Christian Persecution: The Worst Place on Earth

 

I can’t write about Christian persecution this week.

I’ve gone through  a long list of horrific stories from all over the globe. But I can not force myself to write about them. The weight of it is too much for me. I plan to devote prayer time to them, instead.

This is one of those times when the horror of it all is just too much for me. Christians are suffering violent persecution in so much of the world. At the same time, they are being subjected to increasing pressures to deny their faith and go along with the world here in the Christian West.

Much of the Muslim war on Christians is centered on Christian women and girls. Young Christian girls are kidnapped, raped and forced to convert. This cowardly behavior says a lot about their attackers.

Christianity is attacked and Christians are subjected to persecution in every atheist government on the globe. According to the video below, North Korea is the worst place on Earth to be a Christian. Given the amount of competition for that title, that’s saying a lot.

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Voice of the Martyrs: Christian Persecution Around the World

“In most cases, the persecution could have been averted if they had simply denied Christ. But they won’t.”

“The persecution of Christians is not a human tragedy. It is a spiritual reality facing the body of Christ.”

If these people refuse to deny Christ in the face of such suffering, how can we allow ourselves to deny Him in order to keep a job, or to avoid harrassment from aggressive unbelievers?

Pray for them and take every opportunity to stand up for Jesus here.

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Lord Have Mercy. Christ Have Mercy.

After seeing the video “Passion of the Copts” all I could think was Lord have mercy. This hauntingly beautiful rendition of the Kyrie Eleison and the equally beautiful Gospodi Pomiluj below it are for them and for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ everywhere.

Kyrie Eleison – Zurgo – Navratil Andrea

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Gospodi Pomiluj

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Bleeding Nigeria and Boko Haram

Boko Haram has killed at least 1600 people in Northern Nigeria since 2010.

It’s a repetitive story of bombings, mass shootings and knife attacks, much of it centered on the northern city of Kano. I used to know people who lived in Kano and I’ve heard their stories of atrocities against the Christians there.

This business of killing Christians in Kano precedes Boko Haram. LIke all forms of persecution, it gets and has gotten worse over time. A couple of decades ago, I knew people who were  victimized by deadly anti-Christian riots that were more or less disorganized and at least somewhat spontaneous.

But for the past 10 years or so Kano and all of northern Nigeria has been subjected to the organized violence of Boko Haram. I’ve published posts here at Public Catholic indicating that Boko Haram is funded and trained by extremist Muslim forces from outside Nigeria, indeed, from outside Africa. It appears that at least some of the funding for Boko Haram may be coming through England,

That’s an interesting and sad thought. A small child who is blown to bits on a summer’s evening may owe his or her death to the actions of international financiers and organizers who have given over their lives to organized killing.

A few days ago, Boko Haram struck again with a series of bomb blasts in Kano. These happened during the evening hours in the Christian section of the city. Many Muslims were out at the same time, because of Ramadan.

As usual for these things, Boko Haram has taken to killing other Muslims who don’t conform to their ideas, in addition to Christians.

My question: Why don’t the Muslims and Christians unite against these killers and get rid of them?

Another question: Why don’t the rest of us in the “civilized” world put their money people in prison? I don’t think it would be too difficult to write a law that could shut them down.

In the meantime, the killing and the dying go on in bleeding Nigeria.

From the Associated Press:

Associated Press

KANO, Nigeria (AP) — Multiple explosions rocked a Christian area in Nigeria’s northern Kano city Monday night, with security forces ferrying scores of wounded to hospitals.

A mortuary attendant at Murtala Mohammed Specialists Hospital said at least 10 bodies had been brought in from the scene. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Nigeria is fighting an Islamic uprising by extremists based mainly in the northeast, where the government has declared a state of emergency. Kano city and state are not part of that emergency.

Nigeria’s government is fighting an Islamic uprising by a network called Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden.” The group wants Islamic law imposed in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation of more than 160 million, which is divided almost equally between Christians who live mainly in the south and Muslims who dominate the north.

Witness Kolade Ade said at least one blast appeared to come from a Mercedes-Benz parked beside a kiosk selling alcohol and soft drinks.

“After the first bomb, I threw myself into the canal (drain) to hide. There were at least three blasts,” he said.

The explosions came as hundreds of people thronged the area in Sabon Gari neighborhood, where some were playing snooker and others table tennis.

 

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Imprisoned for Christ: Cardinal Van Thuan

I once worked with a woman who had lived through the fall of Viet Nam and then stayed in the country after the communist takeover.

She told me that where she lived, the officials would call someone in for questioning. She said that this person was never seen again. They simply vanished.

