Posts tagged with: Persecution of Christians

Removal of cross from church in China's Zhejiang province

Removal of cross from church in China’s Zhejiang province

Bob Fu, a former pastor from China and founder of ChinaAid, discusses the increasing persecution of religion, especially Christianity, in China. At FaithStreet, Fu says that both unofficial “house churches” and denominational churches struggle to exist.

From our own ChinaAid fieldwork and contacts in China, we know that the USCIRF’s [U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom]conclusion is absolutely warranted. In fact, in ChinaAid’s own annual report for 2013, we have statistical documentation of worsening persecution persisting over the previous eight years. And in recent years, the target of that persecution has increasingly included the state-sanctioned “Three-Self Patriotic” churches, in addition to unofficial “house churches” that have all along borne the brunt of the atheist regime’s policies to oppress religion.

Fu refers to a leaked government document that warns Chinese officials about too much growth of religion and far too many new churches being built. The document also warns of “the political issues behind the Cross.” Fu says that persecution of Christians is nothing new, of course, especially in China, and it has led to more growth of the faith. It is predicted that, by 2030, China will have the largest Christian population in the world, despite the efforts of the government to rid the nation of religious faith. (more…)

The Sanjiang church in Wenzhou, China before demolitionb

The Sanjiang church in Wenzhou, China before demolition

Wenzhou, China, is known as the “Jerusalem of the East” because of its large Christian population, a population that had, until recently, enjoyed the Sanjiang Church for worship. A massive structure, Sanjiang Church took over 12 years to build and was a site of pilgrimage for Chinese Catholics.

Last week, however, the Chinese government (which had previously lauded the structure’s architecture) deemed the structure “illegal” and destroyed the entire building,  bricking off massive statues to hide them from sight. The government cited bribery on the part of at least 5 officials as the reason for the church’s demolition.

The authorities’ behaviour is reminiscent of the smashing of church property during the Cultural Revolution,” another member of the city’s Catholic community told UCA News’s Chinese-language service.

The removals, news of which emerged Wednesday, took place on Saturday, 48 hours, before government demolition teams razed a Protestant church in the same city.

Wenzhou’s Sanjiang church became a symbol of resistance to the Communist Party’s draconian religious policies in early April. (more…)

cardinal timothy dolanThe Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is meeting Nov. 11-13 for their General Assembly.  Out-going USCCB President, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, gave the opening address today, focusing on religious freedom.

He began on a somber note, stating that Christians are killed for their faith at the rate of 17 an hour, every day around the globe, and that more than a billion people live under governments that actively suppress their religious beliefs and expressions. Calling the Middle East the “epicenter” of violence against Christians, Dolan noted persecution is not restricted to that region. (more…)

iraq persecutionWhile Christians in the West are often faced with moral temptations and dilemmas regarding our faith life, we do not – for the most part – know the persecution faced by our brothers and sisters in places such as Syria, Iran, Pakistan and other countries where Christians are openly persecuted. Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona heads the Chaldean Catholic eparchy of Mosul, Iraq, and knows just this type of persecution. He writes at National Review Online that there is a way for Christians to face these very difficult times: (more…)

Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Oct. 16 after the session of the Synod of Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church.

In an interview for Acton’s Religion & Liberty quarterly, the Russian Orthodox bishop in charge of external affairs for the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk, warned that that the situation for the Christian population of Syria has deteriorated to an alarming degree. Hilarion compared the situation today, after almost two years of fighting in Syria, as analogous to Iraq, which saw a virtual depopulation of Christians following the U.S. invasion in 2003.

The Russian Orthodox Church has been among the most active witnesses against Christian persecution around the world, particularly in the Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East. In November 2011, Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, visited Syria and Lebanon. In a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Kirill said that he shared a concern with Assad about the “spread of religious radicalism that threatens the integrity of the Arab world.”

That sentiment has been expressed widely in Christian communities in Syria — some of them dating to apostolic times — as civil war has progressively taken a heavy toll. Now almost two years on, as many as 30,000 people may have perished. Despite having few illusions about the nature of Assad’s autocratic rule, many Christians feared that the Islamist groups, involved in what the West initially viewed as another “Arab Spring” uprising, would eventually turn on them. Indeed this is what has happened. Entire Christian villages have been depopulated, churches desecrated, and many brutal killings have taken place at the hands of the “Arab Spring” insurgents. Most recently, Fr. Fadi Haddad, an Orthodox priest, was found murdered with brutal marks of torture on his remains. Car bomb attacks are now being waged against Christian neighborhoods. (See these backgrounders on the Syrian crisis from the Congressional Research Service and the Council on Foreign Relations). (more…)

The Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black, an Orthodox Christian organization that provides information about “ancient Christianity and its deep roots in Africa,” is holding a conference Aug. 26-28 in the Detroit area. In a story in the Observer & Eccentric newspaper about the upcoming conference, a reporter interviewed a woman by the name of Sharon Gomulka who had visited an Orthodox Church several years ago on the feast day of St. Moses the Black (or sometimes called The Ethiopian). She watched “as white worshippers kissed the image of a dark-skinned man.” They were reverencing the image of the saint.

