Are you aware of the horrors surrounding the ongoing persecution of Christians worldwide? In a 2017 essay, I highlighted how that persecution has reached a critical point, especially in the Middle East. Yet, the news media and even our Church pays cursory attention to what is happening worldwide. Unless there is a large massacre, the plight of the most persecuted religious group on the planet is little noticed.
The latest Pew research indicates that there is a global increase in government restrictions on religions with Christians cited as the most persecuted religious group in the world. The combination of government restrictions and the actual killing of Christians can only be described as a genocide. The overwhelming source of these persecutions has come at the hands of Muslims and Muslim controlled countries. Yet, the Church hierarchy still contends that Islam is a peaceful religion and appears to express more concern over the problem of “Islamophobia” than Christian persecution at the hands of Muslims.
No one knows how many Christians are martyred every year with estimates ranging from 4000 to approximately 100,000/yr. Whatever the number, the threat of harm has forced an exodus of Christians from those areas of persecution that has been overwhelming. For example, the latest reports from the Church in Need and Open Doors USA organizations noted there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq before 2003. In 2019 that figure had fallen to well below 150,000; a decline of more than 90 percent within a single generation. Lebanon was 62 percent Christian in 1970, but by 2010 the Christian population was only 36 percent.
In Syria, the Christian population has fallen by two-thirds since the country’s civil war began in 2011. These reports, which cover the period 2017-2019, note that the international community has expressed concern about the persecution of the region’s Christians but that “governments in the West and the UN failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway.”
The latest news out of China indicates general persecution of Christian churches with a campaign to pressure believers to support the tenants of Communism and the Chinese regime over Church doctrine. Very little has been heard for the Vatican and Church hierarchy condemning or highlighting the Chinese problem.
The Vatican still thinks the Chinese agreement was a good deal and that the Chinese can be trustworthy, yet a new U.S. government report says that human rights abuse in China has worsened in the last year. It specifically highlighted the escalating persecution of Chinese Catholics in the wake of the Vatican-China agreement of 2018 as being as serious as it was under Chairman Mao in the 50s and 60s. The response from the Vatican has been silent. As with the case of Muslim persecution, the Church hierarchy needs to “wake up and smell the incense” and acknowledge the reality of what is happening.
Church Priorities and Silence
The Holy Father and the hierarchy of Church recently have made aiding migrants and taking care of the environment as priorities for faith-based efforts. I appreciate the concern and need in those areas. The experience of working in both refugee relocation programs and environmental education programs has made me recognize the commitment needed for responsible and effective attention to those issues.
All that being said, however, where is the priority and need of our persecuted brothers being expressed? The plight of persecuted and martyred Christians appears to take a back seat within the hierarchy of the Church in their expression of priorities. The silence is deafening and the Feast of the Holy Innocents should reawaken in all of us the importance of keeping the plight of our persecuted brothers and sisters front and center even if the Church leadership does not.
Responding to Christian Persecution
The United States government has been slow in responding to this crisis but in 2019 pledged 50 million dollars in aid and is starting to work with other countries such as Hungry to provide support. However, many faith-based efforts need and deserve support which has been active for several years filling the void by publicizing the persecution/ genocide and providing aid to those in need. Aid to the Church in Need, Open Doors USA, Catholic Relief Services and the Knights of Columbus are responsible and credible efforts that have been providing the bulk of emergency help and support over the last 10-15 years.
Do Not Be Silent
While faith and Church-based organizations have been active, the Church hierarchy and bureaucracy, unfortunately, has not been much of a force to educate or promote the needs of those oppressed Christians in need. As with the laity’s efforts in the pro-life movement, we need to take up the charge and be vocal in supporting our persecuted brethren and keeping their cause at the forefront. The question that arises is what can we do as individuals, being thousands of miles from the source of the persecution. As outlined in my previous essay, I think there are four major opportunities we can seek out.
The most important thing for concerned Christians is to put this issue on our radar screen and to keep informed of the situation. Aid for the Church in Need and the Open Doors USA produces periodic reports (as previously cited) on the situation that can be downloaded and studied. Secondly, we can actively mobilize the power of prayer not just as part of our individual intentions but to add to parish prayer services and daily Mass prayer intentions. Thirdly, we can donate to those organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, previously mentioned, that directly provide aid to those oppressed Christians. Finally, we can “talk up” the issue to put Christian persecution on the radar screens of others.
But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. / Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you (Psalm 5:11).