When they called her to come in for questioning, she and her large family stayed up all night discussing what to do. They decided to walk out of Viet Nam under darkness and take their chances on the open sea as stateless refugees. They did this as an entire family group.

She cried when she told me of the terrible things that happened in the boats with the other refugees.

Long story short, she and her family ended up in Oklahoma, where, when I knew her, they were working together to build a new life.

This lady was not a Christian. She was a Buddhist. They were rural people who had never had contact with the Americans during the war. Her crime was that her family was a well-to-do family who owned a granary in her small town. She was also an attorney.

Cardinal Van Thuan committed a much worse crime, one that continues to be punished in Viet Nam today. He was a Christian. Not only that, he was a leader in the Catholic Church.
The result was that Cardinal Van Thuan spent 13 years in solitary confinement inside a Viet Nam prison. He was so completely shut off from the world that most of his friends and followers thought he was dead. I would guess that what happened to him was somewhat like what happened to the people my friend knew: He went in, and was never heard from again.

I’ve read The Miracle of Hope by Andre Nguyen and Van Chau and also The Testimony of Hope which is a retreat Cardinal van Thuan gave for Pope John Paul II. I recommend both books to those who want to learn more about this great man of Christ.

My archbishop, Archbishop Paul Coakley, ordained our newest priest on June 29. Here is what he said:

We are living in an age of increasing indifference or even hostility toward faith and toward the Church. The generation of priests ordained today will, I suspect, witness increasing persecution and perhaps even a new age of martyrdom. It is already happening in other parts of the world.

Given certain signs of our times today, it is naive to believe it could not happen here. It is important, therefore, to be clear. The priesthood is not a career; it is not a path for those seeking a comfortable life. The priesthood is a vocation of radical commitment and radical dependence on Jesus Christ, who came not to be served but to serve.

I’m glad my archbishop realizes this and has the courage to say it publicly. Far too many priests are either unaware of it, or indifferent to it. As a Public Catholic in the political realm, and more specifically as a Catholic Democratic elected official, I’ve been on the tip of the sword for a long time now. I can tell you without reservation that I saw this coming way back for the simple reason that I was the object of so much excoriation and social/verbal abuse in my office because of my faith.

I had the advantage of perspective, since I had been in office in the 1980s, then left to raise my kids and was later re-elected to the same position. The changes in attitude and behavior toward Christians by non-believers was stark. However, most Christians were reacting by either allowing themselves and their faith to be co-opted so they’d feel comfortable with this new world, or by withdrawing into their Christian friendships and refusing to see it.

I knew it was a matter of time before it started expanding to other Christians who try to follow the Gospels but who were not in the hot spot of being Democratic elected Catholics. I found then, as I do now, that not many people want to hear the truth of what is happening. This attitude further isolates the Christian who is being attacked for Christ and also encourages the attackers to continue. At the very least, we need to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ when they are attacked for the faith we hold.

These head-in-sand Christians compare themselves to people like Cardinal van Thuan and say, I’m not afraid of being arrested in the middle of the night and put in solitary confinement for 13 years, so there is no problem here.

My answer to them is the same one alcoholics anonymous says to its adherents who claim they aren’t so sick since they’ve never done what that other drunk next to them has done: Not yet.

If you consider where we are now compared to where we were even 10 years ago, I don’t believe you can honestly say that this country, and indeed the whole Western world is not on a trajectory of overt hostility and verbal abuse and lately legal discrimination against Christians. If this trajectory is not reversed, it will inevitably end up at active persecution.

This video about Cardinal van Thuan describes a priest who was Christ’s man first. May his tribe increase.

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Iran: Trying to Stifle the Holy Spirit with Persecution

This story of Christian persecution has a twist.

Iranian government officials raided the Central Assemblies of God Church in Tehran May 21. They arrested the pastor, Rev Robert Aserian and seized his books, documents and equipment, including his computer.

The charge? Pastor Aserian had been conducting services in Farsi, which is the language that people speak in Iran.

This is akin to arresting someone in America for making speeches in English.

Why would they do this?

My guess is that the reason for trying to force the pastor and his church to conduct services in some other language than Farsi is precisely because people could understand Farsi. I think the Holy Spirit was working in that church and Iranian people were converting to Christianity. The fact that the church has discipleship classes on Saturdays for new Christians seems to indicate that there are a good number of converts.

The Assemblies of God Church in Iran began in 1955 with a single house church. Now there are congregations across the country. That sounds like people are converting, and they are doing it in significant numbers.

