Iraq, August 6, 2015: On 6 August last year, Islamic State militants launched an overnight offensive on Christian towns and villages in the Nineveh Plains of Iraq. By the morning of 7 August, around 200,000 Iraqi Christians had been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan. One year on, the situation of these displaced Iraqi Christians is one of hardship and endurance, yet they are thankful for the Lord’s provision through their Christian brothers and sisters around the world.
The Christian presence in the Middle East is under acute threat. In 2003, the Christian population in Iraq stood at 1.56 million whereas today there are fewer than 300,000 Christians remaining in the country. In Syria, at the beginning of the conflict, there were around two million Christians, but over half a million of these have been forced to flee their homes with no hope of returning.
Christians in the city of Hama and its surrounding villages are fearful in the midst of recent attacks against this strongly Christian area. The city of Homs, too, is experiencing fierce fighting after Islamic State advanced across parts of the city in recent weeks. The conflict, now in its fifth year, is estimated to have taken the lives of 230,000 people, including many children.
In Aleppo, many Christians are determined to remain despite the persistent danger from the almost daily explosions and bombings. With such elevated insecurity, the city is often without electricity, water and internet connections. Some basic commodities are so expensive they are unaffordable to most people. Many people have lost their jobs and some have been forced to close their businesses; they now have no income at all. While some choose to remain, others simply do not have the means to flee.
Displaced Christians are provided with shelter, food and medication through the generous gifts of Barnabas supporters. These gifts enable local churches and Christian organisations to sustain brothers and sisters in need.
They were writing to inform me that ISIS had attacked yet another Assyrian city in Syria — a city filled with Christians. This time it was in the Homs province, and they did there what they have done in so many other cities. They kidnapped at least 60 Christians, and among them are dozens and dozens of women and children. I’m told the number will probably climb.
Like the more than 200 Christians ISIS kidnapped along the Khabour River in Syria in February, the fate of these new victims is unknown.
Yet, no one in the world can say they do not know what ISIS does to Christians in the Middle East. This includes President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Biden, and all of those — Republican or Democrat — running for president.
No one in the world can say they do not know what ISIS does to Christians in the Middle East
In the words of “emir” of the “Caliphate,” ISIS intends on marching all the way to Rome and will “break their [Christian] crosses and trade and sell their women” as they go.
So, far, they have fulfilled their promise. Every single encounter these terrorists have had with these ancient Christian communities has resulted in one of four outcomes: forced conversion, sexual slavery, extortion or execution.
We have evidence of this — abundant evidence — including a price list from a slave market in Mosul which lists the slaves for sale by age and by religion with Christian girls listed from 1- to-9-years-old for approximately $172. Older Yazidi and Christian women can be bought for the cost of a pack of cigarettes.
Who can forget the cover of ISIS’s October magazine which superimposed an ISIS flag atop the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square, the Nazi-like symbols they painted on the homes of Christians in Mosul, the scores of churches destroyed, manuscripts burned, and the crosses chipped out of the tombstones in Christian cemeteries? Then there were the 21 Egyptians and the 30 Ethiopians who were grotesquely executed in Libya, for their faith alone.
This recent kidnapping is a stark reminder that the rhetoric of this presidential season effects real lives — and innocent children — at a time when the world’s most ancient Christian communities face a legitimate threat of extinction at the hands of terrorists who’ve been allowed to run wild across our world.
If our leaders don’t begin to take this threat more seriously, the oldest Christians communities in the world will have survived nearly 2,000 years of conflict — from the likes of Ghenghis Khan — only to fade into history in the 21st century. They literally might not survive past 2015.
Syria’s quiet Christian genocide wages on while the world remains mostly indifferent. I wonder what we will say to our children and grandchildren when they ask us what we did to stop this Christian holocaust?
- christian post
Bangkok, July 29, 2015: The Chinese Communist Party appears to be gearing up for a major crackdown on Christianity. The cross-removal program in Zhejiang, one of the key Christian provinces in China, has been quietly expanded into other provinces, as reported recently by ucanews.
But in China, it is always important to recognize that any crackdowns should be seen through the prism of the broader policy context, as crackdowns across the country are many and deep.
The reality prompts the question: what is the party’s endgame here? Renewal or just survival?
There seems little doubt that the clear anti-Christian view of the Zhejiang party secretary Xia Baolong is backed by CCP supremo, Xi Jinping. Xia has noted that cities in the province have “too many crosses on their skyline”. The party boss Xi Jinping previously had Xia’s job in Zhejiang from 2002-2007 so there is there is no suggestion that Xi does not “get” Zhejiang.
