By Tony Magliano
For many of us who strive to seriously practice faith in Jesus Christ, and to extend that practice out into the marketplace, the political square and society at large, persecution rarely means more than being ridiculed, verbally harassed, and to a certain degree socially and politically marginalized.
But for so many other Christians throughout the world who courageously refuse to deny Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior – with all that that means – fierce persecution awaits them every day.
In their 2023 World Watch List, Open Doors, an international Christian organization dedicated to shining light on the desperate plight of millions of Christians suffering tremendous hardships – often including torture and death – reports the shocking fact that more than 360 million Christians suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination because of their faithful commitment to follow Jesus. And it’s getting worse.
According to Open Doors, “In the last 30 years, the number of countries where Christians suffer high and extreme levels of persecution has almost doubled to 76 countries.”
Open Doors reports that last year the known number of Christians who were killed for their faith in Jesus totaled 5,621 – 90 percent of those killed were in Nigeria alone. Also, 2,110 churches were attacked, and 4,542 Christians were detained.
Christianity is clearly and overwhelmingly the world’s most persecuted religion.
It is incumbent on those of us who are safe and sound to tirelessly pray, advocate for, and work on behalf of hurting and vulnerable Christians.
While followers of Jesus have a strict obligation to help all people in need to the best of our ability – regardless of their race, ethnicity, nationality, or religion – we have a unique responsibility to reach out to our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ.
Please contact your national representatives urging them to do all within their power to persuade those governments involved directly, or indirectly – through indifference such as in Nigeria and India – to end Christian persecution, as well as the persecution of all other religions.
Open Doors staff members shared with me that the most important gift we can give to our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ is prayer! Not only because prayer is the most powerful force on earth, but also because persecuted believers find added strength and faithfulness in knowing that we are praying for them.
Open Doors has developed ways to communicate to the suffering that fellow Christians are praying for them.
Another essential gift we can give our brothers and sisters in Christ is financial help. It was explained to me that when, for instance, a pastor is arrested his or her family usually has no sustainable way to support themselves.
The Catholic Church humanitarian organization Aid to the Church in Need alarmingly states in its “Religious Freedom in the World Report 2023” that “In recent years, Christian persecution has been sharply on the rise, and its terrible impacts have only begun to be felt. In fact, according to Pope Francis, conditions for Christians are worse now than they were in the days of the early Church.”
After her release from captivity in Mali where she was tortured by Islamic extremists for four years, Sr. Gloria Cecilia Narvaez said, “It is difficult to be chained. It is difficult to be hit. But I lived in the moment as God presented it to me, and I wished no harm to my captors.” One captor said to me, “Let’s see if your God gets you out of here.” She said that she couldn’t fathom their hatred.
Let us faithfully pray privately and liturgically, for example as an ongoing petition in the Prayer of the Faithful. Let us educate and advocate. Let us donate to Open Doors and Aid to the Church in Need.
And let us not forget!
Tony Magliano (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an internationally syndicated Catholic social justice and peace columnist and speaker. He is not a member of the AUSCP. His point of view is his own and not necessarily that of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests.