Archbishop Francis Chullikatt
The Vatican's apostolic nuncio to the United Nations told a U.S. congressional hearing Feb. 11 that "flagrant and widespread persecution of Christians rages in the Middle East even as we meet."
The persecution of Christians in Iraq has increased in the wake of the country's democratic transition, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt told the House subcommittee on global human rights Feb. 3.
There and elsewhere religious minorities had enjoyed some amount of protection under the strict law and order enforced by previous rulers. Chullikatt said that today, "because of the conflict, Christians are caught in the crossfire."
"This tragedy is all the more egregious when one pauses to consider that these men and women of faith . . . have been living at peace with their neighbours for untold generations," he said.
Chullikatt served as apostolic nuncio to Iraq and Jordan and lived in Baghdad from 2006 to 2010 prior to becoming the Vatican's UN nuncio.
He denounced the emerging "tradition" of bombing Catholic and other Christian churches on Christmas Eve, which has happened in the Middle East for several years.
Children live in fear, he said. "They go to schools, not even sure they will come back safe and alive."
The persecution of Christians is not limited to the Middle East.
The Pew Forum found that Christians suffered some form of harassment in 139 countries between 2006 and 2010, the largest of any other group.
Other speakers at the hearing testified about violence against Christians in Indonesia, Vietnam, Nigeria, Myanmar, Sudan, and Eritrea, among others.
Conversion laws in India, restrictions on worship in China, and denial of education or employment in various countries were cited as other forms of persecution against Christians.
John Allen, associate editor of The Boston Globe and a veteran journalist who has written extensively about Christian persecution, said many ignore the issue because of outdated prejudices.
"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."
Allen noted that two-thirds of the world's Christians live outside of the West, and more than half of that number live in poverty.
In his talk, Chullikatt said Christians throughout the world must work together to ensure religious freedom for all.
"To this end," he said, "it is crucial that every government guarantee religious freedom for each and every person."