Recently, I picked up in Barnes and Noble a book entitled The Global War on Christians. My split-second reaction was that this was probably a work of hysteria and exaggeration.
Until I saw the author’s name: John L. Allen Jr. Allen is one of the most respected religious journalists in the U.S., having worked for many years as the senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, and now for The Boston Globe. Allen is no purveyor of hysteria and exaggeration, but a sober and thoughtful writer.
Consider the following examples of Christian persecution Allen details:
• In Iraq, fifty-two people died recently when Islamic militants stormed and burned the Syrian Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation; of the sixty-three Christian churches in Baghdad, forty have been bombed; in 1991, the Christian population of Iraq was at least 1.5 million, now most Iraqi Christians have fled the country, leaving less than 150,000 behind. (The Archbishop of Mosul said recently that his diocese has been virtually “wiped out.”)
• In India’s northern state of Orissa, as many as 500 Christians were killed in 2008, many hacked to death by Hindu radicals; an estimated 500 Christian homes and 350 churches and schools were destroyed.
• In Burma, Christians are considered political dissidents, and as many as 5,000 believers have been murdered; the government has given its air force authority to bomb Christians on sight.
• In Nigeria, the militant Islamic group Boko Haram has been responsible for almost 3,000 Christian deaths since 2009. The group is determined to drive Christians out of the country completely.
• In North Korea, considered the most dangerous place in the world for Christians, roughly a quarter of the country’s approximately 300,000 Christians are believed to be living in forced-labor camps because of their refusal to join in the cult of the “dear leader.”
Allen spends 299 pages detailing many more such hostilities toward Christians in China, Laos, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Egypt, the Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Belarus, Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, to name but the most flagrant.
He states that his book “is about the most dramatic religious story of the early twenty-first century, yet one that most people in the West have little idea is even happening.” “Christians today,” he says, “form the most persecuted religious body on the planet, and too often its new martyrs suffer in silence.”
Allen refers to the evangelical group Open Doors, devoted to monitoring anti-Christian persecution, which estimates that “one hundred million Christians worldwide presently face interrogation, arrest, torture, or even death because of their religious convictions.”
He reports that Protestant scholar Todd Johnson, an expert in Christian demographics, “has pegged the number of Christians killed each year from 2000 to 2010 at one hundred thousand.” That works out to “eleven Christians killed every hour, every day, throughout the past decade.”
Why are Christians in the West not aware of this terrible holocaust? For one thing the media do not report the persecution of Christians, and consider such news “politically incorrect.” Political leaders, for various reasons, are deaf to cries for help.
I must say that I myself was shocked by Allen’s book, and wondered what Catholics parishes in the U.S. could do. I recommend the following: include persecuted and murdered Christians in the Prayers of Intercession every Sunday; encourage parishioners to buy Allen’s book and read it; sponsor parish lectures on the subject, and set up book-study groups; barrage local and national leaders, especially in Congress, to do something about the growing “global war” on Christians.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.