The Persecuted Church 2013

As Chairman of Aid to the Church in Need U.S.A. (ACN), a Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, plenty of data crosses my desk describing anti-Christian acts.  Here’s a status report on a few of the oppressive hotspots in the world that have gotten little attention:

Bosnia-Herzegovina:  Rising Islamic radicalism, particularly the growth of the Saudi Arabian Wahhabi movement, is driving Catholics out of some parts of the country.

In December 2013, the head of the Catholics Bishops’ Conference, Most Rev. Franjo Komarica of Banja Luka called on Western governments to pressure his country’s political leadership to grant equal rights to Catholics. Croatian Catholics are not equal in status to the other main ethnic groups, Bosnians and Bosniaks, who are Muslims or Eastern Orthodox.

Catholic refugees who are returning to their homeland have “no guarantees for a sustainable return, no houses, no work, no electricity, no roads, no medical provisions and no schools,” the bishop said, adding, “a Croatian name is often a handicap in looking for work.”

According to Church officials, only about half of the 835,000 Catholics who had been living in Bosnia-Herzegovina prior to the civil war are living there today.

Syria: Christians continue to be threatened, are being driving from their homes, and are being murdered for their faith.  In the City of Homs, for example, over 100,000 Christians have fled and approximately 3,000 Christians have been killed.

In the first week of December 2013, twelve Greek Orthodox nuns from the Convent of St. Thekla of Ma’loula to the north of Damascus were kidnapped by Islamist fighters after the Christian town had been occupied.

The Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan of the region demanded their release: “we’ve now reached the point where even nuns are being abducted. What have they done wrong?  It’s a crime.  The abductors want to demonstrate that they know no mercy.” He went on to plea for international organizations to commit themselves to bringing about an end to the war in Syria, adding, “The Syrian people no longer believe this is a revolution or reform on the setting up of a new state on a clear foundation.”  (Happily the nuns were finally released on March 9.)

Reports released in January 2014 indicate that approximately 600,000 Syrian Christians, a third of the total, are either displaced within the country or living as refugees in neighboring countries.

         Bishop Camillo Ballin, Apostolic Vicar of Northern Arabia

Nigeria:  Attacks on Christians and their places of worship continued to rise in 2013. Since 2007 more than 700 churches have been attacked by Islamist extremists wanting to impose Shari’a throughout the country.

Bishop Hyacinth Egbebo, the Administrator of the Apostolic Vicariate of Bomadi in Nigeria’s Niger Delta – in the oil-rich but economically-deprived south – has said that Christians “are confronted with the growing threat of radical Islam in the form of the extremely violent anti-Christian Boko Haram sect, which was declared a terrorist organization by the U.S.”

Approximately 50 percent of Nigeria’s 160 million are Christian; 30 million of them Catholic.  In 2012, over 1,000 Christians died for their faith and in 2013 Boko Haram was responsible for the deaths of at least 700 Christians.

In a January 2014 interview with ACN, the bishop warned Western leaders “Don’t sit by while Nigeria disintegrates!  Make sure Boko Haram is defeated.  If Islam overruns Nigeria, the rest of Africa might easily fall prey to them.  That would be an unimaginable humanitarian disaster.”

India:  The government continues to be complicit in violence by Hindutva radicals in numerous states that includes facial mutilation, destruction of churches, and desecration of graves.

On December 11, 2013, protesters marching in India’s capital, Delhi, demanding equal rights for low-caste Christians and Muslims, were victims of police brutalities.  Police beat priests and nuns, and blasted the protestors with water cannons loaded with muddy water.  Delhi’s Catholic Archbishop, Anil Couto, was among the 400 plus demonstrators who were detained by the police.

In a recent interview, the archbishop stated that the denial of Constitutional Rights “stems from the Hindutva ideology that India must be strictly Hindu and eventually become a Hindu theocratic state.  Adherents propagate the view that Islam and Christianity came from outside the country; that these religions were not born here. . . .Christians in particular are discriminated against because there is a fear that if Christian dalits [untouchables] are granted their rights many Hindu dalits might convert to Christianity.”

To end this somber essay on a positive note, I am pleased to report that on February 11, 2013, on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, Bishop Camillo Ballin, Apostolic Vicar of Northern Arabia (Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia) received a written communication from Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa bin Al Khalifa confirming a gift of land upon which a cathedral may be built.

Last week, Cardinal Edward Egan, fellow ACN, U.S.A. board member Brad Miner, and I had dinner in New York with Bishop Ballin.  He told us that 2.5 million Catholics live and work in his Vicariate, which covers 880,000 square miles.  Most of the faithful are hardworking migrants (80 percent from the Philippines) who have come in search of jobs.

The new cathedral – which will be dedicated to Our Lady of Arabia and will accommodate 2,600 – will be a place of worship, not only for the faithful in Bahrain, but for the 10 parishes and more than 100 underground Catholic communities.  ACN sponsored Bishop Ballin’s trip to America to describe his plans to build the first Catholic cathedral in Northern Arabia. If you want to support this initiative or other efforts to help Christians suffering in many parts of the world, please visit the Aid to the Church in Need website. Our fellow Christians need your support.

George J. Marlin, Chairman of the Board of Aid to the Church in Need USA, is the author of The American Catholic Voter and Sons of St. Patrick, written with Brad Miner. His most recent book is Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man.