Icon of the martyrdom of St. Stephen
“Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
”He that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.” (Matthew 16:25)
Some examples of recent Christian persecution: Latest news from AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
Priest witnesses Church attack – at least 19 killed
Father Moses Otii next to bullet holes in Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, Bangui, Central African Republic
A priest has described seeing at least 19 Christians being killed when gunmen ‘rained down bullets’ on more than 2,000 people gathered for Mass in the Central African Republic.
Father Moses Otii, parish priest of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in the country’s capital Bangui, told Catholic charity Aid to Church in Need about 120 parishioners were injured during the violence, which included grenade attacks, on Tuesday (1st May).
“attackers started shooting at the church and throwing hand grenades at the people”
Father Otii said that the attackers “outnumbered the police and the police retreated, then the attackers started shooting at the church and throwing hand grenades at the people.”
He added: “With my own eyes I saw three hand grenades thrown in front of the Church, but thank God in an area without people, and a grenade thrown in among many people gathered in the open air within the church’s compound.
“The grenade was thrown from behind the parish walls into the crowd of people at Mass. It exploded. Normally our Masses are celebrated in the open air since our church cannot contain more than 2,000 people. And we had more than 2,000 people for the Mass. So many people were injured. They started running in all directions. We had people almost everywhere – our rooms, refectory, parish halls, our kitchen, and even in the toilets.”
He added: “Others could not run. For example, a lady had both legs cut off by the grenade, she couldn’t move. It was a commotion with people running and people crying.”
Father Otii was on the altar with 15 concelebrating priests, when he saw the gunmen outside the Church targeting the Christians.
He said: “I saw the attackers waving their arms in what I interpreted as ‘calm down’ gesture just before they started raining bullets at the people gathered at Mass. I heard gunshots during the the prayer of the faithful, just before the offertory.”
The priest added: “Immediately when things calmed down, we got some young people from the parish to help transport the injured to the hospital.”
Father Otii also said: “There are now bullet holes in the walls of the church and parish halls from this attack.”
He added: “Until now no one has claimed responsibility. People saw the attackers come from the direction of PK5 [neighbourhood], which is just close to the parish – the majority of PK5 are Muslim.”
Father Albert Baba – killed in attack during Mass at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church (© Aid to the Church in Need)
Among those killed in Our Lady of Fatima Church was Father Albert Baba, who served in a nearby parish.
Father Otti said: “I knew him well. He was a calm speaker, he was in his 70’s. He was someone joyful. He was lively despite his age.” (Father Albert worked as Justice and Peace co-ordinator in the diocese of Bangui.) “Where there was injustice he went and spoke to people from all walks of life to help them. He would surely want a prayer of peace to be heard after these attacks in our country”.
Reports state that protesters carried the priest’s body through the street of Bangui towards the presidential palace. CAR’s President Faustin Archange Touadera called for three days of nationwide mourning after the attacks.
17 Christians including two priests killed in church
Christians in Nigeria’s Middle-Belt region (© ACN)
Father Joseph Gor, Father Felix Tyolaha and 15 parishioners were killed during a funeral Mass in Mbalom, Benue State by gunmen, with reports that about 30 Fulani militants waited for the faithful to gather at the church before attacking. They also burned down about 50 homes in the area.
Condemning the “rampaging and murderous terrorists”, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) issued a formal statement, asking: “…how can the federal government stand back while its security agencies deliberately turn a blind eye to the cries and wails of helpless and unarmed citizens who remain sitting ducks in their homes, farms, highway and now, even in their sacred places of worship?”
Writing in bold typeface, the bishops stressed: “…it is time for [Nigeria’s President Mudammadu Buhari] to choose the part of honour and consider stepping aside to save the nation from total collapse.”
“Killing fields and mass graveyard” in Nigeria
Accusing the President of ignoring repeated calls to step up security, the bishops assert: “He should no longer continue to preside over the killing fields and mass graveyard that our country has become.”
Written in the wake of the funeral Mass killings, which took place last Tuesday (24th April), the bishops assert that they have lost confidence in the country’s security apparatus. In their statement, the bishops declare: “Faced with these dark clouds of fear and anxiety, our people are daily being told to defend themselves. But defend themselves with what?”
