“I don't think it takes any religious convictions or confessional interests at all to see that defense of persecuted Christians deserves to be the world’s number one human rights priority,” Allen, a noted Vatican journalist and author, told CNA in an Oct. 2 interview.
“You didn't have to be Jewish in the '70s to be worried about dissident Jews in the Soviet Union; you didn't have to be black in the '80s to be concerned about apartheid in South Africa; and you equally don't have to be Christian today to recognize that Christians are the most persecuted religious body on the planet.”
Allen's work, published Tuesday by Image Books, arises directly from a conversation he had with Cardinal Dolan in 2009, in which the prelate made the point that Christians “need to do a better job of telling these stories” of Christian persecution, like the body of “Holocaust literature” showed the suffering of Jews under Hitler.
However, Allen became interested in the subject of anti-Christian persecution while traveling to Ukraine for Pope John Paul II's 2001 trip there.
At that time, Allen met the granddaughter of an Eastern Catholic priest who had been killed in a gulag during the Soviet era.
“That conversation brought home that martyrdom is very much a feature of the contemporary Christian landscape.”
Prior to that, he said, “like a lot of Catholics … when I thought of martyrdom, I considered it an artifact of the early centuries of the Church, the early Christian martyrs under Nero and Diocletian.”
“The more I would travel the world and meet victims of anti-Christian persecution in various places, the more the scale and scope of this thing came home to me.”
Allen notes that throughout the first decade of the 21st century, 100,000 Christians were killed per year – 11 new martyrs every hour – and secular human rights groups estimate that 80 percent of religious freedom violations are current directed against Christians.
Despite these massive figures, the worldwide persecution of Christians is little known in the U.S., and Allen said the first purpose of his book is “to end the silence about anti-Christian persecution … to put it on the map.”
Highlighting that “this is a literal war against Christians on a global scale,” involving direct physical violence, harassment, and imprisonment, Allen works in the book to chronicle persecution against Christians in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and eastern Europe.
Having done that, Allen then clarified several myths about Christian persecution, such as the claims that no one saw the persecution coming; the issue is solely a political one; and “it's all about Islam.”
While acknowledging that “we can't be naïve” about the fact that quite “a fair share of Christian suffering around the world” is related to radical forms of Islam, Allen said that “it does an injustice to Christian victims of persecution … as a result of other forces, to leave them out of the picture simply because their oppressors aren't Muslims.”
He noted that recently, “the most violent anti-Christian pogrom anywhere was in India,” and at the hands of radical Hindus. “I don't think it's fair to those Indian victims to forget them simply because they don't have the politically appropriate enemy.”
Allen chose to distinguish between the physically violent persecution of Christians around the world –including churches being blown up in Pakistan or tens of thousands of Christians languishing in concentration camps in North Korea – and the “separate, but related” issue of a secularist movement in the Western world which discourages the expression of all religions.
He hopes that his book will help broaden the view of many people in the United States, to see that “there are real lethal threats to religious freedom out there that need our attention, too.”
The second major purpose of the book, Allen explained, is “to galvanize people, Christians particularly, to take action. I don't want people just to be aware of (Christian persecution), I want them to do something about it.”
While many Americans learning of Christian persecution in far-off places might feel powerless to stop it, or even to assist its victims, Allen uses the final part of his book to explain the consequences and responses appropriate to the issue.
Some of the response can be “broad policy” of the government, “big picture level” decisions: giving preference to victims of anti-Christian violence in refugee resettlement policy, and paying attention to the voices of Syrians saying that to seek regime change in their country would be quite harmful to them, he said.
“But there are things that people can do on a smaller scale, without waiting to live in a different world,” he added.
In particular, Allen suggested donating to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, which provides “basic food and medical care to Christian refugees from Syria.”
A “feasible financial contribution” for a middle-class American can do much to help Christians who have fled Syria, he said, “and it's a direct way of saving the lives of Christians who are today the world's most persecuted religious body.”
“There are ways in which individuals can effect change,” he concluded.
“So don’t feel powerless, don't feel that this is a tragedy we can do nothing about, because there are steps we can take.”
In his new book “The Global War on Christians,” Vatican analyst John Allen, Jr. details anti-Christian abuse worldwide, drawing light to the tremendous scale of violence against the world’s most persecuted religion.
Books, John Allen