At that much noted gathering of al-Qaida fanatics and killers in Yemen recently, one of the terrorist group’s leaders called for new attacks on the United States, declaring that “we must eliminate the cross” and that “the bearer of the cross is America.”
The cross, of course, is the universally recognized symbol of Christianity. And the Judeo-Christian tradition has been a wellspring of the values of the West and America, values so hated by al-Qaida, other Islamist extremists and atheistic, authoritarian regimes like the one in North Korea.
That’s worth remembering this Easter, the holiest holiday of Christianity, because Christians around the world — more than 100 million by one estimate — face oppression, imprisonment, violence and murder.
This persecution has been occurring for years and is finally getting the attention it deserves from world leaders. Pope Francis has likened today’s victims to the faith’s early martyrs and said that “this injustice must be denounced and eliminated.” Alarmed that “around the world freedom of religion is under threat,” President Barack Obama declared that “promoting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy.”
While this suffering only occasionally gets a newspaper headline or mention in the evening newscast, several individuals and organizations have worked tirelessly to make sure that the widespread persecution of Christians will not pass unnoticed.
One of them, Raymond Ibrahim of the Gatestone Institute, recently documented the outrages against Christians during their last major holiday. “As happens at Christmas every year throughout the Muslim world, Christians and their churches were especially targeted — from jihadi terror strikes killing worshippers, to measures by Muslim authorities restricting Christmas celebrations,” he observed.
Among the many cases Ibrahim recounted were three bombings in Iraq that killed 37 Christians, Iran arresting five Muslim converts to Christianity during a Christmas celebration, Muslim militia in the Central African Republic killing 1,000 Christians and forcing thousands more to flee for their lives, and Somalia banning Christmas celebrations.
Persecution in most Mideast countries forced Christians to flee their homes and the faith’s historic lands. Only free, Western, democratic Israel has seen an increase in its Christian population.
The Christian organization Open Doors ranks countries by the severity of persecution of the faithful. North Korea leads the rankings, but the top of the list is heavily populated by Muslim countries. Open Doors cites repression “in many nations such as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Mali, Syria, etc. in which religion itself is banned or where one faith system is permitted and touted, with all others being continually denigrated.”
Morning Star News maintains a website chronicling persecution of Christians. Recent headlines: “Islamic extremists in Nigeria abduct high school girls in Christian town,” “Christian couple in Pakistan sentenced to death for ‘blasphemy,’” “Authorities in Vietnam incite villagers to attack Christian converts” and “Islamic extremists in Somalia behead two Christians.”
On and on these depressing reports pile up. Christians safe in America and celebrating the resurrection of Christ this Easter might want to say a prayer for the suffering faithful.