Father Alexander Yeyock is parish priest of St John’s Catholic Church, Asso village in nearby Kaduna State. His parish was attacked a month ago when two Catholic men were shot dead, an atrocity which took place almost exactly a year after Fulani militants murdered 12 Christians during the Easter Vigil service at his church. Father Yeyock said: “In Asso, farmers go to farms in fear and in groups… Bereaved families have come to terms with the reality that attacks by Fulani herdsmen, [occur] frequently in Asso, but no place is spared. It’s again unfortunate that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes are known by the government of Nigeria, those who sponsor them too, and yet no action is taken.”
Highlighting that Fulani militants receive military training abroad before going on to target Christians, he said: “With the news of the current attacks, Nigerians have argued with the earlier narrative from the federal government who have very often told the world that it was always a clash between the herdsmen and farmers. “It’s now evidently revealing that there is more to it than meets the eye… It is purely a religious jihad in disguise.”
Latest attacks: Shootings in Christian community in Quetta – Catholic family of four shot dead in Lahore
Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore, Pakistan (© ACN)
Two Christian men – named as Rashid Khalid and Azhar Iqbal – were killed and at least three others were injured after four attackers on motorbikes started shooting at people near a church in Quetta’s Essa Nagri Christian neighbourhood.
The attack, last Sunday (15th April), came nearly two weeks after a family of four Catholics from Lahore were gunned down outside a relative’s house during an Easter visit to the city.
Daesh (ISIS) wrote: killings “the first episode of genocide against Christians”
The dead – named as Parvaiz, Kamran, Tariq and Fordous – had reportedly just stepped outside to buy ice cream when they were targeted.
According to a missionary group in Pakistan, the attackers left a pamphlet at the scene of the crime describing the killing as “the first episode of genocide against Christians”.
Daesh (ISIS) claimed responsibility for both attacks.
In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore said “The faithful in Quetta are deeply concerned and worried. All these sufferings and pain can be overcome by faith. When we are tempted to lose hope, we are reminded that, through your compassion and prayers, you are with us, by our side.”
Quetta’s Christians were also targeted in December when two suicide bombers stormed a packed nativity service held in the city’s Bethel Methodist Church, leaving 11 dead and injuring more than 50 others.
[N.B. Christian Asia Bibi, 53 year old mother of five, continues to languish in a Pakistani jail awaiting her death sentence for the trumped up charge of blasphemy!]
21 priests murdered in the last five years – two missing
Father Sergio Omar of the Missionary Society of St Paul the Apostle is also director of the Catholic Multimedia Centre (© ACN)
An impassioned appeal to the Mexican government to stamp out “growing uncontrolled violence” has come from a Catholic priest whose organisation has exposed the country as being the most dangerous place for clergy in the whole of Latin America.
“religious freedom has been… seriously threatened by organised crime”
In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, the charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, Father Sergio Omar, director of Mexico’s Catholic Multimedia Centre (CCM), said “we cannot remain silent” about a crisis where “religious freedom has been… seriously threatened by organised crime”.
Father Omar described how the CCM had exposed widespread corruption protecting attackers, saying that “killing a priest…symbolises a demonstration of power by the criminal organisations”.
His words come after Father Juan Garcia, 33, and Father Ruben Diaz, 50, were killed last week in separate attacks in their churches, meaning that at least 21 priests have been murdered in Mexico within the last five years.
Highlighting that many others are suffering besides priests, Father Omar said: “We cannot remain silent as the blood of thousands of Mexicans is shed. This is why we are directing an urgent appeal to the federal government of Mexico, to the authorities of the various states and to the city governments. We want them to guarantee that pastoral care can safely be carried out in regions beset by growing uncontrolled violence.”
Corruption “causes decay in society from top to bottom”. Father Omar said drug cartels had formed alliances with some politicians and judges as well as members of the police and security forces which “causes decay in society from top to bottom”.
