Christian persecution at Christmastime
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - December 30, 2018 - 12:00am

In the midst of the Christmas season in the Christian world, there are very disturbing reports that the persecution of Christians all over the world is increasing. The Christian persecution watch dog Aid to the Church in Need ( ACN) recently stated: “...in terms of the number of people involved, the gravity of crimes committed and their impact, it is cl ear that the persecution of Christians is today worse than at anytime in history. Not only are Christians more persecuted than any other faith group, but ever increasing numbers are experiencing the very worst forms of persecution.”

Open Doors, another Christian organization, estimates that more than 200 million Christians in 60 countries experience imprisonment, torture and death for their faith. In their list of countries persecuting Christians, North Korea ranked first as the country where Christians experience the worst treatment. Open Doors reported that “...Christianity is seen as opium of the people as is normal for all communist states. It is also seen as deeply Western and despicable. Christians try to hide their faith as far as possible to avoid arrest and being sent to labor..” In their report, Open Doors  reported on different horrible tortures inflicted on Christians in North Korea.

The United Kingdom is one of the very few countries that  decided to do something about defending the rights of Christian to practice their religion without fear of persecution. The UK Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt has ordered a global review of Christian persecution. The review will also include recommendations that the UK government can take to support those under threat of persecution. According to Hunt, since Christianity is the established faith in the UK, it is legitimate for its government to devote resources for this review. 

Hunt believes that growing persecution of Christians in some countries is often a symbol of wider persecution. Christian groups claim that as many as 3,000 Christians were killed in 2018 because of their faith. 

Last January, Open Doors released its 2018 World Watch List, an annual ranking of the 50 countries “...where it is most dangerous to follow Jesus...Approximately 215 million Christians now experience high, very high, or extreme levels of persecution, that means 1 in 12 Christians live where Christianity is illegal, forbidden or punished.”

In its report, the top 20 countries where Christians are persecuted in order of their ranking are: North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Eriteria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Iran, India, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Nigeria, Syria, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Vietnam, Turkmenistan and Laos.

Pope Francis has publicly spoken on this persecution when he talked of a “new era of martyrdom.” He said: “It seems that the cruel and vicious persecution of the Roman empire has not yet ended. A new Nero is always being born to oppress believers solely because of their faith in Christ. Cabals and cliques new and old live by feeding on hatred and hostility to Christ, the Church and believers.”

The future of the Catholic Church

It has been a very difficult year for the Church and Pope Francis. There is the global clerical sex abuse scandal which has erupted in many countries – Chile, Ireland, United States, Australia. There is growing evidence that this sex abuse scandal will continue to spread to other countries. 

There is also a growing and increasingly open rebellion by the conservative elements – including bishops – of the Church against the reformist steps proposed by Pope Francis. Perhaps, this is the reason that reforms have been very slow in being implemented despite the reform rhetoric of Pope Francis. 

However, sometimes it is important for us to remember that the Church thinks in terms of centuries and not years or even decades. For more than two millennia – 2,000 years – the Catholic Church has faced and surmounted numerous challenges from persecution to religious wars, from poverty to excessive materialism, from heresies to Marxism, from the printing press to the Internet, from the Black Plague to AIDS, from paganism to atheism. 

There have been many times that the Church and the Papacy have been slow to recognize and respond to changing social conditions. There have been times when Church leaders, instead of responding with hope and love, responded with ignorance and fear. The Spanish Inquisition and the forced conversion to Catholicism, together with the abuse of the friars, were dark periods in Church history.

In the past, the Papacy became hostile to the many political, intellectual, cultural and economic developments in society. There is the story of Galileo who advanced the theory of Copernicus that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the solar system. He was found guilty of heresy by the Roman Inquisition and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. In the 19th century, the Church’s failure to respond to the social forces spawned by the Industrial Revolution ignited anticlericalism among the European working class and gave Marxism the opportunity to become the ideology of the masses.

It was not until 1891 that Pope Leo XII wrote the first encyclical; “Rerum Novarum (On the condition of Labor) that the Church finally responded to the challenge. This began the tradition called Catholic Social Teaching, a revolutionary body of social teachings and moral principles dealing with economic and political order. 

The Church has endured for two millennia because eventually the Church, through the Papacy, has successfully adapted and overcome these challenges. Perhaps, this is the reason that Catholics have been taught and continue to believe that the Pope is not just the moral leader of the Catholic people; but, is the voice of Christ on earth and is infallible when it comes to the teaching of dogmas. Thus, we have faith that the Church founded by Jesus, who named St. Peter as the first Vicar, will continue to exist until the Final Judgment.

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on January 12 and 26 (1:30 pm-3 pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC. For details and registration, email writethingsph@gmail.com.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED CHRISTMAS SEASON
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