What they were saying about the religious liberty of Christians in the 1970’s:
39. The necessity of ensuring fundamental human rights cannot be separated from this just liberation which is bound up with evangelization and which endeavors to secure structures safeguarding human freedoms. Among these fundamental human rights, religious liberty occupies a place of primary importance. We recently spoke of the relevance of this matter, emphasizing “how many Christians still today, because they are Christians, because they are Catholics, live oppressed by systematic persecution! The drama of fidelity to Christ and of the freedom of religion continues, even if it is disguised by categorical declarations in favor of the rights of the person and of life in society!”[Address given on 15 October 1975: L’Osservatore Romano (17 October 1975).]
It is good to recall that in the 1970’s there was a stronger sesen of the mission apostolate as taking place in the Third World. While aware of the issues of inactive believers in the Christian West, I’d have to say this document seems greatly concerned with reaching those who do not know Christ.
I’m also aware than many of my sister and brother believers in the US perceive a sense of religious persecution or have been convinced by ideologues that such a persecution exists. What Pope Paul VI speaks of in this section would not be this modern sense of persecution. What American or European Christians perceive is much more the natural conflict between Christian and non-Christian values as lived out in the world. My sense is that one factor is the general mob suspicion of non-conformity. Christians are singled out much in the same way a milk drinker is taken notice of in a school lunchroom where everyone else is sipping soda.
Believers make choices. Choices have consequences. In the West, those consequences are almost always minimal in comparison to places where Christians die for the faith. Better not to insult the memory of martyrs unless one is actually becoming one.