From the point of view of the party, it is odd to behave this way when a key plank of its program — building up the role of private enterprise — requires the engagement of civil society and the trust of a people that has all too often seen the Communist government default to authoritarianism. At its annual congress in 2013, the party declared it would push forward with a fresh phase of economic reforms.
Catholic and Christian business networks have been keys to Zhejiang’s outsized success as one of China’s entrepreneurial hubs. It is no coincidence that Wenzhou city in Zhejiang, known as the Jerusalem of the East, is central to this development. In the West, Christian networks have long been an integral part of business networks.
But it seems increasingly clear that the party sees the Christian churches as one of the essential threats to its continuing tight grip on power. Like its imperial predecessors, the party always has seen religions as potential destabilizers.
Large networks of any kind are threatening, as an alternative to the party and a way, potentially, of organizing across the country against the government. This was the key threat of the Falungong movement, which was ruthlessly crushed by Jiang Zemin and his successor, Hu Jintao.
As The Economist magazine suggested earlier this month, Christians are the second most popular organization in China outside the ruling Communist Party, which now counts about 90 million people as members. Christians could in fact already be the biggest.
Last year, Fenggang Yang, China-born professor of sociology and director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at the U.S.-based Purdue University, declared that there were already at least 100 million Christians in China, based on 2010 research by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Yang said there were 58 million Protestants in China then, and on top of this, 15-20 million Catholics. According to his predictions, China would have around 160 million Protestants by 2025. This would mean that China could be ahead even of the United States, which had about 159 million Protestants in 2010.
Yang extrapolated that China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would be more than 247 million by 2030 and thus become the largest Christian congregation in the world.
Unlike Falungong, Christianity is not a home-grown threat. It is a “foreign” one. The party, which sees no irony in its own Marxist-Leninist ideology being of European parentage, has decreed that there should be a “sinicization” of Christianity.
While clinging to Leninism, particularly as its organizing and control mechanisms, the Chinese Communist Party talks of “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” At a recent meeting of the party’s United Front Work Department — which supervises all things religious — Xi Jinping with his sinicization comment was effectively calling for a “Christianity with Chinese characteristics.” That does not bode well for any further softening of relations with the Vatican.
There are crackdowns occurring in all the sectors high on Beijing’s worry list. Most recently, there has been the still-continuing roundup of human rights lawyers — some 230 so far and still counting, all brought in for “questioning”. None have been allowed to see their own lawyers, giving lie to Xi’s s other reform promise: to improve the country’s implausible legal system, a pledge made at last October’s party congress.
There has been renewed pressure on the Muslim Uighur population of Xinjiang. And increasing areas of the far-flung resource-rich northwestern province are off limits to foreign media.
In Tibet, the temperature is rising as well. Last week’s death in custody of Lama Delek Rinpoche, his subsequent early cremation by Chinese authorities and the confiscation of his ashes have seen worldwide protests.
Lurking over everything is the new National Security Law that came into effect on July 1. The legislation is largely untested but wide-ranging and includes a section that specifically targets religious groups. Greeted with dismay by many inside and outside China, it appears to be accompanied by a slow but deliberate increase in oppression — more lawyers, Protestants and Catholics called to police stations and interrogated.
An added wrinkle, and something to watch as China’s Xi Jinping chapter continues to unfold, is the unknown, and indeed unable to be counted, number of Christians who are also party members. Many of them have risen significantly in party ranks, particularly at the country and township level.
In March, renowned China watcher David Shambaugh, political science professor Washington DC’s George Washington University, predicted the end of the Chinese Communist Party.
“Despite appearances, China’s political system is badly broken, and nobody knows it better than the Communist Party itself. China’s strongman leader, Xi Jinping, is hoping that a crackdown on dissent and corruption will shore up the party’s rule,” Shambaugh wrote in The Wall Street Journal.
“He is determined to avoid becoming the Mikhail Gorbachev of China, presiding over the party’s collapse. But instead of being the antithesis of Mr Gorbachev, Mr Xi may well wind up having the same effect. His despotism is severely stressing China’s system and society — and bringing it closer to a breaking point.”
Since then, professional China commentators and amateurs alike have been making dark predictions about the coming collapse of the party.
Not yet, I would venture to say. But the fresh sense of paranoia in the upper reaches of party leadership indicates that those at the very center of the organization are more concerned than they have been ready to admit for quite some time.
