More martyrs today than in the first centuries
This Christmas period has provided an opportunity for reflection on the suffering of Christians in the Middle East.
In the US, the Presidential Prayer Team has issued a request for prayer for the “millions of Christian refugees who have had to flee their homelands”. They point out that ten years ago, Iraq’s Christian population was about 1.5 million but now it’s estimated there are only 500,000 still living there. The rest have either fled persecution or been killed. Meanwhile, in Syria, of the 1.1 million Christians, about 600,000 have fled or died.
On Dec 23rd, the White House released a statement by President Obama on ‘Persecuted Christians at Christmas’, in which he said, “In some areas of the Middle East where church bells have rung for centuries on Christmas Day, this year they will be silent; this silence bears tragic witness to the brutal atrocities committed against these communities by ISIL [Islamic State].”
In Mosul, where Christmas had been celebrated during two millennia, there were no celebrations for the second year in a row, under the rule of IS.
Obama, in his message, called for people around the world to “pray for God’s protection for persecuted Christians and those of other faiths, as well as for those brave men and women engaged in our military, diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to alleviate their suffering and restore stability, security and hope to their nations.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in his Christmas message, said that IS is seeking an “apocalypse” to eliminate the presence of Christians and other communities in the areas they control. Isis’s apocalyptic vision threatens Christians with “elimination” in the very birthplace of their religion, he warned in his Christmas Day sermon.
He described the extremist Islamic organisation as “igniting a trail of fear, violence, hatred and determined oppression” across the Middle East.
The Archbishop called the group the “Herod of today” in reference to the murderous Biblical king.
Pope Francis, who has termed the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and beyond a genocide, said in a speech, “There are more martyrs [today] than there were in the first centuries,” as a result of the persecution of Christians in the Middle East today.
A recent report by a Catholic charity observed, “In parts of the Middle East — particularly in Syria and Iraq — the crisis is so severe that barring significant interventions on the part of world powers, the Christian presence may disappear completely within a decade or even sooner. For example, there may be as few as 275,000 Christians left in Iraq, down from 1 million 12 years ago.”