WASHINGTON – A senior Vatican official and several international experts told a House subcommittee that Christians are still enduring violence, torture, and death across the globe.
Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the Vatican’s envoy to the United Nations, said “flagrant and widespread” persecution of Christians rages in the Middle East.
“No Christian is exempt, whether or not he or she is Arab. Arab Christians, a small but significant community, find themselves the target of constant harassment for no reason other than their religious faith,” Chullikatt testified before the House subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations last week.
Before taking the post as the permanent observer of the Vatican to the UN, Chullikatt served as a Vatican representative in Iraq and Jordan.
The persecution of Christians in Iraq has increased in the wake of the country’s democratic transition. Chullikatt said that under Saddam Hussein religious minorities enjoyed more protection because law and order were “forcibly imposed.”
“[Religious] minorities felt protected because they were participants on the benefits that came about from the strict law and order that was imposed by those regimes,” Chullikatt said. “Minorities, because of the situation that prevailed, could exercise all their rights.”
Chullikatt said that today “Christians are caught in the crossfire” because of insecurity and sectarian tensions.
He warned that a deterioration of the conflict in Syria could have similar results.
Chullikatt said one of the most egregious examples of the ongoing persecution is the rise of a so-called “tradition” of bombing Catholic and other Christian places of worship every Christmas Eve.
Three bombings killed at least 34 people in Baghdad last December, including a car bomb that exploded as worshippers were leaving a Christmas service.
From more than one million Christians before the onset of the Gulf War in 1991, Chullikatt said that today about 300,000 Christians are left in Iraq.
“As we witness the black flag of al-Qaeda again fly over cities such as Fallujah, which we had won at the cost of so much American blood, we wonder how it is that for Christians in Iraq, life appears to be worse now than it was under the vicious dictator Saddam Hussein,” said subcommittee chairman Chris Smith (R-N.J.).
Smith cited research by the Pew Center that concluded Christians are the single most harassed group worldwide. According to the report, Christians were harassed in 139 countries around the world between 2006 and 2010.
John Allen, associate editor at the Boston Globe and a veteran journalist who has written extensively on the persecution of Christians, said many ignore the issue because of outdated preconceptions.
“Say ‘religious persecution’ to most Westerners, and the images that come to mind are the Crusades, the Inquisition, the wars of religion,” Allen said. “The typical Christian in today’s world is not an affluent American male pulling up to church in a Lincoln Continental; it’s a poor black woman and mother of four in Botswana.”