The past few years have seen a number of high-profile acts of violence committed against Christians on account of their faith. In 2015, the Islamic State (ISIS) broadcast from a beach in Libya its beheading of 21 men, most of them Coptic Christians. In the spring of 2016, terrorists attacked a nursing home in Yemen, killing 4 of the Missionaries of Charity who worked there along with 12 other people. A priest who worked at the home, Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, was kidnapped and is still missing. In Normandy, July 2016, Fr. Jacques Hamel had his throat slit by two terrorists as he celebrated the sacrifice of the Mass. Most recently, Coptic Christians were again the victims of an Islamist attack. Suicide bombers infiltrated two churches during Palm Sunday celebrations and killed 44 worshippers, wounding over 100 others.
The modern persecution of Christians is remarkable for both its magnitude and its hiddenness. In the West, we are accustomed to thinking of Christianity as established and powerful. But it is becoming commonplace in some Christian circles to observe that the twentieth century may have produced more martyrs for the faith than any previous century. Open Doors USA, a Christian watchdog group, recently reported that 2015 was the most violent year for Christians in modern history. According to the report, over 7,000 Christians were killed in 2015 for faith-related reasons. By some accounts, the number has increased in 2016. At a recent symposium on the persecution of Christians, Cardinal Donald Wuerl quoted the journalist John Allen to the effect that today the number of Christians killed for religious reasons is nearly one every hour. That’s a little under 9,000 for the year.
The symposium featured the publication of a report by a team of 14 scholars on the global response of Christians to persecution. The report notes that, according to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular organization based in Frankfurt, by 2009 Christians were the victims of 80% of all the acts of religious persecution in the world. It also noted that the nonpartisan Pew Research Center estimates that between 2007 and 2014 Christians were the victims of harassment in more countries than any other group.
For Christians in the West, these truths are a reminder of the suffering that following the crucified Lord can entail. Consider, too, that these people are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are members of Christ’s body, the Church, and if one member suffers, all the others suffer with it (1 Cor 12:26). We ought to help our brothers and sisters, then, by drawing attention to the injustice of their plight, by offering material aid, if possible, and by praying for them and doing penance. We need to help them bear their burdens, since we are called to fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Col 1:24).