Two Imprisoned Christians Released from Prison in Chiapas, Mexico
As previously reported, Andres Lopez, Virginia Lopez, and three girls were imprisoned for their conversion to Protestantism in Chiapas, Mexico. Although the girls were released earlier once it was discovered that they were minors, on July 10, 2015, Andres and Virginia were released as well and relieved of the initial demand of their respective 5,000 and 2,500 peso fines. State authorities were responsible for intervening in the case and village leaders have since stated that they will allow the Christians to practice their faith freely.
Iran Deal “Unconscionable” Because it Leaves Imprisoned American Pastor Saeed Behind
As Iran and the US reached a nuclear agreement, Saeed Abedini, an American citizen, still suffers under cruel prison conditions in Iran. Despite the Obama Administration’s promise to prioritize the American pastor, he is left behind as the chance for his freedom slips away. Naghmeh Abedini, Saeed’s wife, spoke before Congress in the past weeks and has been advocating for his release for some time. The nuclear negotiations were a golden opportunity for the US to negotiate his release, yet he still remains a prisoner of conscience in Evin prison.
United States Questions Mexico over Persecution of Protestant Christians
International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the United States has questioned Mexico regarding reports of widespread discrimination, violence, and displacement of Protestant Christian communities in Chiapas and several other states. In a private e-mail received by ICC last week, Congressional staff members revealed that Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson confirmed that the questioning of the Mexican government by State Department officials took place during the first week of June.
Jihadist Groups Surge Attacks Across Africa During Ramadan
Islamic extremist groups continue to pile up shocking body counts, slaughtering scores of civilians during the Muslim holiday month of Ramadan. Across Africa, Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram have devastated communities in Nigeria and Kenya, ramping up attacks against Christians and all “unbelievers” of their brand of Islam during the holiday.
Clerics Announce Bounty on Asia Bibi Even If She Is Acquitted of Blasphemy in Pakistan
The husband of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for committing blasphemy in Pakistan, has observed that even if his wife is acquitted of blasphemy in Pakistan’s Supreme Court, her life will still be in danger in Pakistan. According the Bibi’s husband, a bounty has been placed on his wife’s head by Islamic clerics seeking to ensure that the Christian woman is put to death, legally or illegally. Bibi has spent six years in prison since being accused of blasphemy.
Good News from Iran: Christian Prisoner Pastor Farshid Fathi Gets Early Release Date
Iranian pastor Farshid Fathi, imprisoned since 2010, has now been given an early release date. He was anticipated to be in prison until December 2017 but will now be released December 2015 according to reports. He has suffered inhumane conditions and beatings while in Iran’s notorious Evin prison. His only crime is being a Christian and practicing his religion.
A dozen leaders of the provincial Catholic Patriotic Association and the Church Affairs Commission, known by the acronym, Lianghui, issued the report addressed to the provincial Ethnic and Religious Commission saying, “the situation is getting more and more serious and that they had to speak out”, said a source who asked not to be named.
In the report, the Church leaders in Lianghui described the cross removals as an “evil act that has to be stopped immediately” and that it had made Catholic priests and laity in Zhejiang “very angry”.
“The cross is a symbol of the Christian faith and some of the buildings are legally approved. It is unexplainable why it has to be forcibly removed,” the Lianghui source told ucanews.com.
An emergency meeting was called by the group on July 4 through “Wechat” — a popular smartphone app used by some 600 million people in China — in advance of an early visit in August to the United States by a group of Chinese Church leaders, the source said.
The document also was sent to the Communist Party’s local and central United Front Work departments, the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the government-sanctioned bishops’ conference and the national Catholic Patriotic Association. Copies were sent to four Catholic dioceses in the province, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Taizhou and Wenzhou.
However, a Wenzhou Catholic identified as Joseph said “the report was written not for the government authorities but to appease Catholics”.
It is “just a gesture” to show they have “at least made a protest”, he said.
“If they are really serious about this,” Joseph said, “they should hire a lawyer and sue the authorities”.
The cross removal campaign began in late 2013.
A Protestant minister told ucanews.com last week that more than 1,100 Christian Churches across Zhejiang had crosses moved. He believes many more removals went unreported because the churches concerned are in remote areas.
Since last year, about 40 Catholic churches have had their crosses removed in Wenzhou. Ten others were removed in Hangzhou and Taizhou over the past two months.
The latest incidents saw two Catholic churches in Hangzhou have their crosses removed on July 9.
One of the churches, the Jingjiang church, “was the last church in the Xiaoshan area to have its cross removed,” a local source said.
