By Sarah Mac Donald - 30 April, 2015
A special Mass will take place at Knock Shrine this Saturday to commemorate Christians who have died in persecution in the Middle East and North Africa and for those still suffering religious persecution.
Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam, who is due to celebrate the Mass at the newly refurbished basilica, has hit out at the “appalling lack of protest” over the “ongoing and severe persecution” of Christian communities
In an article, the Archbishop highlighted that Ireland has “a long and proud history of peacekeeping and charitable work throughout the Middle East and Africa”.
He urged the Government to exercise a “moral leadership” and attempt to bring the EU’s focus to bear on this issue.
He said the persecution was now part of a wider problem that has resulted in one of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War.
“The Mediterranean has been turned into the world’s largest graveyard, with thousands of our fellow human beings, men, women and children, drowning in the face of what is still a significant public and political indifference to their plight,” Dr Neary regretted.
He said individuals, too, have a role in addressing through prayer support, charitable donations and lobbying for action.
“Greater yet though is to work on our own attitudes towards immigrants and refugees. We must challenge our own stubborn hardness of heart in that regard,” the Archbishop highlighted.
Elsewhere, he warned that the persecution is intensifying and in some cases has taken the form of ethnic cleaning, resulting in communities that have existed for almost two millennia being driven from their lands through violence, intimidation and murder.
In 2003, prior to the US and allied invasion, there were over 1.5 million Christians in Iraq – in just over a decade this figure has fallen below 400,000.
Churches that date from 200 AD have been destroyed.
The city of Mosul, one of the oldest Christian cities in the world, once had a Christian population of 60,000. Christians there were faced with the choice of forced conversion, death or to flee from their homes. The population fell to 3,000 before the last of that community were driven out last year.
Since the start of the civil war in Syria, almost half of the Christian population has now fled. The series of revolutions in Egypt has seen Coptic Christians murdered and their Churches destroyed.
The persecution extends beyond the Middle East. The Pew Institute in Washington has found that Christians face varying degrees of persecution in 139 countries.
The International Society for Human Rights has found that 80% of religious discrimination in the world today is directed at Christians.
Church burnings and violence towards Christians, including imprisonment, torture and murder, is occurring in countries as diverse as Nigeria, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia and China, he highlighted.
The Archbishop said the most violent event so far this century was the hacking to death with machetes of 500 Christians in Orissa in India.
He recalled that the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, said in a speech in the House of Lords last year that the persecution of Christians in the Middle East was “one of the crimes against humanity of our time”.
According to the Archbishop of Tuam, the lack of protest against what is happening to Christians may lie in the rising secularism of the West which is “consciously trying to shrug off what it sees as the unwelcome past hegemony of Christianity in its own lands”.
“This has given rise to an awkwardness in expressing concern for Christians elsewhere, even where those Christians are far from hegemonic, and are in fact among the poorest of the poor,” he said.
To all who suffer religious persecution we owe a moral duty to make donations to ease their suffering and to support them, the Archbishop highlighted and he said the faithful should also work to raise awareness of their suffering within their communities and with their political leaders.
“Our brothers and sisters are lying battered and bruised, almost literally on the road to Jericho: we cannot pass by,” he stated.