Study: Christians Remain Most Persecuted Religious Group in the World

A damaged bench inside the St. Mark Cathedral in central Cairo, following a bombing, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

A new study shows Christians remain the most persecuted religious group in the world, with around 90,000 killed for their faith in 2016. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are encouraging signs things may be about to turn around for persecuted Christians.

Radical Islamism has been the main source of the persecution of millions of Christians worldwide per year, according to Open Doors USA. Christians throughout the world have for years suffered imprisonment, torture, rape, beheadings, church bombings, and even crucifixion because of their faith, while the United States under President Barack Obama and the rest of the Western world have largely looked the other way.

Via Breitbart News:

Massimo Introvigne, Director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (Cesnur), told Vatican Radio that around half a billion Christians in the world are unable to express their faith completely freely, while around 90,000 — one every six minutes — died for their faith in the past year alone.

Referring to statistics from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Mr. Introvigne said around 70 percent of Christians murdered in 2016 died in tribal conflicts in Africa. These deaths were included, he said, because very often they involved Christians who refuse to take up arms for reasons of conscience.

“The other 30 percent, or 27,000, were killed in terror attacks, the destruction of Christian villages, or government persecution,” he added.

Introvigne told Vatican Radio that the Catholic Church is currently considering possible sainthood for individual Christians killed in territories controlled by the Islamic State terror group.

The Middle East and Africa remain the most violent areas in the world for Christians in countries like Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Pakistan. North Korea tops the list of countries with the most extreme persecution against Christians.

There are hopeful signs emerging that the tide may be beginning to turn, with one Eastern European country stepping up to the plate in a unique way. The Hungarian government in September created a position in its foreign ministry specifically devoted to anti-Christian persecution. The newly appointed “Deputy State Secretary for Assisting Persecuted Christians” and a delegation of Hungarian diplomats and politicians visited the Vatican last month to drum up support for their efforts, according to Angelus:

The group was led by Bence Rétvári, Hungary’s Vice Minister for Human Capacities, and had meetings with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States; Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches; and Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, former Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva.

Crux spoke to Rétvári Nov. 23, and I asked him to explain why Hungary is doing something no other state in the world is doing.

“We can put that question the other way around,” he said. “Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world, so why are there no other governments that want to help them? Christians [in the Middle East] are discriminated against doubly, first because they are hit by the war, and second because they are Christians,” Rétvári said.

“Religious freedom as guaranteed in international treaties is not always respected, and in some cases people face death for refusing to abandon their religion. There are communities that have existed for more than 2,000 years that are facing extinction. We’re like a brother who sees that his sister’s house is on fire,” he said, “and we need to go put out the fire and then help rebuild the house.”

Rétvári said the initiative has three immediate priorities:

› To use Hungary’s status as a member state of international bodies such as the United Nations, the European Union and the International Criminal Court to pursue criminal indictments of perpetrators of anti-Christian violence and acts of genocide.

› To raise awareness about the global dimensions of anti-Christian persecution.

› To build projects such as hospitals and schools in the regions affected by the violence.

Hungary also plans to host an annual international conference, he said, and to issue annual reports on anti-Christian hostility.

Rétvári acknowledged that he feels a personal stake in the issue.

“As a Christian, I think everyone is touched by seeing other Christians in trouble,” he said. “In the Western world, we Christians have become too comfortable. We often can’t even find the time to go to Mass on Sunday, but there are others who risk their lives for their religion.”

Hungary may be alone so far in terms of having a specific department for anti-Christian persecution, but its decision reflects mounting awareness among governments generally that Christians need help, right now especially in the Middle East.

Additionally, Rome Reports, a TV news agency inside the Vatican, is launching a collaborative effort with Communion and Liberation (a movement in the Catholic Church), a foundation called ISCOM, and an American institute called the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation that will use social media to spread news about persecuted Christians.

The name of the project is #StandTogether, and it features a new website that aims to collect reports about anti-Christian persecution from various news agencies and sources.

The project was presented at a briefing in Rome Nov. 24, the highlight of which was a gripping overview of the devastation of Iraqi Christianity at the hands of the Islamic State delivered by a Rome-based Chaldean priest named Father Rebwar Basa.

Among other things, Father Basa told the stories of several Iraqi priests who’ve been killed — chillingly, he would just casually toss in, “he was at my ordination,” or “he was my parish priest as a kid,” providing a reminder of how profoundly personal these horrors are for the country’s Christian population.

There is also reason for optimism with the election of Donald Trump, who stood up for Christianity in the wake of the terror truck attack in Berlin on December 19.

“Our hearts and prayers are with the loved ones of the victims of today’s horrifying terror attack in Berlin,” Trump said in a statement. “Innocent civilians were murdered in the streets as they prepared to celebrate the Christmas holiday. ISIS and other Islamic terrorists continuously slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad. These terrorists and their regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated from the face of the earth, a mission we will carry out with all freedom-loving partners.”

On the feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, Pope Francis paid tribute to Christians in the Middle East who have kept the faith in the midst of persecution by Islamist militants. The pope made the remarks to thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square during his holiday blessing.

He mentioned the persecution of Christians in Iraq, many of whom where [sic] able to spend their first Christmas since 2013 in churches after towns and cities were retaken from Islamic State.

“This was an example of fidelity to the Gospel,” he said. “Despite trials and dangers, they courageously show that they belong to Christ,” he said.

“Today, we want to think of them and be close to them with our affection, our prayers and even our tears,” the pope said.

Christians in northern regions of Iraq held by Islamic State were given an ultimatum: pay a tax, convert to Islam, or die by the sword. Most of them fled to the autonomous Kurdish region to the east.

Pope Francis said, “there are more Christian martyrs today than in the first centuries.”