Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Persecuted and Forgotten?
A Report on Christians Oppressed for Their Faith*

August 8, 2011

The above title is from a just released document published by the United Kingdom-based organization Aid to the Church in Need. It makes for riveting - and heartbreaking - reading about the persecution of millions of fellow Christians in other parts of the world. As the title suggests, this ugly reality is often ignored in the free West.

Here we are prone to take for granted our precious freedom of belief and worship. But should we not also use our freedom to reach out to others who are harassed, imprisoned, tortured, and forced to become refugees under conditions we cannot imagine? The very least we can and should do is to get to know what is happening, and to help where we can by publicizing and protesting the horrendous sufferings endured by millions.

There are various ways we can help besides praying for the persecuted. Another very important way to help is to let the suffering people know that we are aware of their hardship. We should also use that knowledge to let the light of truth shine wherever we can. The sad thing is that the mainstream media in general is doing a poor job of reporting the truth about what is happening in many countries. Furthermore, we should try to move governments to do all they can through their agencies, especially those focussed on human rights, to demand that all countries respect the rights of all their citizens in keeping with their obligation as members of the United Nations.

Does Anybody Hear?

Worldwide publicity and protest against the death sentence imposed by  Islamic  governments on those who left Islam and embraced Christianity in Afghan and Iran have  saved the lives of a few. (The latest report (July 12) about the Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani confirms that the Iranian Supreme Court has refused to annul the death sentence.)  In all of this, the first requirement is that we become passionate about the plight of the millions who cannot escape their persecutors.

 Persecuted and Forgotten? covers 33 countries, ranging from Afghanistan to Yemen.  Archbishop Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, begins his Foreword with a reference to Luke 14:27 where Jesus says that his followers must be prepared to take up their cross.  The Archbishop writes that cross bearing is a reality, especially in the Middle East, where to be a Christian involves “great sacrifice.”  He explains:

All too often and in many places, Christians suffer verbal abuse, discrimination in the workplace, taunts in the media and various threats. On some occasions, their homes and churches are burnt, and people – themselves, their loved ones and neighbours, even their priests and bishops – are killed. Those who live in the shadow of violence and intolerance may struggle to understand the meaning of their suffering.  Weeping and crying, they often ask themselves: ‘Does anybody hear our cry? How many atrocities must we endure before somebody somewhere comes to our aid?’

Persecuted and Forgotten? is concerned with violent acts against Christians, whether they be Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant. Each country’s chapter begins with a graph, showing the population size, major religion adherents, and the percentage of Christians, followed by an overview of the human rights violations they endure. Then it provides information about persons and families who have directly experienced the cruelty of imprisonment and even death.

A Painful Question

The situation for Christians has worsened in many countries especially in Iraq but also in the Middle East and foremost in Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan and Turkey.  What has changed is that Christians in Muslim countries are especially vulnerable while those engaged in crimes against them are blatant in their contempt for the Church.

John Pontifex writes in the Introduction that Muslim extremists want to eliminate Christians from their land. He cites the 2008-2009 attacks in Mosul and the October 2010 siege of the Syrian Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad as instances in an ongoing and determined campaign to destroy Christianity.

He states that in the last 150 years the exodus of Christians from the Middle East has assumed biblical proportions, which is most obvious in Iraq. At the last census taken in 1987, there were 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. By 2003 that number had declined to 800,000; in 2011 it was further reduced to 500,000. But leading Catholic prelates have said that the real figure could be as low as 150,000. The Christian population of Bethlehem declined from 85 per cent in 1948 to 12 per cent today. 

Pontifex leaves us with this painful question: “will future historians say of us that we were firsthand witnesses to the extinguishing of Christianity in the very countries where the light of our faith first took hold.” One thing is sure, we can no longer say: “We never knew it was that bad.”

*This document is available on the Internet.