By Vatican News
"We are living in a state of perennial tension, because in our minds we know that somewhere, at some time, there will be another attack, even if no one knows where and when”. That was the message of Cardinal Joseph Coutts, Archbishop of Karachi, Pakistan, at the presentation of a research report by Aid to the Church in Need.
Three hundred million Christians facing persecution
According to Alessandro Monteduro, the Director of ACN, “Three hundred million of our brothers in the faith now are living, are experiencing persecution in countries in which, unfortunately, there is the violence against religious freedom”. Once again, he said, Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world. The 2019 ACN report, entitled “Persecuted more than ever: Focus on anti-Christian persecution”, attempts to give an idea of what it means to be a Christian living in lands of persecution. In more than twenty countries around the world, with a total population of more than four billion people, participating at a liturgy, taking part in the pastoral activities of a Christian community, exhibiting religious symbols or simply professing one's faith are all actions that that can jeopardize one's freedom, and even one's life.
Persecution from 2017-2019
The report reviews the situation of Christians between 2017 and 2019, noting that the situation has not improved. In fact, since the previous report, the list of countries where Christians are persecuted has grown. Of these newly listed nations, Monteduro sees in Burkina Faso and Sri Lanka the most dramatic examples of these new scenarios of anti-Christian persecution, which is expressed in new ways and new territories, precisely because of the inadequacy of previous strategies.
The many aspects of persecution
Indeed, “Religious persecution can take many forms,” writes Cardinal Coutts in his introduction to the ACN report. “It can result in brutal attacks on Christians and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). Or it can take more subtle forms, such as discrimination, threats, extortion, kidnapping and forced conversion, denial of rights, or limitation of freedoms”.
Cardinal Coutts focused in particular on the situation in Pakistan, where Christians are a small minority in a large population of over 200 million people. “Over the years”, he said, “we have faced everything that has just been described. But even in the most difficult moments we have always found strength in the encouragement and support offered by Aid to the Church in Need”.
Persecution from 2017-2019
The report reviews the situation of Christians between 2017 and 2019, emphasizing that the situation has not improved. Africa, the report says, is a new front for Islamic fundamentalism, as evidenced by the fact that as many as fourteen priests have been killed there in 2019.
The report also noted the attacks in Sri Lanka earlier this year. The Rector of the Shrine of St Anthony in Colombo, Fr Jude Raj Fernando spoke of the tragic moments when his church was attacked on Easter Sunday. He now works to care for and educate the orphans of the massacre; and strengthen the faith of survivors, and relatives of victims. At the end of his intervention, Fr Fernando donated relics of the victims of the Easter Massacre to the Basilica of San Bartolomeo all’Isola in Rome, where the presentations took place.
Political persecution continues
In addition to Islamic terrorism, the Report also notes other areas of persecution, including in India, where Christians have been subject to more than 1000 attacks and more than 100 churches have been burned by Hindu extremists. And in countries like China and North Korea, the conditions of Christians has not improved, despite better diplomatic relations with western nations. Presenters also highlighted the importance of helping Christians in the Middle East to remain in their countries of origin.
Dedicated to the service of persecuted Christians
Aid to the Church in Need is a foundation of pontifical right, which is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, through information, prayer and action, wherever they are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need.