This has resulted in persecution of church members, especially the church leaders. For instance, Pastor Farhad Sabokrouh, who leads an Assemblies of God church in Ahwaz, Iran, along with his wife Shahaz Jeizan were recently sentence to one-year prison sentences.

Hundreds of Christian converts have been arrested and detained throughout Iran in the past few years. They have been subjected to intense interrogation and verbal and physical abuse. Some were prosecuted, while others have been forced to pay exorbitant sums for bail.

Several members of the Central Assemblies of God Church in Tehran have been killed, and, as a local source told Barnabas Aid:

The pressure has become unbearable. They constantly threaten the church leaders and their families with imprisonment, unexplained accidents, kidnapping and even with execution. We cannot go on like this.

The twist in this story is that it’s not about a shrinking population of Christians who are barely hanging on. It’s about a thriving and growing Christian ministry that is built on conversions. Will the Iranian government be able to stifle the Holy Spirit with persecution?

There are probably more of these stories than we know. These people need our prayers and any support we can give them.

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Orthodox Bishops Kidnapped in Syria

Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Church and Archbishop Paul Yagizi of the Greek Orthodox Church were kidnapped April 22 near Aleppo, Syria. Their driver was killed.

The archbishops were on a humanitarian mission to try to secure the release of hostages who had been kidnapped previously.

A Vatican spokesman said that Pope Francis is following this situation closely and with “intense prayer.” The Vatican Press Director, Fr Federico Lombardi, said:

The assault on the archbishops “and the killing of their driver, while carrying out a humanitarian mission, is a dramatic confirmation of the tragic situation faced by the people of Syria and its Christian communities.”

Pope Francis, he said, is praying that, “with the commitment of all, the Syrian people will finally discover effective answers to the humanitarian tragedy and see on the horizon real hopes for peace and reconciliation.”

On April 17, Greek Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham said that 2 million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes and over 1,000 Christians have been killed and 20 churches destroyed in Syria’s conflict. 

Christians make up between 5 and 10 percent of Syria’s population.

As often happens in these situations, there is confusion about who is responsible for the kidnapping. According to an article in the Gaurdian:

The Syrian opposition coalition has accused the Assad regime of being behind the abduction of Bishops Yazigi and Ibrahim.

In a statement it said all kidnappings, particularly those against the clergy, were a blow to its attempts to build a new Syrian society based on freedom from tyranny.

It said there were indications that government was to blame for abductions after Bishop Ibrahim’s interview with the BBC when he stated that the fate of Christians in Syria was not linked to the survival of the Assad regime.

“Initial investigations conducted by the Syrian Coalition regarding the kidnapping and killing of Father Ibrahim’s bodyguard implicate the Assad regime in this crime. The Assad regime was angered by Father Ibrahim’s latest statement, in which he stated that the survival of Christians in Syria is not linked to the survival of the regime. The Free Syrian Army categorically denies any responsibility for this kidnapping.”

The statement urged Syrians to work with the Free Syrian Army to try to secure their release.

Deacon Greg Kandra has more details here.

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Stations of the Cross in Honor of Persecuted Middle Eastern Christians

In solidarity with the persecuted Christians in the Middle East, this is Wa Habibi, sung to the Stations of Cross in Arabic by Fairouz.

 

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Christian Persecution and Blood Red Shoes

Pope Francis is the Pope. If he decides to go for all the pomp his office allows ….

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That’s fine with me.

Because he’s the Pope.

If on the other hand, he decides to wear sandals and walk rather than ride – or some black-shoed something in between the two extremes — that, too, would be ok with me.

Because he’s the pope.

It appears that most Catholics are like me: Over the moon about our new papa. But, you can’t please everyone. Human beings are too contrary for that to ever happen in this world. In their displeasure with our Holy Father, some of these displeased ones have fixated on one thing: The color of his shoes.

The red of the red shoes refers to the blood of the martyrs they tell us.

I’ve been thinking about this for days, largely because I don’t understand why we need to see red shoes to think about the blood of the martyrs. The blood of people dying for Christ is not an ancient artifact from a long ago history that has passed. The blood of the martyrs is soaking into the ground in a hundred places around the world as I type this.

This is the blood of the marytrs:

India

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North Korea

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I have interviewed survivors of Christian persecution in Uganda and Nigeria. They are different from us. Their faith has been through the fire and this fire burned away the impurities of trivial concerns.

One of the many things about these people that impressed me is their gentleness; that, and their absolute faith in heaven. I never heard anything from them about the people who persecuted them being damned to hell. The harshest thing I heard was from an Anglican bishop who called them “ignorant.” Their focus is on Jesus. It is not on the ones who attacked them. They see past the persecution to heaven and the gift of eternal life.

