January 14, 2011


Violence against Christians

A case could be made that Christians around the world are being persecuted today more than adherents of any other religion. It appears that Muslim extremists believe that Christianity is a Western religion and they feel obliged to kill us “infidels.”

It is not true, though, that Christianity is only a Western religion. Those who are being persecuted lately are not Westerners.

The latest episode, as this editorial is being written, was aimed at Orthodox Coptic Christians in Egypt, where a bomb exploded as parishioners were leaving a church in Alexandria after a New Year’s Mass at about 12:30 a.m. At least 25 people were killed and dozens were injured.

The greatest persecution, though, has been in Iraq—the country that the United States supposedly liberated.

In his address on Jan. 1 marking the World Day of Peace, Pope Benedict XVI denounced what he called the practice of “planting bombs close to the homes of Christians in Iraq to force them to leave.”

At least seven Christian homes in Baghdad were targeted on Dec. 30, leaving at least 13 people wounded.

These were only the latest episodes in Iraq, and they are having their desired effect. Hundreds of thousands of Christians have left Iraq or escaped to northern Iraq, where they feel safer.

However, this persecution isn’t happening only in the Middle East. In the Philippines, a bomb exploded during Christmas Mass at a Catholic chapel on the island of Jolo. In Nigeria, gasoline bombs were detonated in three churches on Christmas Eve, leaving at least six people dead, including a Baptist pastor.

Pope Benedict has been speaking out against this terrorism. He did it in his World Day of Peace message, at his Christmas Mass, again on Jan. 1, and in an address to world diplomats on Jan. 10. He has called for religious freedom in countries with a Muslim majority.

He also plans to invite religious leaders from the world’s major faiths to gather in Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis, to “solemnly renew the commitment by believers of every religion to live their religious faith as a service to the cause of peace.”

Pope John Paul II convoked a similar World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi in 1986.

Middle East religious leaders, though, don’t think that is enough. Maronite Bishop Bechara Rai of Jbeil, Lebanon, called for an Islamic summit to stop attacks targeting Christians in Egypt and Iraq. He also called on the Arab League to meet to protect the safety of both Christians and Muslims.

“We cannot be content with verbal condemnations, as the pope said. There should be action on the ground,” he said.

Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham of Damascus, Syria, also called for Arab and international action against terrorism.

“It is a clear criminal and terrorist act targeting innocent Christians,” he said about the bombing in Egypt. “It is a phenomenon that calls for anxiety and vigilance that Christians might be a target for terrorist acts which move from one area to another.”

Coptic Orthodox Bishop Youhannes Zakaria of Luxor, Egypt, has said that he received many visits from Muslims—ordinary individuals and officials, including the governor—expressing their sympathy and solidarity after the bombing in Alexandria.

“They [Muslims] don’t accept this violence. They are very upset about this,” he said.

We accept that, although we also know that tensions between Christians and Muslims in Egypt have grown in recent years. For some time now, Christians have complained that the Egyptian government has not been doing enough to protect them from violence. However, the New Year’s attack was the first bombing.

Where has the U.S. government been during all this? It appears that it is only religious leaders who are reacting to the terrorism and violence against Christians. We agree with Bishop Rai that, in the final analysis, it is up to Muslims to put a stop to the actions of Muslim extremists, but shouldn’t the United States put some pressure on the Arab League to get on with the task of protecting both Christians and Muslims?

Without the cooperation of governments in those countries where Christians are a minority, there is little that religious leaders can do besides speaking out against violence and asking for religious freedom.

—John F. Fink

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