Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Christians increasingly kidnapped in Egypt

In the wake of the so-called Arab Spring, the persecution of Christians in Egypt continues to gain force, with an increased number of kidnappings in recent months.  The Christian Science Monitor reports:
More than 100 people have been kidnapped for ransom in this marginalized region in the last two and a half years, nearly all of them Christians, according to activists and church officials. And there has been a sharp increase in kidnappings in the months since Aug. 14, when hundreds were killed as police broke up two sit-ins supporting ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

Children killed in Damascus

As the civil war in Syria drags on innocent blood continues to be shed:
Mortar shells damaged the Primary Christian School St. John Damascene yesterday in the district of Al-Qassaa in Damascus, killing 5 children and wounding 27 others. Another rocket hit a school bus in Bab Touma, a suburb in Damascus predominantly Christian, injuring 5 students. In the same area, a mortar shell hit St. Cross Church, already hit in past days and another damaged the St. Cyril Church. Three other people were killed by a rocket, always in the center of the capital [more].

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Israeli government destroys church property

On the morning of October 28th the Israeli government destroyed a building in east Jerusalem belonging to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem:
Israeli security forces and bulldozers arrived at the house at 5:00 am (0300 GMT) on Monday with a previously unseen demolition order, claiming it had been built without a permit, according to its residents -- a family of 14.
But Tawwal said the property, on Jerusalem's southeastern edge close to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, had been standing since before 1967, when Israel seized Arab east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War.
"We didn't receive any orders for the demolition" beforehand, Tawwal added.
Describing the situation, the family who had been living in the building, said:
They turned up at 5 in the morning. They forced us to go out of our house. They took our cell phones away and forbid us from letting anyone know. We stood there and watched as the bulldozers demolished the house [more].
Though this is the first ecclesial property destroyed by the government, there may be more in the coming days:
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said on Tuesday that the city was starting proceedings for the mass demolition of Palestinian homes in other parts of east Jerusalem.
 His Excellency Archbishop Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem called the destruction "an act of vandalism that infringes international law."

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Protestant pastor murdered in Nepal by man over whom he was praying

In Phattepur, Nepal, a 36-year old year Protestant pastor named Debalal was murdered by a man named Kumar who called him at 3:00 a.m. on the morning of October 26th to pray with him.

Answering the call, Debalal made the 30-minute journey to pray with with Kumar:
He was in fact called in the middle of the night, by Kumar, a 29-year-old man, who had requested the presence of Debalal for a healing prayer. Kumar had been ill for several months and Debalal in the past had prayed for him. Debalal ran to visit the sick. As he was praying, the man suddenly attacked him and cut his throat with a "khukuri", a typical Nepalese knife with a curved blade. Debalal shouted and asked for help but was left to bleed to death. The police arrested the perpetrator of the homicide [more].
The murder is itself horrendous, but it is made worse by the fact that Debalal had prayed with and visited Kumar several times in the past.

Bodies of slaughtered Christians in Syria thrown down a well, Nunciature struck

Following the largest massacre of Christians in Syria since the beginning of the civil war, two mass graves have been found outside the city of Sadad in which thirty Christians were buried:
Discovered dead in a well in Sadad were the remains of six members of one family including Matanios El Sheikh, 85, his wife, Habsah, 75, their daughter, Njala, 45, and grandsons Ranim, aged 18, a first-year university student, and his 16-year-old brother Fadi, in class XI at school.

Reports state they were thrown down a well on October 26th along with the boys’ paternal grandmother, 90-year-old Mariam.
Their funerals, which took place Monday, November 4th, came as a community, whose town dates back to 2000BC, begins to grieve the loss of those being described as “martyrs” by Church leaders.
The atrocities took place during a week-long occupation of Sadad by the Al-Nusra Front and Daash, rebel forces who, according to Church leaders, held 1,500 families as “human shields” in a bid to stop Government troops retaking the village [more].
In the midst of the ongoing war, the Nunciature of the Holy See to Syria in Damascus was struck by an explosive this morning at 6:30 a.m. local time:
The bomb was aimed at the third floor, where the sleeping quarters of the Nuncio Mgr Mario Zenari, his secretary Fr Giorgio, and the sisters working at the residence are located.
"Thank God no one was hit," Fr Giorgio told AsiaNews. The mortar round destroyed part of the roof, including the eaves of the building and part of the facade.
Archbishop Zenari is one of the few diplomats who never left his post in the past two years of civil war [more].
The Vatican Information Service, when announcing the attack on the nunciature, noted that this is not an isolated attack on ecclesial properties:
In an interview with Vatican Radio the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Mario Zenari, explained that the repercussions were limited to minor material damage, partly because the mortar attack occurred at 6.35 this morning, before the employees enter to work. He added that this type of incident occurs on a regular basis in Syria; for instance, last Saturday the convent of the Franciscan Fathers in Aleppo was struck by two or three rockets which caused minor damage to the roof but fortunately caused no casualties. The same occurred in other parts of old Damascus last week, and rockets have fallen near to the nunciature on other occasions, causing residents, especially children, to flee [more].

