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Last week was held in Budapest the International Day on Persecuted Christians, an initiative of the Hungarian Government. There were leaders of the Church of the Middle East, Russia, United States and Europe; victims of the Christian genocide, representatives of NGOs, the president of Hungary and several ministers and parliamentarians, along with other parliamentarians from Canada and Sweden. “The Christianity was born in the Middle East.” This was one of the most heard phrases in the two days of the meeting in Budapest. Some have remembered with tears in their eyes how in 2014 and for the first time in 2000 years, there was not a single Christian celebrated Christmas in the Nineveh’ plain.
The Christian community is the most persecuted in the world. 215 million people in 108 countries survive in a hostile environment, mostly scattered in the Middle East and Africa, without an umbrella to shelter. Four out of five people persecuted and murdered for their religion are Christians. And almost nobody speaks about this.
Many witness were heard, such as that of the young Iraqi, Hussam Banno, describing how the school made a mockery of his Christian faith: “They called us infidels, they insulted us and they attacked us, they made fun of us, there were bombings and terrorist attacks every day. When the Islamic state (Daesh) conquered the plains of Nineveh, we fled to Ankawa, in Kurdistan, we walked miles and miles to save our lives, and now Qaraqosh, my city, is liberated, but our house is a heap of ashes. Despite these painful circumstances people have begun to rebuild their homes, but the situation there is very unstable.”
In recent years, we have witnessed a Christian genocide: mass executions, expulsion of hundreds of thousands of people from their homeland, destruction of churches, temples, monasteries and all possible representations of the Cross. Tens of thousands of Middle Eastern Christians were forced to flee their homes in 2016 for reasons of religious hatred. A total of 1,207 died for their faith in terrorist attacks and attacks, according to the report presented this week by the Evangelical NGO ‘Open Doors’.
The drama of the oldest Christian communities which have survived since the 8th century in an always hostile environment, seems to be shocked in the most apocalyptic context of wars, which explains the phenomenon of mass emigration to Europe. But terror by religious hatred has its own physiognomy and less support, especially if it is Christian, than the political or the economic. Only the Vatican and a handful of non-governmental organizations raise their voices and call for concrete action when bomb attacks occur periodically in those humble Christian neighbourhoods in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. In the ‘Open Door’ report of the fifty countries with the most persecution of Christians in the world, no one surprises that eight of the ten most hostile are nations with Muslim majority. Of the total of 50 countries supervised, 36 of them have political regimes inspired by the Sharia, the Islamic law.
The aggression against Christians not only come from the jihadist terrorist groups Daesh, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and Al Shabab, the four most brutal. There is also an atmosphere of intimidation and aggression in many Muslim social environments, which identify their own economic precariousness with a supposed Western neo-colonialism, and look with hatred on their Christian neighbour, often much more indigent than the Muslim. This is the saddest Pakistan case. Being a Christian in Pakistan is at best, condemned to being a second-class citizen. But this religious minority also runs the risk of ending their days in prison if a Muslim decides to accuse them of taking the name of Muhammad in vain, through the ‘Blasphemy Law’, which allows three Muslims to agree to lock up in jail or condemning a Christian to death if they accuse him or her of having insulted Muhammad or the Koran. “More than 1,000 people are in prison in Pakistan for the Law of Blasphemy, which is used unfairly to persecute members of religious minorities. Many of the accused are killed before they are judged,” recalls AIN (Aid to the Church in Need) Director, Javier Menendez Ros. The most well-known victim of this lacerating rule is Asia Bibi, a large family’ mother who has been in prison since 2009, after a court sentenced her to death for a false crime of blasphemy. Four million Christians live in Pakistan, half are Protestants and the other half are Roman Catholics.
In Egypt, for some Muslims’ imaginary, the Coptic Christians are the wealthy businessman who enjoys a fortune of suspicious origin; No one seems to notice those belonging to the garbage collector’ cast, the Zabalin, much more usual in Cairo. The defenestration of the Muslim Brotherhood has hardly changed that perception, and the attacks on the Copts continue to take place under the secular authoritarian regime of Al Sisi. Paul Marshall, of the Hudson Institute’s Religious Liberty Center, said that “the worst pogrom on Christians in Egypt for about 700 years is taking place right there, right now.”
Within the territories controlled by Daesh in Iraq and Syria, it has been repeated the literal theses of the Quran on dealing with other religions. Christians thus belong to the group of “Book Persons”, so they are being offered three paths: flight, conversion to Islam, or vassalage, which involves the tax payment to the ‘caliphate’ among other easements. However, the vassalage that the Christians of Pakistan already live did not save them from dying under terrorist bombs in the last months. Weeks before the attack in Lahore, a jihadist commando in Yemen carried out a massacre of a group of Mother Theresa of Calcutta’ nuns, in a nursing home. Despite this, the Missionaries of Charity continue to work with the poorest of other twelve Muslim majority countries, which are among the 130 where they work.
Throughout the Middle East, the Christian minorities have been the target those conflicts arising from what were supposed to be transitions to democracy. The latest report by the NGO Open Doors on religious freedom highlights again, according to the editor of International Francisco de Andres, that Christianity is the most persecuted confession in the world. In 2015, more than 7,000 Christians died victims of hatred for their religion, in attacks that the media did not give publicity, because it happened in the Middle East and black Africa.
Some Western leaders like Pope Franciscus and Prince Charles of Wales, have expressed much concern about the threat to the Christians in the region that gave rise to their faith. And yet, in the United States, it has attracted relatively little attention, outside of some Christian groups or legislators. They are too self-absorbed. But it seems that, from a time to this part, there is some hope shyly appearing again in the life of persecuted Christians. Since they do not have too much notoriety, interest of the Western media, or defence, I trust that it remains so.