Finding Mexico to be the most dangerous country in Latin America for priests, the CCM is tracking attacks by gangs of kidnappers, shootings and bomb attacks against the Church, including Mexico City’s cathedral. Illustrating the use of terror tactics by violent cartels within the country, the Catholic organisation calculates that torture was involved in 80 percent of cases where priests were murdered.
Father Omar’s book ‘Tragedy and Crucible – the Priesthood in Mexico’ details “veritable religious persecution” including the killing of Cardinal Juan Jésus Posadas Ocampo in Guadalajara airport as well as the murder of 47 priests and 15 Church workers between 1990 and 2017. Father Omar’s research outlines the threats and violence used against priests, denouncing drug trafficking as well as corrupt government agencies, members of the police and contract killers. He said: “In 80 percent of the cases, the murderers use a modus operandi that includes everything from defamation to extortion, abduction to torture, kidnapping to murder.”
These countries mentioned here above are only four out of 50 named by OPEN DOORS as being:
The Top 50 Countries Where It’s Most Dangerous to Follow Jesus
For decades, North Korea has clearly been the world’s worst persecutor of Christians. But now, another nation nearly matches it.
Kim Jung-un’s country hasn’t moved from the No. 1 spot on the list for 16 years in a row. “With more than 50,000 in prison or labor camps, such a ranking is little surprise for the totalitarian regime that controls every aspect of life in the country and forces worship of the Kim family,” Open Doors reported.
But rivaling it this year is Afghanistan, which ranked No. 2 by less than a point. North Korea’s total score was 94 (on a 100-point scale), pushed above Afghanistan’s 93 by a 0.6 difference in their violence rating. In the other five categories measured—private life, family life, community life, national life, and church life—both countries received the worst scores possible.
“Never before have the top two countries been so close in incidents,” Open Doors USA president and CEO David Curry stated. “Both countries are extreme in intolerance and outright persecution of Christians in every area Open Doors monitors.”
The rising persecution in Afghanistan “is a tragedy considering the efforts being made by the international community to help rebuild Afghanistan are failing to ensure freedom of religion,” stated Curry. “Reports of violence and human rights atrocities from North Korea are pervasive, while the situation faced by Christians in Afghanistan may be underestimated. It is hard for Westerners to imagine a second country could nearly meet the levels of persecution seen in North Korea, but Muslim-majority Afghanistan has reached that level this year.”
Trailing a few spots behind at No. 5, Afghanistan’s neighbor Pakistan recorded the most violence against Christians last year. The country also scored the highest in church attacks, abductions, and forced marriages, according to Open Doors.
What’s the Biggest Threat to the Persecuted Church?
Rounding out the top 10, following North Korea and Afghanistan, are Somalia (No. 3), Sudan (No. 4), Pakistan (No. 5), Eritrea (No. 6), Libya (No. 7), Iraq (No. 8), Yemen (No. 9), and Iran (No. 10).
A modern day Christian martyr
It’s not a coincidence that all of these countries—except North Korea and Eritrea—are predominately Muslim. In fact, “Islamic extremism remains the global, dominant driver of persecution, responsible for initiating oppression and conflict in 35 of the 50 countries on the list,” Open Doors stated.
The Islamist movement is “the part of Islam which embraces a clear political agenda for bringing nations under Muslim domination and shari‘ah law,” according to Open Doors. The movement has three parts: individuals and networks that use violence to advance their political goals; those who reject any system based on non-Islamic law but who aren’t violent; and those who interact with society by voting or campaigning for Islamic law.
“The Islamist movement manifests itself in Muslim-majority countries by trying to radicalize society, and in Muslim-minority countries by radicalizing Muslim communities,” Open Doors stated.
One example: “Every day six women are raped, sexually harassed, or forced into marriage to a Muslim under threat of death due to their Christian faith,” Open Doors reported. This number is likely low, since it includes only reported incidents. It also points to the double persecution—for both their gender and religion—that Christian women face in much of the world.
The majority of the countries on the list saw an overall increase in persecution from 2016 to 2017 (30 of 50). Five of the six countries where persecution increased the most were majority-Muslim, with the notable exception of India, which moved from No. 15 in 2017 to No. 11 in 2018.
(Read the rest of the report HERE)