Christians are dying for their faith as never before.
“Nearly twice as many Christians died for their faith in the past year than in 2012,” reports World Watch Monitor. “Open Doors International said 2,123 Christians were reported to have been killed during the 12 months ending Oct. 31, 2012. That compares to 1,201 during the previous 12 months. More Christians were killed in Syria alone than were killed globally in the previous year.” Prince Charles with Coptic Orthodox leaders in London (Coptic Orthodox Church UK photo)
Indeed, the situation has worsened to the point that Charles, the Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne, has added his voice to those calling for an end to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Open Doors notes that their total is a “very, very minimum” count. In fact, there are reports from closed countries such as North Korea of terrible repression, but no published numbers.
For example, as many as 80 people were publicly executed in North Korea, “some for offenses as minor as watching South Korean movies or possessing a Bible,” reported Fox News. “Wonsan authorities gathered a crowd of 10,000 people, including children, at Shinpoong Stadium and forced them to watch the killings.”
“I heard from the residents that they watched in terror as the corpses were so riddled by machine-gun fire that they were hard to identify afterward,” said an unidentified person quoted by the South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo.
“There is no clear reason for the executions,” noted Fox. “The country has been known to order public executions for minor infractions such as religious activism, cellphone use and stealing food, in an effort to intimidate the public.”
And that makes it difficult to know just how many North Koreans were killed for their faith. Similar difficulty in reporting exists in such areas as Somalia, where there is no functional government – or in war zones where details of deaths often go unreported.
Open Doors says it cannot include in the tally – or even accurately estimate – deaths that are rumored but never officially reported or Christians who die due to
long-term discrimination – such as in Pakistan where non-Muslims have almost no civil rights.
The number of Christians killed in the growing conflict ripping apart the Central African Republic is especially likely to have been under-reported, said Open Doors, because “most analysts still failed to recognize the religious dimension of the conflict” – where extremist Muslim rebels have sought out Christian pastors for execution.
In other areas, such as predominantly Muslim former Soviet Republics such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, “Christians aren’t always directly killed, but are so much squeezed with regulations and vulnerabilities that they just perish – not at once, but in the course of years. If we would include them in the counting, it would be an enormous number of people. However, the precise number of Christians who die due to these factors is very difficult to quantify,” Open Doors told the World Watch Monitor.
So, how many Christians actually died for their faith last year? Some relief organizations believe the Open Doors tally is far too conservative. Their estimates range from around 7,000 or 8,000, according to Thomas Schirrmacher at the International Institute for Religious Freedom to a high estimate of 100,000 by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity.
Where did the deaths occur? According to Open Doors, war-wracked Syria heads the list of the countries in which the most Christian deaths were reported (1,213), followed by Nigeria (612), Pakistan (88) and Egypt (83).
In London, Prince Charles has added his voice to those calling for an end to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, reports The Blaze. He said he is “deeply troubled” by the “growing difficulties” faced by Christians in the region and was concerned for its impact upon Muslim-Christian relations.
“For 20 years, I have tried to build bridges between Islam and Christianity and to dispel ignorance and misunderstanding,” reported World Watch Monitor. “The point though, surely, is that we have now reached a crisis where the bridges are rapidly being deliberately destroyed by those with a vested interest in doing so – and this is achieved through intimidation, false accusation and organized persecution – including to Christian communities in the Middle East at the present time,” he said.
After a visit to the London cathedral of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Charles said he was “deeply troubled” by the “growing difficulties” faced by Christians in the region.
“It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are, increasingly, being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants,” he said.
Noting Christianity’s roots in the region, the prince observed that today the Middle East and North Africa have the lowest concentration of Christians in the world – just four per cent – and that this has “dropped dramatically over the last century and is falling still further”.
He said that the effect of this was that “we all lose something
immensely and irreplaceably precious when such a rich tradition dating back 2,000 years begins to disappear.”
Echoing the recent words of Archbishop Louis Raphael I Sako of Baghdad, Charles added that the decline of Christians in the region represents a “major blow to peace, as Christians are part of the fabric of society, often acting as bridge-builders between other communities.”
“For 20 years, I have tried to build bridges between Islam and Christianity and to dispel ignorance and misunderstanding. The point though, surely, is that we have now reached a crisis where the bridges are rapidly being deliberately destroyed by those with a vested interest in doing so – and this is achieved through intimidation, false accusation and organized persecution – including to Christian communities in the Middle East at the present time,” he said.
