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Escalating persecution of Christians

The World Watch List released by Open Doors claims last year was the worst on record for Christians in the areas of personal and family life, as well as the spheres of community, national and Church life.

The report notes that approximately 215 million Christians faced high, very high or extreme persecution and, while North Korea retained its spot as the worst place for Christians, it is now being rivalled by other countries within Asia that have reached nearly the same level as the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.

However, what is maybe the biggest change is that Islamist extremism is now being challenged by ethnic nationalism as the primary cause of persecution.

While The Jakarta Post described the recent election for governor of Jakarta as probably the dirtiest campaign Indonesia has ever seen, many observers believe that the incumbent, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, was bashed not so much because of his Christian faith, but his Chinese ethnicity (see page 4).

Nevertheless, the repercussions of the vindictive campaign run by the victor, Anies Baswedan, which, because it was articulated in religious terminology, even though it may not have been the fundamental issue, do fall on the wider Christian community.

However, persecution is something that has been with Christians since time immemorial and early documentation reveals that it was not always religion-specific. Pliny the Younger observed during one of his travels around the Roman Empire that the basis of a persecution of Christians in one place appeared to be more connected with their refusal to buy cattle for sacrifice, thus causing depression in the industry, than any belief that they held.

But as Pope Francis has observed on several occasions there are many more martyrs from our modern era than there were in the first 1,900 years of Christianity and on April 22 he presided at a liturgy of the word in the Basilica of St. Bartholomew in honour of the martyrs of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Organised by the Community of Sant’Egidio, it took place in a church dedicated by Pope John Paul II to the modern martyrs of the Latin American dictatorships who died in defence of their faith, as well as victims of terrorism, ethnic cleansing and racial prejudice.

Relatives of some modern day martyrs gave testimonies. The son of Paul Schneider, the pastor from the Reformed Church who died at the hands of the Nazis in Buchenwald in 1939, was among them. He quoted his father as saying that Nazism was incompatible with the word of God.

The sister of Father Jacques Hamel, who died last year while celebrating Mass; and Francisco Guevara, a friend of William Quijano, from the Community of Sant’Egidio who died in Salvador in 2009; also gave testimonies.

Special prayers were offered for the victims of the Armenian Massacres of World War I, the Trappist monks of Of Gods and Men fame; priests who have died at the hands of the mafia in Mexico and Sicily; and Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was shot at the altar in San Salvador.

Persecution is everybody’s business and in Hong Kong we should be especially aware as it is happening on a bigger and bigger scale and creeping closer and closer to our doorstep. We can at least let the persecuted know they are not forgotten. JiM