More than once when I asked them how they got through it, they said two words: The cross.

They are different from you and me, these people who have been purified by the fires of persecution for the name of Jesus. I never asked any of them about red shoes. But if I had, I imagine that the response would have been incomprehension.

What Jesus Told Us

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Christian Persecution: From the Dali Lama to Great Britain, Six Quick Takes

This week’s six quick takes include examples of the increasing hostility toward Christians and Christianity worldwide.

They range from government punishment of Christian business owners for practicing their faith in Great Britain, to the rise of government harassments and arrests of Christian religious leaders in Eastern Europe. Also included are remarks by the Dali Lama that seem to blame the victims of violence for their own persecution. He specifically pointed to the martyrdom of a Christian missionary in India in which the missionary and his two children were burnt alive as his example.

Please pray for an end to Christian persecution.

1. Open Doors has released is annual World Watch List.  This list details the persecution of Christians around the globe. You can read it here.


2.
Great Britain: Christian Bed and Breakfast Punished for ‘Discriminating’ Against Gays   In a victory for the gay agenda, the Christian owners of a Cornish bed and breakfast lost their appeal against last year’s ruling that their policy of restricting double rooms to married couples discriminated against a gay couple.

But, while upholding that ruling, the Court of Appeal warned that a new intolerance should not take root against Christians because of their beliefs about sexual ethics. (Read more here.)


3. Eastern Europe: Persecution on the Rise for Christians in Eastern Europe  
Citizens of the former Soviet Union are facing growing restrictions on their religious freedom. On Wednesday a panel of experts in Washington reported that governments are closing more churches, fining and arresting their religious leaders, and destroying church literature.

“Twenty years ago when the Soviet Union fell apart, collapsed, when the Berlin Wall fell, everybody was sort of excited about all the future possibilities. Twenty years later we are again talking about freedom. What happened?” Victor Ham, vice president for the Billy Graham Evangelical Association Crusades, said.

The situation might not be a return to the Soviet era, but the signs spell trouble.

“Churches are being torched, crosses are being burned. There’s a lot of anti-Semitism, a lot of negative things appearing in the press about different organizations. So there’s some reason for concern,” Lauren Homer, with Homer International Law Group, said.

The atmosphere is thick with intolerance in these countries. Individual pastors are reluctant to speak out against abuses and restrictions. (Read more here.)

4. China: Christian Persecution in China Rises Over 40 Percent in 2012  ChinaAid, a Texas-based Christian non-profit organization that monitors religious freedom in China, said in its 2012 annual report on Monday that the Chinese government continues its uptick of persecution against Christians in the country for the seventh consecutive year.

The report examines 132 persecution cases involving 4,919 people, finding that persecution incidences rose 41.9 percent from 2011. Additionally, the number of people sentenced in cases relating to religious persecution jumped 125 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, according to the group’s finding.

Read more at http://global.christianpost.com/news/christian-persecution-in-china-rises-over-40-percent-in-2012-chinaaid-reports-89542/#bq7CyE4Zal8lCCcf.99


5. North Korea: Most Difficult Place on Earth to be a Christian  
For the eleventh year running, this is the most difficult place on earth to be a Christian. One of the remaining Communist states, it is vehemently opposed to religion of any kind. Christians are classified as hostile and face arrest, detention, torture, even public execution. There is a system of labor camps including the renowned prison No. 15, which reportedly houses 6,000 persecuted Christians alone. Despite the severe oppression, there is a growing underground church movement of an estimated 400,000 Christians. (Read more here.)


6. Dalai Lama’s Statements Against Conversion May Increase Christian Persecution  
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, said he was against conversions and changing from one religion to another. His position is likely to be seen as support for the policies of the radical Hindu groups and the anti-conversion laws that exist in some Indian states.

During recent speech, he touched on the issue of conversions. “I do not like conversions,” he said, because they have a negative impact [on society]. “The two parties, that of the converted and the community abandoned by him, begin to fight.”

As an example of the negative influence produced by conversions, he cited the violence against the Australian missionary Graham Staines, burnt alive in his car with his two sons, and the violence and destruction still ongoing in Orissa and Karnataka.

This is not the first time that the Dalai Lama has spoken against conversions. Last November, at Christ University in Bangalore, he repeated a similar concept: on the one hand, he spoke of religious freedom and on the other of the need to avoid conversions: “Any religion – he said – should be limited to service-oriented interventions, such as providing people education and health care, not indulging in conversions.”

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, who personally knows the Dalai Lama, comments to AsiaNews that the freedom to change religion is a fundamental human right and can not be obscured for any convenience. (Read more here.)

 

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