On this Good Friday, and as Holy Week culminates on Easter Sunday, we should note the horror experienced last week by the Coptic Christian minority in Egypt, the largest Christian Arab community in the Middle East. Two suicide bombs exploded. Pews were splattered with the blood of the faithful who had gathered to commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
More than a special solemnity in the liturgy, that day the faithful found terror, sectarian violence and death. At least 44 people were killed, and more than 100 were wounded for openly professing their faith. They are now the latest martyrs of the brutal persecution of Christians.
The Islamic State promptly claimed responsibility for the bloody massacre in the two churches, including the iconic St. Mark's Cathedral, the historic seat of the patriarch of the Orthodox Coptic Church.
Last year, approximately 90,000 Christians were killed as a result of their beliefs, according to the Center for the Study of World Christianity. Outside the Arab world, persecution is growing by leaps and bounds in India and Southeast Asia, according to the Open Doors organization, which has concluded that, in total, 215 million people on the planet suffer “high levels of persecution” simply “for belonging to the flock of Jesus of Nazareth.”
Sadly, these abominable facts make Christianity one of the most harassed religions.
Where is the international outrage? Fortunately, Pope Francis has taken the lead, expressing concern for the horrors being experienced by some in his flock. He recently noted that Christians are “burned alive, hanged, beheaded, and decapitated by barbaric swords before the silence of the world.”
The pontiff is walking into that fire: He plans to visit Egypt later this month.
The Christian minorities in the Middle East — Copts in Egypt; Assyrians and Chaldeans in Iraq; Melkites and Syrians in Syria; Maronites and Armenians in Lebanon — face a continuing series of injustices.
They are targets of attacks and discrimination. In terms of freedoms, equality and rights, they are relegated to the status of second-class citizens in their countries. Unfortunately, the targeting of Christians has been accentuated by the conflict and instability in the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity.
Some Christians are left homeless in their countries with little help from the international community. They flee en masse from violence and war, terrified by the gloomy images and videos of torture and crucifixion transmitted by Islamic extremists.
Worse, Islamic State militiamen mark their houses and properties with the letter “N” in the Arabic alphabet, for “Nazarene.” This is in order to stigmatize them.
The fundamentalist hordes have reduced to rubble part of the heritage of the Christian cultural inheritance such as the San Elías Monastery in Iraq, as well as ancient monuments in cities of biblical significance, like Nineveh. Thousands of sacred books and centennial manuscripts have disappeared, libraries have been looted, and works of art are sold on the black market.
For the most part, public opinion, multilateral agencies and the media are not giving sufficient attention to this human drama, much less any help. On this Easter weekend, the world must acknowledge, and not abandon, these endangered Christian communities.