any who are persecuted, irrespective of creed. In that respect we work alongside those of other faiths and those who profess no particular faith to ensure freedom of belief for all." "This agency is not a formal part of the ecumenical instruments and Britain and Ireland, but it is a clear and vital expression of inter-Christian commitment and common witness," added Mr Barrow.
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