The woman found with the Bible was executed. A senior priest was abducted and never seen. A landmine hit three Christian school buses carrying students and teachers… These are just a few examples of the many violent and unrelenting attacks on Christians today.
A shocking modern persecution image
Open Doors’ German agency director Markus Rode describes the current situation of persecuted Christians and other minorities as “catastrophic and alarming”. “Religious freedom is severely restricted. If the millions of affected people cannot raise awareness of their plight, politicians and Christians must do much more than they have done so far. Persecuted Christians ask for our prayers for faith strengthening.
North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen, Iran, and India are among the ten most persecuted Christian nations.The group cites China as an example of deteriorating Christian living conditions. The country […] is a prime example of a repressive regime eroding religious freedom. More Christians were imprisoned there than anywhere else in 2013.
Indian Christians face similar challenges. In this country, being a Christian means daily persecution at home, on the street, and at work. There are also Christian murders. Anant Ram Gand was murdered in February 2019 in Orissa, India. “He converted to Christianity a year ago. He was baptized two months ago. His conversion sparked riots in the village of radical Hindus. His family was evicted from the village and denied access to the communal well. Anant was alone at home with his six-year-old son on the day of his murder. His headless body was found on the road outside the village” (ibid.).
Iraqi Christians pray at home, fearing for their children’s safety. The Chaldean Patriarch, Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, described a family in Baghdad from which a young girl was kidnapped. After a while, the kidnappers called the parents to say they had their daughter. The mother cursed them and asked them to return her child. She promised to raise the ransom. “We don’t want your money,” she heard the receiver. We want your heart to ache. Soon after, a child’s corpse was discovered in the street (W. Ciso, Imigranci u bram. The Refugee Crisis and 21st Century Christian Martyrdom). “It should be noted that most clergy and nuns in Syria have remained loyal. Strangely enough, when the priest or nun stays on the ground, the faithful do too (ibid).
Fear, danger, and uncertainty are daily fare for Christians in parts of Africa and the Middle East. Another issue is the kidnapping and forced marriage of young Coptic women to Muslims. To deter them from fleeing, humiliating photos of them are often taken and they are threatened with public exposure if they return home. Despite this massive persecution of Christians, there are numerous examples of Christ’s followers’ heroic faith and loving attitudes towards both their persecutors and fellow sufferers. Copts husbands and fathers knelt as their murderers slit their throats and cut off their heads. The martyrs’ faces and the attitued radiated a remarkable peace. “My Lord, Jesus Christ!” they yell, asking God to strengthen their faith and forgive their killers as they died! “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do” (Lk 23, 34)
Brothers in martyrdom
On April 30, 1997, 36 seminarians and eight counselors were killed in Buta’s minor seminary (Burundi). The young men were aged 15 to 20. Their assassins were Hutu rebels from the so-called National Council for the Defense of Democracy. The rebels stormed the seminary and dragged the boys out of bed. The attackers ordered them to split into two groups: Tutsi and Hutu. The Tutsi boys were to be killed. But the seminarians refused to split. As a result, both Tutsi and Hutus were killed. The baptismal fraternity trumped ethnicity.The seminarians had just finished their Easter retreat. “At the end of the retreat, the students were animated by a new kind of inspiration that seemed to prepare these innocents for a holy death,” wrote Fr. Nicolas Niyun-geko, rector of the local shrine. ‘God is good, and we have met Him,’ they exulted. They spoke of heaven and the priesthood as if they had just returned from there. […] They had clearly had a life-altering experience, though they were unaware of it. They prayed, sang, and danced in and out of church after that. They were ecstatic to have found Heaven’s treasure. The murderers divided the young men into two groups […]. The seminarians preferred to die as a group. In case the evil plan failed, the assassins came armed with rifles and grenades. Others said, “Forgive them, Lord, for they do not know what they are doing” [cf. Lk 23:34]. Others, knowing their fate, comforted their brothers instead of fighting or fleeing. Death was a gentle and luminous path […] to a place without pain, noise, or fear. They died as brothers’ martyrs […].
In honor of Mary Queen of Peace 40 days after the massacre. Since then, it has become a pilgrimage site. Burundians go to pray for peace, conversion, and hope for all. Hope, unity, and fraternity are messages to humanity. “May the martyrs’ blood sow peace in our country and the world” (Global War on Christians, J. L. Allen, Jr. A Shocking View of Current Persecution, p.
Faced with the enormity of our brethren’s persecution, we should be grateful that we can practice our faith in relative peace and safety in our own country. It is worth reminding us of the great gift of daily participation in the Eucharist and sacramental life. Thank God for priests who can freely minister the sacraments instituted by Christ.
Let us “martyr” daily systematic prayer and adherence to Christ and God’s commandments, or accepting that public faith professing is becoming increasingly stigmatized and criticized in our countries. Persecution for the faith does not have to be physical. Silent suffering is when a person suffers because of their Catholic faith, values and outlook. It can be at work, in their community or among their loved ones.
“Blessed are you when [people] persecute you and speak evil of you because of me,” Jesus said. Rejoice, for your reward in heaven is great. Likewise, they persecuted the prophets before you” (Mt 5, 11).