Vatican City, July 1, 2015: Pope Francis on Monday deplored the “atrocious, inhumane and inexplicable persecution” of Christians still taking place in many parts of the world and “often beneath the eyes and sealed lips of all”.
Pope Francis made the remarks during a sermon as he celebrated mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome as it marks the feast day of its patron saints, Peter and Paul.
During an audience on June 19 with the head of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Patriarch of Antioch Mor Ignatius Aprhrem II, Pope Francis chided world powers for failing to end the “terrible suffering” of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East region.
“How much pain! How many innocent victims! Yet the world’s powerful seems incapable of finding solutions,” he told Aprhrem II.
Al-shabaab jihadists vow to attack Christians during Ramadan, give ‘non-believers’ a ‘true taste of jihad’
Somalia, June 30, 2015: The al-Shabaab terror group, which back in April murdered 152 people, mostly Christian students, have vowed to attack “non-believers” throughout the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a pledge echoing ISIS’ threats.
News 24 reported that at least 15 people were killed on Monday in clashes between al-Shabaab and Somali and African Union troops near the southern port of Kismayo, though eight Islamic militants were also killed in the battle.
AFP noted that another 80 soldiers were killed on Friday in a separate attack on the Leego base in southern Somalia, with the jihadists claiming to have brought back 60 of the bodies.
“Al-Shabaab has consistently shown its ability to strike in urban areas and regroup in rural bases. It will take much longer to defeat the group and require Somalia’s security services to be significantly improved,” Ahmed Soliman, Horn of Africa analyst at the London-based Chatham House, told the Bloomberg news.
The total death toll could still be higher, with reports that some captured troop members have been beheaded.
Earier in June, al-Shabaab’s leadership said that the terror group will be attacking non-believers, which includes Christians, throughout Ramadan.
“We are planning to give Kenyan non-believers a true taste of Jihad [the holy war] in the next few days and weeks,” a senior al-Shabaab commander said, adding that they will keep “targeting and destroying” Kenya’s education sector and business sector.”
The terror group’s attack on Garissa University College in Kenya made world news headlines back in April, when four al-Shabaab gunmen stormed the college, separated Christian from Muslim students, and murdered the Christians.
The massacre prompted the #147notjustanumber social media campaign, named after the original death toll, aimed at reminding the world that the victims were real people with real hopes and dreams that were taken away.
“I can’t even look at pictures of the people killed without crying,” 32-year-old Mary Wambui from Nakuru said at the time.
“They were just children. They were trying to make a better life for themselves. Some were first to go to college in their communities. They died trying to get an education.”
Kenya has suffered heavily from al-Shabaab’s attacks, which are often launched from the terror group’s strongholds in Somalia.
The jihadist vow to slaughter Christians and other non-Muslims throughout Ramadan has been echoed by ISIS and its affiliates.
Earlier this week, Islamic militants in Jerusalem promised to “cleanse” Israel of all Christians and non-Muslims during the holy month, accusing Christians of encouraging Muslims to abandon their religion.
“Those who work with the Zionists also encourage Muslims to leave their religion and become more secular and open, and they spread evil,” Arabic-language leaflets reportedly warned. “They take these Muslims away from us. … We know where they are, but we need help to find them all — all those Christian collaborators.”
- christian post
Islamic State fighters release elderly Christian hostage in north-eastern Syria but intense fighting displaces Christians in Aleppo
Syria, 25 June, 2015: Four months after he was taken captive by Islamic State (IS) fighters in north-eastern Syria, 70-year-old Francois Sawa was safely released on 16 June and is in good health. In Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, Christian families are fleeing their homes after horrific fighting killed at least ten people, most of them children, and injured a further 150 on 15 June.
Just a few days later, two Armenian Christian men were also tragically killed in a mortar explosion in Aleppo on 20 June. One of the men who died was a visiting pastor from Armenia who had arrived only two days earlier. “All our congregation members are in agony,” said Dr Jany Haddad, Barnabas Fund’s partner on the ground in Syria, as he relayed the news.
With fighting coming from four fronts, thousands of Christians have fled the city in terror. Local Christians told Barnabas that there are now between 45,000 and 90,000 Christians living in Aleppo, down from an estimated 465,000 in 2010. At least 30 people were killed and many others injured only in the last week in Aleppo with bombing and shelling occurring almost daily. The situation across Syria is one of extreme concern; IS forces have again attacked parts of the north-eastern city of Hassake as well as the northern city of Kobane on Thursday (25 June).