Monday, November 4, 2013

185 Eritrean Christians arrested

185 Christians were recently arrested for attending a prayer meeting in the Eritrean city of Maitemenai:
It’s believed the Christians had gathered in the suburb of Maitemenai to pray about the worsening exodus of Eritreans from the country.
The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights reports thousands of Eritreans are fleeing their country every month, despite an alleged ‘shoot-to-kill policy’ targeting those who try to leave.
Eritrea is currently detaining up to 1,500 Christians because of their faith. Many others face harassment [more].

Muslim Brotherhood youth attack Coptic church

On November 1, following Friday prayers in the el Aziz Bellah mosque, a group of Muslim youth connected with the Muslim Brotherhood attacked the nearby church of the Virgin Mary in the Egyptian city of Zaytoun, on the east of Cairo:
On arriving in the square in front of the Church they are seen tearing down a banner from the front of the church and covering the façade with graffiti insulting the patriarch, the Copts and the Armed Forces .

Local sources said that every Friday after the midday prayer, the Islamists always pass in front of the church hurling insults and anti-Christian slogans . To avoid problems Christians bar the doors of the building. Near the church there is the el- Aziz Bellah mosque, whose faithful militate in the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood [more].

A book you should read

In his new book The Global War on Christians: Dispatches From the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution, John L. Allen, Jr. discusses what he says "is in many ways the greatest story never told" (243).  This is, he admits, a bit of an exaggeration because the real "problem in the global war on Christians is not that no one is reporting what's happening.  It's rather that far too few people are paying attention" (27).

Despite various news outlets reporting on instances of Christian persecution, most people in the West (and throughout the world) are unaware that:
  • 100,000,000 Christians "worldwide presently face interrogation, arrest, torture, or even death" (4);
  • 100,000 Christians were killed per year between 2000 and 2010 (4);
  • since the death of Jesus, 70,000,000 Christians have been killed for their faith in Christ;
  • of those, 45,000,000 - 50% - were killed in the 20th century [the 1900s] (32-33); 
  • between 2006 and 2010, Christians were persecuted in 139 countries (34);
  • 80% of religious persecution today is against Christians (9); and,
  • in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, Christian persecution has increased 309% since 2003 (36).
Throughout The Global War on Christians Allen relates individual instances of such persecution and provides an overview of the current situation in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, often even breaking down his overview by country.

As I read the book I knew many of the stories already because I had either written about them on this blog or at Persecution Watch.  I felt conflicted, both because I knew so many of the stories and because there were many more I did not know.  He is right to describe this war as "the world's best-kept secret" (15).

Longtime readers of his column in the National Catholic Reporter will be aware of Allen's ability to cut to the heart of an issue, to separate and distinguish with clarity and objectivity.  He brings this same skill to The Global War on Christians, repeatedly examining questions to determine where the war is being fought:
The mere fact that Christians are harmed someplace does not ipso facto mean they were harmed because they are Christian.  It's equally fallacious both to dismiss religion as a casual factor and to privilege it over to others.
At the same time, a one-sided focus on the motives of the perpetrators of violence can also produce a badly skewed picture.  When someone is threatened or harmed, there are usually two questions to ask: First, what are the motives of the attackers?  Second, did the victim make choices that placed himself or herself at risk, and if so, why (13)?
These two questions must be asked in examining this war because, as Allen rightly notes, "to ignore threats against Christians because they're not explicitly is, therefore, to miss the forest for the trees" (14).  It is clarity of thought that has gained Allen the respect of many.

Throughout the book, Allen discusses why the war on Christians is so little known, what it is and what it isn't, and what forms it takes in various places.