Earlier in the day at the UK Coptic Orthodox Church Centre, Prince Charles spoke to Huda Nassar, Middle East director for the Awareness Foundation.
“[Prince Charles] said it was heart-breaking what was going on in Syria, and that he’s praying for peace,” Huda told World Watch Monitor.
Meanwhile in Bangui, capital of war-torn Central African Republic, a pastor and his son are among the latest fatalities. Baptist preacher Pierre-Séverin Kongbo and his son, Dieubéni, were executed at their home by former members of the disbanded Seleka rebels.
The Open Doors field director for west and central Africa reports a steadily deteriorating situation for Christians.
Pastor Kongbo’s wife told World Watch Monitor that rebels had visited their home two weeks before, asking for her husband. She told them the pastor was not at home and gave them all the money she had at the house (10,000 CFA or about $22).
Days later, the rebels returned and found Kongbo. They began shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”), before shooting the pastor and his oldest son.
The Central African Republic has been beset by violence since December 2012, when a coalition of rebel groups moved through the country to eventually drive out President Francois Bozizé. Rebel leader Michel Djotodia took control of a transitional government, but lost control of the Seleka soldiers. He attempted to disband Seleka, but was unsuccessful and resigned. The National Assembly elected Samba Panza president, making her the first female president of the CAR.
However, violence has continued, according to a resident whose identity cannot be disclosed for security reasons, who is in email contact with World Watch Monitor.
“We remain powerless in the face of numerous challenges, and many of our brothers are disappointed as we can do nothing for them in response to their appeals for help,” the resident wrote to the Monitor. “Many have lost everything, with their houses looted or set ablaze. Others have lost a child or a family member. And this is just in Bangui. We are deeply concerned about our brethren in the provinces who are forced to hide out in the bush. We have not heard from them for a while.”
Open Doors’ field director noted: “The most severely affected areas have been very unsafe to visit ever since the escalation of violence between Seleka rebels and rival anti-Balaka fighters that started in December. Anti-Balaka attack Seleka and then retreat, leaving local
populations exposed to the rage of Seleka. People have fled to churches and some to mosques.”
“We visited the displaced at two church compounds,” reported the Open Doors official, whose name was not disclosed for security reasons. “As we entered the first camp, I was moved with compassion when I saw the difficult circumstances people are enduring.”
Christians have gathered in the camps for safety. Armed fighters on both sides of the conflict are extremist Muslim – and are accused of atrocities against Christians, sometimes in apparent frustration over battlefield losses. As a result, villagers are deserting the countryside and packing into the refugee camps.
“The pastor of the first site told us that 4,000 people are packed into the church compound. And the numbers are swelling day by day. The French and African Union troops are limited in number and the Seleka have not yet been disarmed. Although the ex-rebels know their time is up, they still cause trouble in various places.
“New families keep arriving. For camp staff, major challenges include the provision of water, sanitation and food. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has provided some large shelters and the Red Cross has dug some pit latrines and set up improvised washing areas.
“Another huge challenge is preventing disease. When I entered the camp manager’s office, he was busy updating the list of sick people. They try to stay on top of things so that the crisis won’t get any worse. Their biggest worry is the approaching rainy season when mosquitoes will abound and the whole compound will become a mud pool. Apart from the huge discomfort, this means an increased risk of malaria and waterborne disease.”
“We also visited a few other church compounds that are sheltering displaced people. The conditions are equally difficult there. For staff members there, the biggest challenge is the provision of food. The pastor tells me that they have a list of about 500 people that stay on
the compound. The day before, he received just three bags of rice which he had to divide among everyone there. People lined up to receive only a little portion each. It’s not much, but it does keep them from having to seek food elsewhere.
“Strangely, life seems to go on in some ways. I met a mother who delivered a baby that morning. She was rushed to a hospital, where she had the baby and came back to the camp that same afternoon!
“I can’t help but feel sad over the circumstances this child has been born into. His birthplace remains in the grip of insecurity.
“On our way to visit the biggest camp at the airport which houses about 100,000 people, we suddenly found ourselves on an eerily quiet street.
“Anxious people were hiding behind walls.
“Then we heard gunshots. The driver quickly turned around and sped the other way.
“For now, we are unable to access the camp."