The release of Francois Sawa puts the number of those still being held at 227. One of 253 Christians abducted in IS raids against the mainly Christian villages that are clustered around the Khabur river, Francois Sawa was taken from his home village of Tel Shamiram on 23 February. Little has been heard about the situation of the Christians who remain hostage to IS. Twenty-three of the captives were released at the beginning of March and two elderly women were freed on 25 May.
Despite the fact that IS militants have been forced out of the villages in the Khabur area, the area remains unsafe. Islamists have destroyed many of the homes and churches and some have been booby-trapped. Barnabas has been helping to care for 1,200 Christian families who were forced to flee their homes after IS raided the villages.
But the situation for Christians in Syria is extremely precarious. Kidnappings such as the ones that took place in the Khabur area villages have led many Christians to decide to leave their beloved country in search of safety abroad.
Barnabas Fund is working with the Polish government, the Polish charity Esther Foundation, and local Polish churches to rescue Syrian Christians in extreme danger. Through our Operation Safe Havens, we are flying them to Poland and paying for their basic needs for one year, while Polish churches welcome them, and help them to find accommodation and jobs.
- barnabas team
Vatican City, 19 June, 2015: Following a tradition established in 1971 by the Syriac-Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, His Holiness Ignatius Jacob III and Blessed Paul VI, this morning Pope Francis received in the Vatican His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, accompanied by a Syriac-Orthodox delegation, recalling that the historic first meeting was the beginning of a “holy pilgrimage” towards full communion between the two Churches.
Francis also mentioned the Joint Declaration on the common profession of faith in the mystery of the Incarnate Word, the true God and the true man, signed in that year by the Patriarch and the Pope, which laid the foundations for a path to unity among disciples. Subsequent meetings between Patriarch Ignatius Zakka Iwas and St. John Paul II, first in Rome and then in Damascus, represented important steps toward the concrete pastoral collaboration for the good of the faithful.
“How much has changed since those first meetings!” exclaimed the bishop of Rome. “Yours, Beatitude, has been a Church of martyrs since the very beginning, and continues to be so to this day in the Middle East, where, along with other Christian communities and other minorities, it suffers greatly as a result of war, violence and persecution. How much pain! How many innocent victims! Faced with all this, it seems that those in power seem unable to find solutions”.
“Let us pray together for the victims of this brutal violence and for all the situations of war throughout the world. In particular, let us remember the Metropolitan Gregorios Ibrahim and the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church Griega Paul Yazigi, abducted at the same time two years ago. Let us also remember the priests and the many other people, of different groups, deprived of their freedom. And let us ask of the Lord the grace always to be willing to forgive and to be builders of reconciliation and peace. This is what inspires the witness of the martyrs. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the unity of the Church and the tool for the edification of the kingdom of God, which is the kingdom of peace and justice”.
“Beatitude, dear brother, in this moment of tension and pain”, concluded the Pope, “let us increasingly strengthen the bonds of friendship and fraternity between the Catholic Church and the Syriac-Orthodox Church. Let us hasten our steps on the common path, looking towards the day in which we will be able to celebrate our common belonging to Christ’s single Church around the same altar of the Sacrifice and of worship. Let us exchange the treasures of our traditions as spiritual gifts, as what unites us is far greater than what divides us”.
The Holy Father and the Patriarch then prayed together in the Redemptoris Mater chapel.
Mosul, June 16, 2015: One year after the fall of Mosul to Islamic State (IS), militants posted notices around the captured city announcing that the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral Church of St Ephrem, seized a year ago, is to be turned into the “mosque of the mujahedeen” (jihad fighters).
Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud of Mosul broke down and wept last year as he told Barnabas about the fate of his cathedral. The jihadist flag stating, “There is no God but Allah” and “Prophet Muhammad” was draped over the building and last July the militants took down the cross from the church’s dome.
Since July, the headquarters of the IS “state council” has met in buildings on the church’s premises. And last November, IS removed all of the furniture from inside the building and sold it off. The new name was announced on the anniversary of the date the church was seized.
“If they changed a church to a mosque it is further proof of their cleansing …,” said human rights activist Nuri Kino, president of A Demand for Action, a group advocating the protection of ethno-religious minorities such as Assyrians and Yazidis in the Middle East. “They destroy our artefacts, our churches and try to erase us in any way they can.”
Mosul is Iraq’s second largest city and was traditionally the heartland of the country’s Christian presence. After Mosul fell to IS on 10 June 2014, Mosul’s Christians were issued an ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay the humiliating jizya head tax, or be killed. The city is now empty of its Christians who have little hope of being able to return. Archbishop Nicodemus was last to leave, fleeing only when IS were five minutes away from his residence.