We might well ask why he decided to write this book when so many others have not written on this important reality.  The answer is quite simple: "there's something so precious about faith in Christ and membership in the church that, when push comes to shove, ordinary people will pay in blood rather than let go" (21).  Allen has told their stories well.

Why should you read this book?  Because the truth is always important to investigate and because "the stories of the martyrs have a deep spiritual resonance, and when people are exposed to them, they often come away changed" (266).

Spanish priest murdered in Panama "in broad daylight"

The sixty-seven year old Father Aníbal Gómez was murdered Wednesday outside the home of the retired Bishop of Colon:
According to police reports, the priest’s body was found bound with plastic ties, beaten and stabbed. The housekeeper said that she tried to call for help but that the aggressors knocked her unconscious.
Gómez had been living in Panama for 20 years. He officiated mass at the María Madre de Dios parish in the former Fort Davis and was the director of the Academia Santa Maria in Colon for many years [more].
His Excellency the Most Reverend José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta, O.S.A. lamented the murder:
It happened in broad daylight, we all have to reflect and we must all work together to stop the violence and murders that are taking place [more].

After massacre of Syrian Christians, Archbishop calls for prayers and begs for help

The Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs and Hama, Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, has called for prayers for the Syrian Christians following an attack on the city of Sadad in which 45 Christians were killed and half of the city destroyed by "armed men and terrorists."

On the blog of The Orthodox Church on which he gave the above summary of the destruction, he pleads:
3000 people were held hostage, and we cried out to world, and no-one heard us, except for the minority which came to our aid, and stood in solidarity with us.  Where is the Christian conscience?  Where, the Syriac conscience?  Where is the human conscience?  Where are my brothers, the metropolitans, priests, and friends? Where… where? And no-one answers… except for a few.  There is a lump in the throat and burning in the heart for all that’s happened in my metropolitanate and its poor suffering people which no sooner did it flee to a place of refuge, then left from there empty-handed, and after all this, to where, I don’t know…
The attack is the "largest massacre of Christians" in the Syrian civil war thus far.  Speaking with Fides News Agency, the Archbishop said:
45 innocent civilians were martyred for no reason, and among them several women and children, many thrown into mass graves. Other civilians were threatened and terrorized. 30 were wounded and 10 are still missing. For one week, 1,500 families were held as hostages and human shields. Among them children, the elderly, the young, men and women. Some of them fled on foot travelling 8 km from Sadad to Al-Hafer to find refuge. About 2,500 families fled from Sadad, taking only their clothes, due to the irruption of armed groups and today they are refugees scattered between Damascus, Homs, Fayrouza, Zaydal, Maskane, and Al-Fhayle.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Friday, October 4, 2013

Islamists in Indonesia block efforts to build church, despite permit

Despite having a permit to build a church to accommodate 11,000 people, some 200 members of the Islamic Defenders Front are blocking efforts to construct St. Barbara's in the Indonesian city of Tangerang on Java Island.

The Fides news agency reports that
among the population in Tangerang, leaflets of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI ) and other Islamic organizations united in the Islamic forum "Sudimara Pinang" that are opposed to the construction of the church, are circulating. According to the forum, "the church is a threat to Islam, and if the construction of the church continues, Christians will convert Muslims in the coming decades". As Fides learns, the Muslim religious leaders in Tangerang have distanced themselves from this position, stating that " it is wrong to stir up religious tensions" and appeal to tolerance and peaceful religious coexistence, essential trait of Indonesia.
The permit itself took twenty-three years to obtain and, according to reports from the Jakarta Globe, this is not the first time the parish has met with similar persecution:
The parish has faced intolerance before. In 2004, protestors forced the church to relocate from the Sang Timur school in Ciledug. Protestors built a wall across a road, blocking access to the school. The wall still stands.

