Extracts from Violence against Christians in the Year 2001
THE staggering scale of persecution which afflicts the lives of millions of Christians is revealed in a new book produced by Aid to the Church in Need.
The international Catholic charity’s publication, Violence against Christians in the Year 2001, shows that far from being the stuff of history, persecution of Christians is a modern phenomenon.
With up to 170,000 Christians worldwide dying for their faith and two out of every three facing abuse of one kind or another, the book concludes that Christianity is the world’s most persecuted religion.
The statistics are bad enough but they can only hint at the terrible toll acts of oppression impose on individual Christians – people simply wanting to live a life of faith in the community they call home.
JOHN PONTIFEX, a Press and Information officer for Aid to the Church in Need, delves into the new book and discovers extraordinary tales of woe.
Such terrible injustice is not just the awful fate of Sudan, Belarus and China but also other parts of the world which have largely escaped the headlines.
Complete with an attempt to explain their plight, what follows summarises just some of the atrocities suffered last year by Christians in Colombia and India.
NEWS that two priests were killed in the past month is only the latest in a catalogue of violence which has beset Colombia’s Christian community.
A vicious cocktail of oppressive forces imposes a culture of fear gripping the country’s population of almost 40 million – the vast majority of whom are Catholic.
Violence Against Christians in the Year 2001 tells of a meeting between staff from the charity and two Colombian bishops who spoke of smaller towns and villages robbed of an effective infrastructure.
They revealed how key community figures such as police and teachers fled oppression for the relative safety of larger towns and cities.
Bishops Daniel Caro of Bogota (CORRECT SPELLINGS) and Ismael Rueda of Cartagena (CORRECT SPELLINGS) said guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug dealers targeted small communities – all without any obvious motive.
They said all too often, priests were the only community figures who stayed behind with the people left in the smaller towns and villages.
Both bishops spoke of their desperate struggle to retain neutrality – to be a sign of hope and resilience in the community while not provoking the oppressors to even greater acts of atrocity.
Such a delicate balancing act is sometimes so successful that, in a rare sign of the potential for peace, opposing sides – paramilitaries, soldiers and partisans – will be seen at Mass side by side, a move made possible by the fact that they are in plain clothes.
In a recent synod, Colombian clergy stepped up the struggle against unrest by pledging to preach a life of loyalty to the Gospel, creating smaller parishes to reach out to more people in spiritual need and calling on people to turn away from greed and become truly charitable.
AND yet the Church’s struggle to breathe new life into Colombia is fraught with huge challenges.
Violence against Christians in the Year 2001 charts 12 months of terrible persecution in the country.
February 14, 2001: Father Jorge Enrique Gomez, the leader of various Christian radio stations is kidnapped by 10 armed men. Many believe he is taken to be sold to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
June 8: Protestant minister Pastor Ederino Renteria (CORRECT SPELLING) discovers the body of his 22-year-old son kidnapped some time before.
July 25-9: Christians hold prayers for the victims of Marxist and paramilitary organisations which over the past decade are reported to have murdered almost 40,000 Colombians. Thousands more are thought to have been kidnapped and about 2.5 million are apparently on the run.
August: FARC destroys a Catholic church and a children’s shelter which provides for more than 100 youngsters. During the attack, in which nobody was killed, the presbytery and 25 houses were also destroyed.
INDIA’S huge Christian population has experienced a new surge of intolerance, according to Aid to the Church in Need’s new book.
The country’s 24 million Christians – 16.8 million of whom are Catholic – suffered 116 separate attacks over a 12-month period in the late 1990s.
The statistics, recorded in Violence Against Christians in the Year 2001, point to an increase in persecution linked to the rise to power of the Bharatiya Janatha Party, an extreme nationalist Hindu party.
Despite roots in India dating back almost to the time of Christ, Hindu nationalists still see Christianity as a hostile religion and a “remnant of colonialism”.
January 2001: Two priests – Father David Masih and Father Simon Sakira (BOTH CORRECT SPELLINGS) – are beaten when 50 armed men storm into a prayer meeting in the village of Jaher, in Gujarat. Fr David is hospitalised and Fr Simon flees in search of safety.
February 2: Ten people – nine of them Catholics – are killed when police in Jharkhand, East Bihar, open fire on 4,000 people protesting against discrimination – most of them Christians.
February 7: Despite the huge suffering following an earthquake in India, the World Hindu Council, a nationalist movement, said that people should refuse all help from Christians.
February: Hindu militants attack a Christian school and beat people with sticks, badly injuring some students.
March 8: Gladys Staines, whose husband and two sons were brutally murdered two years previously, is under severe persecution by radical Hindus. Fundamentalists want to block her plan for a hospital for leprosy sufferers in Mayurbhanj in memory of her dead family. She is under investigation connected with anti-Hindu literature.
March: Catholic journalist Matthew Samuel appeals for government protection after he receives death threats from Hindu fundamentalists who receive reports that he has made a programme about corruption in India.
May 15: Father Raphael Paliakara, 46, Father Andreas Kindo, 31, and Brother Shinu Joseph Valliparambil, 23, all Salesian missionaries, are shot dead by militants in Manipur. They had pleaded in vain with the militants, even offering them large sums of money but to no avail.
June: 100 Christians are kicked and beaten after being accused of setting fire to a Hindu temple. Two Christian families are forced to convert to Hinduism.
August: Two Hindu groups are involved in attacks on a priest, a nun and church property.
August 26: During a church service in the state of Madhya Pradesh, Hindu militants storm the building, smashing everything to pieces – the fourth such incident in the space of a month.
September:: A student organisation in the city of Howrah in the Indian state of West Bengal burns Christian books in public. The local leader of the government party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, claims the books “tarnish the minds of our children”.
Violence Against Christians in the Year 2001 can be downloaded free of charge from the Australian website of the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need www.aidtochurch.org The report totals 288 pages