Greater Awareness Needed of Christian Persecution

Catholic Aid Agency Spokesman on Archbishop Tomasi’s UN Address

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Around 100,000 Christians die violently every year for their faith, while others endure rape, torture, displacement, kidnapping, and destruction of their places of worship.

This according to Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Permenant Observer of the Holy See, who addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council earlier this week.The archbishop called on the Council to offer greater protection for Christians in danger of persecution.

A recent example of such persecution comes out of Syria where Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek-Orthodox Bishop Boulos al-Yazigi remain missing after their kidnapping on April 22.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is an humanitarian agency which aims to offer support for persecuted Christians throughout the world. John Pontifex, Editor-in-Chief, Aid to the Church in Need Report on Religious Freedom in the World, spoke with ZENIT about Archbishop Tomasi’s address to the UN:

ZENIT: What are your thoughts on Archbishop Tomasi’s address to the UN regarding the persecution of Christians, and the statistic showing that 100,000 Christians are violently killed each year?

Pontifex: Anti-Christian persecution, by which I mean violence and other severe intolerance, has become so severe that in certain countries the very survival of the Church is at stake. At the service of ACN, I have travelled to many countries in different continents where Christians are severely persecuted. The message we receive from bishops and faithful alike is that there is a growing phenomenon of intolerance aimed at ultimately flushing Christians and others out or at the very least reducing them to third class status with no rights or opportunities.

I have just returned from Nigeria and visited church after church where suicide bombers had attacked people at Sunday services. I spoke to people maimed for life simply for going to church. What the people who suffer persecution want most is our prayers and our compassion. Obtaining reliable and exact figures about Christian persecution worldwide is a very demanding research project. Hence Aid to the Church in Need is not able to confirm the statistics the archbishop gave concerning violent deaths of Christians. Nor must we forget the many people of other faiths who are also killed. We will be addressing these and other key issues in our forthcoming ACN Report on Religious Freedom in the World due out late next year. While it is a huge challenge to arrive at precise numbers of persecuted Christians, the general thrust of what the archbishop said to the UN cannot be denied; Christians are subjected to appalling acts of hatred and all the while the Church continues to make an invaluable contribution to the common good – schools, hospitals, care centers, community building and so on.

ZENIT: Archbishop Tomasi highlighted the conflict in Syria, namely the two bishops who had been abducted. What does their abduction mean for Christians in the region?

Pontifex: By any standards the kidnapping of the bishops has been a body-blow for the Church not just in Syria but across the Middle East. It shows that a growing culture of disrespect for Christians has hit a new low. Reports received by ACN show that an increasingly bleak outlook was becoming commonplace among Church leaders even before the kidnappings. It is evidenced by an interview with Damscus-based Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III in early April in which he said that the whole of Syria had become «a battlefield» and that the «suffering has gone beyond all bounds.» But the disappearance of the bishops removes underlines the anti-Christian nature of attacks by militants. What is happening in Syria is a speeded-up version of the pitiful assault on the Church in neighboring Iraq where in places Christianity has been virtually wiped out.

ZENIT: Is there enough global awareness being brought to the persecution of Christians in Syria and other regions?

Pontifex: Sadly the answer to this question is no. For years and years, ACN and other organizations have sought to draw the international media’s attention to the plight of Christians and certainly in the UK, where I am based, the interest has been very limited. This is a problem that applies to a greater or lesser degree in so many other countries. We have conducted lengthy and detailed first-hand research and corroborated it with that of other respected organizations and the response of many journalists is frequently to shrug their shoulders and move on to the next celebrity headline. Christian persecution is one of the most under-reported religious affairs’ stories of our day. This is the only conclusion you can draw given the extent and severity of violence and other hatred against Christians, particularly in the Middle East where as Pope Benedict famously said, «the Church is threatened in its very existence.» As Christians and as people who believe in religious liberty, we need to act now and stand up for faith and freedom.</p>

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Ann Schneible

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