From the Director - Christian persecution in the world

Columban Fr Gary WalkerThe article in the May edition of The Far East entitled ‘Countering Islamophobia’ with the photograph of a woman holding a sign “We are all Muslims” drew quite a lot of criticism as well as praise. One disgruntled reader suggested that I write about Christian victims of persecution who never seem to get mentioned anywhere. He made a good point.

Fortunately, I had read recently a book by John L Allen Jr who is a well-regarded and authoritative journalist on Vatican matters and the Catholic Church in general. It is entitled, ‘The Global War on Christians’. His statistics in this book are at least four years old but in the light of what has happened in the ensuing time, nothing would seem to have changed.

It is John Allen Jr’s contention that the popular stereotype of Christianity in the West is as an oppressive force, but in fact Christians today are the most persecuted identifiable body of people in the world. His overview of the world has five headings: Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Columbans have never worked in Africa or the Middle East or Eastern Europe. But people are well aware, I hope that the Christian people of the Middle East are leaving their homes and countries for safety elsewhere. Their presence in Iraq is dwindling, the Coptic Christians in Egypt are targeted and attacked regularly.

Regarding Asia, we have Columban priests, sisters and lay missionaries in Myanmar and China. In Myanmar the army still regards Christian people of the Chin, Kachin and Karen tribes as dissidents and attack their territories. A significant amount of our benefactor’s money is sent for displaced people and for continuing education of youth and children there. The ‘Sunday Examiner’  newspaper published in English in Hong Kong by Columban Fr Jim Mulroney carries stories of the tussles between the government in China and the Catholic Church, of the incredible faith of the Chinese people who have endured persecution and harassment in the past and who still struggle in the present.

Pope Francis says that the Christian martyrs of today are more numerous than those of the first centuries. This may surprise people because we don’t know what is going on around the world outside of the usual media outlets.

A question is: what can we do? I was moved by a story that John Allen relates of meeting in 2012 a Syrian family in Beirut where Pope Benedict XVI was celebrating Mass after a three day trip to Lebanon. They told a harrowing story of persecution. He asked the usual question – what can we do? They responded, ‘Don’t forget us.’

Fr Gary Walker SSC
director@columban.org.au

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