We must all be better advocates for the world’s persecuted Christians, said speakers at a Thursday event featuring victims of persecution, religious leaders, and global experts.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York encouraged Catholics to think universally “about our brothers and sisters in the faith now suffering grievously simply because they sign themselves with the cross, they bow their heads at the Holy Name of Jesus, they happen to profess the Apostle’s Creed every Sunday.”
“This 21st century, I’m scared, doesn’t seem to promise much better,” the cardinal continued. “This century, only two decades old, has already seen 1.25 million people killed around the world, simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ. And that threat to religious believers is growing.”
“If our common membership in the mystical body of Christ is to mean anything, then their suffering must become ours as well,” he said.
“We need to make people aware of the great suffering of our brothers and sisters using all means at our disposal,” Cardinal Dolan said, commenting that he has asked pastors to speak on the issue and to include stories of present-day martyrs in their sermons. These stories are also fruitful for use in ongoing faith formation.
Cardinal Dolan cited Pope John Paul II’s description of the present times as the “new age of martyrs.” Half of all Christian martyrs in the 2,000 year history of Christianity were killed in the 20th century alone.
The cardinal also cited Pope Francis’ reminder to conduct an examination of conscience on this topic. The pope encouraged Christians to ask themselves whether they are indifferent to Christian persecution or respond as if “a member of my own family is suffering.”
Cardinal Dolan praised groups like Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic Near East Welfare Agency, Catholic Relief Services, In Defense of Christians, Open Doors, the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, the Knights of Malta, and the Knights of Columbus for their work to help persecuted Christians.
The Nov. 19 symposium, “Act in Time: Protecting Imperiled Christians in Ancient and Other Lands,” was hosted by the Anglosphere Society, the Knights of Columbus, the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, the Institute for Ancient and Threatened Christianity, and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Most participants spoke via video.
Among the speakers was Mariam Ibraheem, a Sudanese woman who was arrested and charged with abandoning Islam. Under Sudanese law, she was considered a Muslim due to her father’s Muslim faith, despite the fact that she was raised as a Christian by her mother after her father left the family when she was 6 years old. She was also charged with adultery and sentenced to 100 lashes because her marriage to a Christian husband was not recognized under Sudanese law.
Despite being sentenced to death in May 2014, Ibrahim refused to renounce her Christian faith. Her young son lived with her in prison and she gave birth to a baby girl while in prison. After international attention, she and her family were released in June 2014 and they now live in the United States.
Bishop Matthew Kukah of Sokoto, Nigeria told the symposium that Christians in Nigeria face difficulty securing land for churches in states that see the building of churches as undermining Islam. By contrast, most mosques are state funded.
Archbishop Basha Warda of Erbil spoke about the situation facing Iraqi Christians and other minorities like the Yazidis. He warned of “a growing loss of hope” for Iraqi Christians, whose numbers have declined from 1.6 million before the 2003 U.S. invasion to fewer than 250,000 today.
“This time, it’s quite likely that we will have disappeared by the time the world chooses to look upon us again. And yet as for now, we are still here, still working with whatever strength, courage and hope that we are able to still find.”
While rejecting a “culture of dependency,” he noted that Christians, like many others, are facing severe need in basic areas like security, food, employment, education and freedom of religion.
Earlier this week, Cardinal Dolan was elected chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Religious Freedom.