by Mgr Charles Vella, Sunday Times of Malta , May 24, 2015,
The Holy Land, the birthplace of Jesus, is becoming a land without Christians. The persecution of Christians has become global.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Vatican Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, declared recently that the number of Christians persecuted in the world is between 100 to 150 million. The United Nations has also stated that Christians are the most persecuted group in the world.
According to Aid to the Church in Need, extremist Islamist groups are the principal agents of persecutions in countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Pakistan, Somalia, Eritrea and Egypt. Christians are also persecuted in North Korea and China.
In some countries, this persecution is moving towards a new ‘genocide’, as in the case of Rwanda. In southern Turkey, in an area close to the border with Syria, 100 years ago there were 500,000 Christians. Today there are hardly 2,500, and these are disappearing due to many difficulties and the fear of persecution.
According to Benedict Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, North Korea is considered to be the worst place to live in for a Christian. “It is a gross crime to profess any religion, besides the cult of the Great Leader Kim,” he said. A UN Commission, after examining the situation there, stated that “there is total negation of freedom of thought, of conscience and religion”. Open Doors, a Protestant agency specialised in religious freedom, says that “that there are between 50,000 to 70,000 Christians in prison camps”.
In China, Catholics are divided into two factions, those who vow loyalty to the pro-government National Church and those who are loyal to the Pope. The former nominates its own bishops, without the approval of the Vatican.
The government and the National Church are very vigilant on the Catholic Church. There are still some priests and Catholics are in prison camps.
One Roman Catholic bishop, who spent decades in prison, was refused a public funeral by the government. They feared, as was the case of another bishop, that huge numbers of Catholics would take part in the funeral.
However, it is rumoured that diplomatic talks are under way to establish relations between China and the Vatican. Pope Francis has said that if he could he would go to China tomorrow. Recently the Pope, on seeing a group of Chinese in his audience, stopped and greeted them with affection. Who knows what will happen in the future?
The situation in other countries is even sadder; countless numbers of Christians have been killed or live under fear of persecution.
As Pope Francis said: “The persecution of Christians today is stronger than in the first centuries of the Church. This is not fantasy: the figures show this.”
Sixty years ago, 20 per cent of the population of the Middle East was Christian. It is now five per cent
A tragic case, close to us because it concerns two Maltese bishops, is the massacre of 148 students at the campus of the Garissa University in Kenya. The situation in Garissa after this massacre is becoming more complex. Bishop Paul Darmanin said: “There is a movement to create an Islamic State in the northeastern region of Kenya. The systematic separation of people is dangerous and must be stopped.” The Catholic Herald wrote about Auxiliary Bishop Joe D’Alessandro of Garissa and said: “Don’t be fooled by appearance: the meek-looking Bishop D’Alessandro has a heart of a lion and risks martyrdom every day in northern Kenya”.
Catholics, as we learn from witnesses, have been forced to convert to Islam. The presence of Christians in Iraq and the Middle East is declining. The cathedral in Baghdad was destroyed and destruction takes place in Mosul, Kirkuk and Nineveh. Archbishop Jean Benjamin Sleiman of Baghdad said recently: “The situation of Christians is even more serious. The Christian minority is a very weak ring and is destined to disappear”.
I have often appealed for help for Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian mother of five unjustly condemned to death for blasphemy against the Prophet. The UN and the Pope lately have appealed to the President of Pakistan for her release. One minister promised her freedom if she renounces the Catholic religion.
The situation of women in Pakistan is very sad, especially of Christians. They are often subject to rape, sexual violence and forced to become Muslims. Many such cases remain hidden to public opinion. CBN News recently revealed that IS terrorists capture the most beautiful Christian women, often mothers, and sell them to Sunni Muslims as sex slaves. This emerged in an interview with Sister Hatune Dogan, a Syrian Orthodox nun, who called this practice the worst type of barbarism in the history of the world.
It is regrettable that the Western world and the UN are often silent about the persecution of Christians. Pope Francis has denounced “this plot of silence”.
The Pope had the courage to tell the Roman Catholic and Anglican Commission, which years ago had its second meeting at Mount St Joseph, Mosta, that the killing of Christians due to their faith, such as those currently dying in the Middle East, would create an “ecumenism of martyrs”.
Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’ Egidio and professor of Contemporary History at the University of Rome, said at an ecumenical meeting in Bari that the presence of Christian minorities has been “a dam against the totalitarian impulses of the Muslim World”.
Sixty years ago, 20 per cent of the population in the Middle East was Christian. This has been reduced to less than five per cent, and they will rapidly vanish if nothing is done.
Mgr Charles Vella is the founder of the Cana Movement.