By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
A Wisconsin parish priest has received one of the Anglican Communion’s highest honors in recognition of his efforts on behalf of persecuted Christians and peacemaking around the world.
The Very Rev. Patrick P. Augustine, rector of Christ Episcopal Church in La Crosse, received the Cross of St. Augustine during a Dec. 16 service at his church. The Rt. Rev. Edwin M. Leidel, Jr., Provisional Bishop of Eau Claire presented the cross on behalf of Archbishop Rowan Williams.
Fr. Augustine’s international work from an early age “underlined his commitment to the search for unity amongst Christians,” Archbishop Williams wrote in the citation, “and, importantly, gave rise to a lifelong commitment to defend the free exercise of faith in countries where believers are marginalized and persecuted.”
Born 62 years ago in Pakistan, Augustine followed in his father’s footsteps to become an Anglican priest. As a youth, he saw how Christians struggled as religious minorities in Pakistan and resolved to champion the plight of the persecuted.
“I saw people coming daily to my father’s office, telling stories of oppression, discrimination, finding no jobs, hungry and seeking help,” Augustine says, recalling early days in Lahore. “From my childhood, I started to develop a Moses syndrome. I want to stand up and speak for my people: ‘Let my people go.’”
The citation recognized his particular role in helping bring the world’s attention to persecuted Christians in Sudan in the early 1990s. His book, Hear My People’s Cry, and his Congressional testimony in 1992 helped raise awareness.
More work needs to be done, Augustine says, noting for instance that poverty and disease still hamper Sudanese Christians and animists. But the situation is better than it was a couple decades ago.
“At least these people have their own land,” Augustine says. “Nobody is trying [anymore] to force them to give up their identity, their religion and their language.”
Photo: Patrick Augustine with his wife, Myrna, and Bishop Edwin M. Leidel, Jr. Courtesy of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s website