“I didn’t realize it was his feast day and I didn’t know about venerating icons. I had a paradigm shift of the many Caucasian people kissing this black man,” Gomulka told the paper. “And I began to question what kind of church is this? Who are these people that color does not seem to truly matter?”

Well, they’re Christians as she later came to find out. Historian Christopher Dawson reminds us in The Historic Reality of Christian Culture: A Way to the Renewal of Human Life (1960) that the Church’s origins in the Middle East and North Africa, and its expansion further East, points to its universal nature:

The Church itself, though it bears a Greek name Ecclesia, derived from the Greek civic assembly, and is ordered by the Roman spirit of authority and law, is the successor and heir of an Oriental people, set apart from all the peoples of the earth to be the bearer of a divine mission.

Similarly, the mind of the Church, as expressed in the authoritative tradition of the teaching of the Fathers, is neither Eastern nor Western but universal. It is expressed in Western languages — Greek and Latin — but it was in Africa and Asia rather than in Europe that it received its classical formulation. Greek theology was developed at Alexandria and Antioch and in Cappadocia, while Latin theology owes it terminology and its distinctive character to the African Fathers — Tertullian, Cyprian and above all St. Augustine.

While these men wrote in Latin, it was not the Latin of the Romans; it was a new form of Christian Latin which was developed, mainly in Tunisia, under strong Oriental influence.

Dawson’s reflections should not be taken as a mere historical curiosity. This history speaks to what the Church is, and has always been. All the more reason to be alarmed at the ongoing persecution of Christians in Egypt and the Middle East — communities that have in many case been continuously rooted in these lands since Apostolic times. The Christians in Kirkuk, Iraq, have been targets of bombers in recent weeks. “This is only happening because we are Christians,” said Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako. “Maybe the people responsible want to empty the city of Christians.”

Historian Philip Jenkins in books such as The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (2002) and The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died (2008) has worked to deepen English-speaking Christians’ awareness of these ancient roots in places like Syria, India and China.

In a 2008 interview with BeliefNet.com, Jenkins was pessimistic about the hard-pressed Christian communities in the Middle East, whose populations are rapidly dwindling:

By far the largest change is in the Middle East, the region between Persia and Egypt. As recently as 1900, the Christian population of that whole region was almost ten percent, but today it is just a couple of percent, and falling fast. Particularly if climate change moves as rapidly as it some believe, the resulting tensions could reduce Christian numbers much further. Egypt would be the most worrying example here. Might that 1,400 year story come to an end in our lifetimes?

Europe is nothing like as serious an issue. The number of active or committed Christians certainly is declining, but the churches don’t face anything like what is happening in the Middle east. There is no plausible prospect of a Muslim regime anywhere in Western Europe, or of the recreation of the social order on the lines of Muslim law. Realistically, people of Muslim background will constitute a substantial minority of the European population, rather than a majority, and it is far from clear that most will define themselves primarily according to strict religious loyalties. European Christianity may be in anything but a healthy state, but Islam need not be its greatest cause for concern.

Matters are very different in other countries of Africa and Asia, where Muslims and Christians are in deep competition. We could imagine wars and persecutions that could uproot whole societies.

If there’s one thing that these Christian communities have experience with in the last 2,000 years, it’s wars and persecutions. Jenkins might be wrong about extinction, but there’s no question about decline. According to another estimate, the Middle East’s Christian population shrank from 20 percent to 10 percent during recent decades. Yet, the surest way to speed the decline, or realize extinction, is for the global Church to ignore the plight of their brothers and sisters in this part of the world.

More history from Jenkins, echoing Dawson:

During the first century or two of the Christian era, Syria, Egypt, and Mesopotamia became the Christian centers that they would remain for many centuries. Christian art, literature, and music all originated in these lands, as did most of what would become the New Testament. Monasticism is an Egyptian invention.

By the time the Roman Empire granted the Christians toleration in the early fourth century, there was no question that the religion was predominantly associated with the eastern half of the empire, and indeed with territories beyond the eastern border. Of the five ancient patriarchates of the church, only one, Rome, clearly stood in the west. The others were at Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria – three on the Asian continent, one in Africa. If we can imagine a Christian center of gravity by around 500, we should still be thinking of Syria rather than Italy … Much early Christian history focuses on the Roman province known as Africa, roughly modern Tunisia. This was the home of such great early leaders as Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine, the founders of Christian Latin literature.