Persecution: The unreported catastrophe of our time

The persecution of Christians throughout the world is occurring with greater frequency every day, though you may not know if from what you see in the much of the media today.  Writing for The Spectator, John L. Allen, Jr. recently wrote on what he calls "the unreported catastrophe of our time":
Imagine if correspondents in late 1944 had reported the Battle of the Bulge, but without explaining that it was a turning point in the second world war. Or what if finance reporters had told the story of the AIG meltdown in 2008 without adding that it raised questions about derivatives and sub-prime mortgages that could augur a vast financial implosion?
Most people would say that journalists had failed to provide the proper context to understand the news. Yet that’s routinely what media outlets do when it comes to outbreaks of anti-Christian persecution around the world, which is why the global war on Christians remains the greatest story never told of the early 21st century.
Throughout the remained of the article, Allen, who is one of the few reporters actually paying attention to this tragedy, provides a country-by-country in various parts of the world, which is well worth reading.  After providing these accounts of an increasing global persecution over the past several years, Allen asks why this remains largely  unreported:
Why are the dimensions of this global war so often overlooked? Aside from the root fact that the victims are largely non-white and poor, and thus not considered ‘newsmakers’ in the classic sense, and that they tend to live and die well off the radar screen of western attention, the global war also runs up against the outdated stereotype of Christianity as the oppressor rather than the oppressed.
Say ‘religious persecution’ to most makers of cultured secular opinion, and they will think of the Crusades, the Inquisition, Bruno and Galileo, the Wars of Religion and the Salem witch trials. Today, however, we do not live on the pages of a Dan Brown potboiler, in which Christians are dispatching mad assassins to settle historical scores. Instead, they’re the ones fleeing assassins others have dispatched.
If you've ever attempted to alert others to the reality of what is happening to our brothers and sisters in so much of the world, you'll know he's correct.

Please, read the entire article, fast and pray for the persecuted, and help to spread the news.

The article is written in connection to the publication of Allen's latest book, The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution, which I hope to be able to find in Rome.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Islamists attack Christian village in northern Syria

A new wave of difficulties has befallen Christians living in the ancient city of Sednaya in northern Syria followed a raid by Islamists that left one man dead:
In yesterday’s raid a person died and one person was wounded among the local Christians. A religious from Sednaya , who requested anonymity, told Fides that "this is banditry but it is also a vendetta against Christians. We would not want to give a meaning to these acts of religious persecution, but they are targeted attacks that have the effect of creating confusion and fear among civilians". The tactic of armed gangs now is sudden raids that create terror among the civilian population, resulting in an exodus [more].
The Christians who have fled to Damascus have formed a "Committee" and lament the fact that most of the world pays them little attention: "We appeal strongly to the international community. Nobody helps us," said a representative to the Fides News Agency.  "Islamic radicalism is becoming more discriminatory. We feel unprotected. No one does anything to prevent these human right abuses: we ask the UN Commission in Geneva to intervene."

What is more, the situation for Christians in Syria is becoming increasingly difficult:

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Prayers for Persecuted Christians

Following the plea made yesterday of His Holiness Pope Francis for Christians to pray for their persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world, I thought it might be helpful to post a few prayers that you can pray either alone or with your family and friends.

The Mass for Persecuted Christians

The liturgical texts of the Church are always a good place to begin when looking for prayers.  The Roman Missal provides the following prayers:

O God, who in your inscrutable providence
will that the Church  to the sufferings of your Son
grant, we pray, to your faithful who suffer for your name's sake
a spirit of patience and charity,
that they may be found true and faithful witnesses
to the promises you have made.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

Prayer Over the Offerings

Receive, we ask, O God,
the prayers and sacrificial gifts we offer in humility
and grant that those who suffer persecution
for their faithful service to you
may rejoice to be united to the sacrifice of Christ your Son
and may know that their names are written in heaven
among the company of the elect.
Through Christ our Lord.

Prayer After Communion

By the power of this Sacrament, O Lord,
confirm your servants in the truth
and grant to your faithful who suffer tribulation
that, as they follow your Son in bearing their cross,
they may, in every trial, glory in the name of Christian.
Through Christ our Lord.
Talk with your priest about your concern for the persecuted Church and about your desire to prayer for them.  Ask him to offer this Mass with some frequency.

A Prayer for Persecuted Christians

The branch of the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need in the United Kingdom provides the following prayer:
Father in Heaven, you make your sun shine
on good and bad alike.
Your Son Jesus Christ died for us all
and in his glorious Resurrection
He still retains the five wounds of his Passion.
With his divine power he now sustains
all those who suffer persecution and martyrdom
for the sake of their fidelity
to the faith of the Church.
Merciful and mighty Father,
do not allow Cain to return again to murder
helpless Abel, innocent Abel.
May persecuted Christians around the world
remain, like Mary, their Mother,
together at the foot of the cross
of Christ the Martyr.
Comfort those menaced by violence
and those oppressed by uncertainty.
May your Holy Spirit of love
make fruitful the witness and the blood
of those who die forgiving.
A Papal Prayer Intention

Pope Francis' missionary prayer intention for the month of September 2013, to which we should all join our prayers, is as follows:
That Christians suffering persecution in many parts of the world may, by their witness, be prophets of Christ's love.
Though the month of September is nearly complete, we could certainly continue to hold this intention in our heats, especially as we pray the Rosary and pray before the Blessed Sacrament.

