Global persecution of Christians often ignored in West

Douglas Roche


February 23, 2015

Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world, with oppression against them - I mean us - reported in 110 countries.

That slip I made reflects the myopia we Christians in safe countries like Canada have about the immense suffering endured by fellow followers of Jesus Christ around the world. We are, for the most part, rightly concerned about Muslims, who are the principal victims of jihadists, but seem unable to focus on the tragedies in our own family.

A recent report by the 60-year-old American Evangelical group Open Doors stated, "North Korea remains the world's most restrictive nation in which to practise Christianity," followed by Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran and Yemen.

The organization says that each month 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 churches and properties destroyed, and 722 acts of violence committed against Christians.

Further, a study by the U.S.-based non-partisan Pew Research Center found that restrictions, harassment and intimidation towards people of faith increased in every major region of the world in 2012 with the exception of the Americas.

Pew, noting that Muslims and Jews have also experienced a high number of persecutions, said Christians continue to be the most oppressed religious group. According to the secular International Society for Human Rights, 80 per cent of violations of religious freedom in the world today are directed against Christians.

The highly respected religious journalist John Allen has written a book, The Global War on Christians, which points out that two-thirds of the world's 2.3 billion Christians now live outside the West, often as a beleaguered minority up against a hostile majority - whether it's Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia, Hindu radicalism in India, or state-imposed atheism in China and North Korea.

Allen finds it strange that most people in the West have little idea that this persecution is taking place.

"We're not talking about a metaphorical 'war on religion' in Europe and the United States, fought on symbolic terrain such as whether it's okay to erect a nativity set on the courthouse steps, but a rising tide of legal oppression, social harassment and direct physical violence, with Christians as its leading victims."


Pope Francis has expressed his deep concern: "I am convinced that the persecution against Christians today is stronger than in the first centuries of the Church. . . . Today there are more Christian martyrs than in that period."

He appealed to political authorities and all persons of goodwill to engage in a vast mobilization of consciences on the plight of persecuted Christians and of all religious minorities, who are denied their fundamental human rights for religious reasons.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on the international community to do more for the persecuted Iraqi Christians and other minorities who continue to face terrible violence at the hands of Islamic State militants.

The new permanent representative of the Holy See to the UN, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, has enlarged the meaning of the issue.

He told a UN symposium on The Protection of Religious Minorities Worldwide, "These ruthless violations must not only be seen as violence against ethnic and religious minorities, but first and foremost must be condemned as blatant violations of fundamental human rights, and must be dealt with accordingly."

He called on the UN to enforce the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which has set out a framework of action against genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and all forms of unjust aggression.


"With lessons learned from a failure to stop recent horrors of genocide due to ethnic and religious intolerance, and presently confronted with clear, massive violations of fundamental human rights and of international humanitarian law, the time is [right] for courageous decisions," he said. The UN Human Rights Council needs to take stronger action to condemn religi0us persecution.

What more can be done? The promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue is an obvious step.


We Christians should be foremost in denouncing every misuse of religion to justify violent extremism, and in educating all to reciprocal understanding and mutual respect. We should practise openness, dialogue and sincere acceptance of the ethnic or religious minorities in our midst.

Christians and Muslims stand on common ground: love of God and love of neighbour. Openness to other religions and expressing the true values of our faith will help Christians to gather support in building the case that the persecution of Christians is an immense violation of human rights.

Perhaps it's time to afflict the comfortable in the pews at home.