March 27, a day marked by blood. The blood of the innocent, especially women and children, who were massacred in Lahore, Pakistan, as they were celebrating the Passover on a playground. But it is also the blood of the 7 Trappists from the Monastery of Notre Dame of the Atlas of Tibhirine (Algeria) who 20 years ago knew martyrdom. They were seized inside the structure by militia men belonging to the “Armed Islamic Group”, held captives for two months, and then killed on May 21, 1996. The international community could not do anything for their release. Borderline life stories. Of those who profess their faith in places where multiculturalism and freedom of conscience are seen as a threat to the ruling elite. The Christian message, with its explicit references to universal love, peace, and equality, becomes an unbearable thorn in their side. “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the middle of wolves”, was true for the Apostles and is true for those who still bring the Good News to the world, with its pastoral activity or even through the testimony of a life inspired to Gospel values.
“Murderous hatred strikes cowardly the most defenseless once again”, a slap Pope Francis sent not only to the fundamentalists groups from the Middle East to Asia and Africa, which plan and implement massacres of Christians, but also to an international community that is asleep, in a West that clings to its fears, weak in the face of violence perpetrated on a regular basis against thousands of faithful. Where there is a helpless person, there is always a State, a community, which is unable to protect and defend. Sometimes out of inadequacy, other times out of more or less explicit complicity.
The latest World Watch List, the annual report prepared by the Open Door association, speaks clearly: the persecution of Christians worldwide, rose by 2.6% over the last 12 months, Over 7,100 people have been murdered because of their faith (about 61% more than last year, when 4,344 were assassinated); 2,400 churches were assailed (125% more attacks that the 1,062 ascertained in 2014). The WwList concerns a period that spans from November 1, 2014 to October 31, 2015, and has measured the degree of freedom Christians have to live their faith in 5 spheres of daily life: in private life, inside the family, inside the community where they live, in the community they associate with, and in the public life of the country they live in.
The painted picture is bleak. The main persecutory factor is Islamic extremism. Suffice it to say that it concerns as many as 35 out of the top 50 countries in the Open Doors’ ranking. From this point of view, the rise of Isis in quite a few Arab nations of the Middle East basin has played a decisive role. Like in Iraq, which went up from third to second place, or Syria, which went down one point (it was fourth and currently is fifth), despite the joint attack at the hands of Russia, Damascus, and the American-guided coalition which snatched entire regions from the Caliphate. Where there is no Daesh, there are other groups that spread terror and destruction. Those responsible for the Easter attack in Pakistan are Taliban, a group which is active also in Afghanistan. Anti-Christian prevarications have increased in the two Asian countries. As a result, both of them have moved upward on the WWL and are still among the Top 10 countries. Same situation in Africa. In Nigeria, for example, violence at the hand of Boko Haram and the terrible Hausa-Fulani herdsmen have forced thousands of people to flee. Even in Kenya many Christians are gradually leaving Muslim-majority areas. A biblical exodus, a river of people that seek asylum in more tolerant countries towards the Mediterranean Area.
Fundamentalism is not the only factor that embitters the lives of those who believe in Jesus. Sometimes, politics foments hatred. On the one hand, there is “religious nationalism”, a senseless remnant of theocracy that transforms people who do not belong to State faith into second-class citizens. That is the case of Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu nationalists in India, who brought his country from 21th to 14th place. On the other hand, there is “dictatorial paranoia”, which characterizes socialist and communist regimes. North Korea, with its prison camps, is first in the ranking. But there are also Laos and China, countries that do not move neither upward nor downward. They remain there, among the 50 countries where worshipping the cross and bearing witness to the Gospel is still a crime that can cost people freedom and sometimes even life.