This report is contributed by Clare Creegan of Aid to the Church in Need.
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Christianity looks set to disappear from key parts of the Middle East, according to a report released Oct. 13, which highlights a worsening cycle of persecution.
Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians oppressed for their Faith 2013-15, compiled by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, concludes that if the exodus of faithful from Iraq continues at existing levels, the faithful could all but disappear within five years and that a faster rate of attrition is noted in Syria whose faithful have reportedly plummeted from 1.25 million in 2011 to as few as 500,000 today.
At the launch, a message from the Vatican stated: “His Holiness deeply appreciates the efforts of all involved in producing this report and in keeping before the world the plight and suffering of Christians persecuted for their faith.”
The message, to be read out by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations continues: “[the Pope] prays that those in positions of authority will diligently strive not only to eradicate religious discrimination and persecution in their own nations, but also to seek ever more effective ways to promote international cooperation in order to overcome these offenses against human dignity and religious freedom.”
Assessing 20 countries where persecution is severe, ACN’s Persecuted and Forgotten? report describes what it calls a “religiously motivated ethnic cleansing” of Christians by Islamist terror groups especially in Iraq and Syria but also in parts of Africa.
Examining countries of core concern in the Middle East and elsewhere such as China, Egypt, Eritrea, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Sudan, and Vietnam, Persecuted and Forgotten? draws on eye-witness reports and testimonies.
The report concludes that since 2013 the situation for Christians has worsened in 15 of the 19 core countries under review.
In 10 countries – more than half – the persecution is ranked “extreme” – up four from the last edition of Persecuted and Forgotten? report which covered 2011-13.
Ranking Islamism as the greatest threat, the 2015 Persecuted and Forgotten? report also highlights growing problems caused by other extremist religious groups – militant forms of Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism – with attacks increasing in number and ferocity.
Totalitarian regimes, notably China, have put increasing pressure on the Church, according to the report, with severe threats facing Christians in Eritrea and Vietnam.
The report notes that in many cases Christians are persecuted not so much because of their faith but because of their perceived links with the West and a view associating the faithful with colonialism.
Describing the report as “a shocking read for shocking times”, Persecuted and Forgotten? editor John Pontifex – Aid to the Church in Need’s UK Head of Press and Information – said: “A cultural genocide of Christians is erasing the presence of faithful from large swathes of the Middle East, the very heartland of the Church.”
But he added: “Far from laying the entire blame for persecution against Christians at the door of extremist Islam, Persecuted and Forgotten? demonstrates that many of the problems stem from non-Muslim extremist – nationalist – faith groups and historically communist totalitarian regimes.”
The report states that the loss of Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere represents a blow to community relations as the faithful have acted as bridge-builders in increasingly fragmented societies.
Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria, writes in the foreward: “We are confronting one of the most important challenges of our 2,000 year history.
“Despite our problems here in the Middle East, we are doing everything we can to help those who lack food, clothes, or other essentials.”
As a charity supporting persecuted and other suffering Christians, Aid to the Church in Need is prioritising emergency aid and pastoral help for displaced and refugee faithful in the Middle East.
Archbishop Jeanbart’s foreword states: “By God’s grace, and with the continuing help of organisations including Aid to the Church in Need, we have been able to respond to the urgent needs of our people.”
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); <em>www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)