A Prayer for One's Enemies

One of the prayers of Saint Thomas More will be especially helpful for those who are themselves persecuted for the name of Jesus Christ:
Almighty God,
have mercy on N
and on all that bear me evil will and would me harm,
and on their faults and mine together,
by such easy, tender, merciful means,
as thine infinite wisdom best can devise;
vouchsafe to amend and redress
and make us saved souls together in heaven,
where we may ever live and love together
with thee and thy blessed saints, O glorious Trinity,
for the bitter passion of our sweet Savior Christ.
A Difficult Search

Finding prayers specifically for persecuted Christians and for their persecutors has proven - rather surprisingly - difficult.  I have intentionally not provided prayers for specific regions or countries where persecution occurs, nor have I provided prayers simply for peace in general terms.

Are you aware of other prayer for the persecuted and their oppressors?  If so, would you kindly provide a link to the prayer or the text of the prayer and the person from whom it comes?  Thanks!

A Suggestion

Because we are often forgetful and become too easily absorbed in our own affairs, it might be helpful to print out the Holy Father's question and put it somewhere you will be certain to see it each day: on the refrigerator, the bathroom mirror, the dining room table, the dashboard of your car, your desk at work, in your daily prayer book, etc. (you could do the same with one or more of the above prayers). In doing so, you will be continually called to prayer.

Now, lest we forget, Pope Francis' question:
How many of you pray for Christians who are persecuted? Ask yourselves, do I pray for that brother or sister who’s in difficulty for confessing their faith?

Lao Christians must renounce their faith or face expulsion

The Fides news agency is reporting that Christians in Laos are being required to either renounce their faith in Christ or be expelled despite the freedom of religious liberty granted by the Lao Constitution:
The civil authorities of the district of Atsaphangthong, in the province of Savannakhet, have determined that the Christian Lao citizens in the various villages in the district, must renounce their faith, otherwise they risk expulsion from the district. As Fides learns, the measure was enacted given the growing number of conversions to Christianity in several villages. The decision was announced on 21 September, during an official meeting of members of the civil authorities with the population of the village of Huay [more].

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Vietnamese government plans to confiscate Church property

Asia News reports that the Vietnamese government is planning to confiscate land in Hanoi belonging to the Redemptorists:
Hanoi authorities have opened a new battle front with Catholics with an expropriation order issued by the Department for Urbanism and lease of land owned by the Redemptorists of Thai Ha parish, near lake Ba Giang.  The priests, religious and faithful say the measure is "illegal" and constitutes a "violation" of the rights of the Christian community, as explained in a letter published in recent days by the superior Fr . Matthew Vu Khoi Phun.
 The land desired by the government has belonged to the Redemptorists since 1928.

At least 85 killed by two Islamic suicide bombers in Pakistan

Two Islamic suicide bombers outside All Saints Church, an Anglican community, killed at least 85 people and wounded 150 others in the Pakistani city of Peshawar on Sunday, September 22nd:
Police said two suicide bombers, each wearing more than 13 pounds of explosives, detonated themselves following a Sunday service as 600 members of the Protestant church gathered on the church lawn for food distribution.

Jundallah, a group linked to the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in response to U.S. drone strikes, the latest of which Sept. 22 reportedly killed seven people in the tribal area of North Waziristan.

"Until and unless the drone strikes are stopped, we will continue to strike wherever we find an opportunity against non-Muslims," said a Jundallah spokesman [more].
It is possible that number of deceased may reach or exceed 100, according to a report from Aid to the Church in Need, which also provides some additional background:
The explosions struck the church in the Kohati Gate area of Peshawar, just after the morning Communion service had ended.
Peshawar is the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (formerly called the North-West Frontier Province), where Islamist extremist groups have a number of strongholds.
Militant group, Tahrik-e-Taliban Jandullah, claimed to have carried out the bombing in retaliation for U.S. drone strikes.
But a statement by Pakistan’s main Taliban group, Tahrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, made it clear that they took no responsibility the church attack [more].
The New York Times discusses Sunday's attack in relation to other attacks which have been occurring in Pakistan where Christians comprise less than 3% of the total population.