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Welby: Murdered Kenyan students are martyrs

10 April 2015


Tears of mourning: a hymn-singer from the World Victory Centre takes part in an Easter crusade service in memory of the Garissa University dead

Tears of mourning: a hymn-singer from the World Victory Centre takes part in an Easter crusade service in memory of the Garissa University dead

THE Kenyan students who died on Maundy Thursday were among the "many martyrs" of the past year, the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his Easter sermon.

The 148 people killed at Garissa University were "witnesses, unwilling, unjustly, wickedly", Archbishop Welby said. As martyrs, they challenged those Christians living in "comfort", asking "Are you still witnesses?"

The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, said that Christians continued to endure unspeakable suffering and degradation, intimidation and displacement: "They carry the cross of Jesus Christ in tangible and tactile ways that are unimaginable to us."

In Easter messages, all three leaders of the main British parties addressed the persecution of Christians. The Prime Minister spoke of "a duty to speak out".

The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, wrote on Facebook: "My thoughts are particularly with Christians in Syria, Iraq and other countries where the church suffers terrible persecution. . . We must all do everything we can to speak out against this evil and work to alleviate the suffering of those who are persecuted simply for their creed."

The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, emphasised that it was important not to forget the "cruel and barbaric killings" in Kenya.

The students were remembered, too, by Pope Francis, in his Urbi et Orbi address on Easter Day.

Listing the many conflict-ridden parts of the world, the Pope prayed for "peace, above all, for Syria and Iraq, that the roar of arms may cease. . . . May the international community not stand by before the immense humanitarian tragedy unfolding in these countries and the drama of the numerous refugees."

"I am shepherding my flock through one of the darkest eras in our long history", the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, the Rt Revd Bashar Warda, wrote in an Easter reflection for The Daily Telegraph. About 14,000 Christian families had fled the Islamic State (IS) to Erbil, he said. Rows of tents have been erected outside his cathedral.

He found hope, he said, in the testimony of two elderly women released by IS despite refusing to convert after being threatened with execution.

One, Gazella, had told them: "My vision of paradise is not yours. It is about love, forgiveness, peace, and mercy. But if you want to kill me for what I believe, I am willing to die."

The Archbishop reiterated his plea, made in London (General Synod, 20 February): "We need the UK's help - technical aid, financial assistance, intelligence, and indeed military support - to oust these fanatics from our lands. It is possible, but only if we act together."

Last week, the Iraqi army, working with Shia militas, took the city of Tikrit back from IS. Mass graves of soldiers have been discovered. The group still holds significant swaths of both Iraq and Syria.

On Sunday, it blew up a church in an Assyrian Christian village in the north-east of Syria, the state news agency reported. The region - Hassakeh - is where dozens of Christians were kidnapped by militants in February (News, 27 February). The Assyrian Christians, have set up their own protection force to evict IS.

Militants have also released video footage depicting the destruction with mallets and rifles of ancient artefacts in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hatra in Iraq.

A social-media campaign #Unite4Heritage was launched at the University of Baghdad by UNESCO last week. Young people, especially from the Arab region, are encouraged to share photos and stories about heritage sites that they value.

They called on Jesus as they died

THE massacre of 148 people at a Kenyan university by Islamist militants is the whole world's problem, the Archbishop of Kenya, Dr Eliud Wabukala, has said.

"This latest outrage is not just an attack on Kenya, but part of an assault on world peace," he said in his Good Friday message. "The time has come for the world to unite as never before in defeating this growing menace."

Hundreds of students marched through Nairobi on Tuesday to demand more protection.

Security forces finally brought an end to an assault on Garissa University by Al Shabaab, a recognised affiliate of al-Qaeda, 15 hours after gunmen entered the campus at 5.30 a.m. on Thursday. The Daily Nation newspaper reported that members of the Christian Union, who had gathered to pray, were the first students to be killed. It has been reported that the gunmen singled out Christians to be killed. One survivor told Reuters that three girls had been shot after praying "Jesus, please save us."

Dr Wabukala has called on the Kenyan government, which is facing severe criticism for its handling of the attack, "to do all in its power to protect the lives of its citizens". The Nation reported that special forces had received an alarm at 6 a.m. but did not leave Nairobi until 12.30 p.m. and did not arrive at the campus until 5 p.m. It says that the Government was aware of threats in the region, and that one plane took government officials to Garissa, near the Somalia border, "rather than first taking the life-saving help that was needed to save the besieged students". It has accused the government of "negligence on a scale that borders on the criminal". The Foreign Minister, Amina Mohamed, told CNN on Monday that the response of the security forces had been "adequate", and pointed out that 663 of the 800 students taken hostage had been rescued: "We did our best with the resources that we had."

At a Good Friday service, the Bishop of Mombasa, the Rt Revd Julius Kalu, said that the terrorists wanted to split the country on religious lines. "This must be resisted."

"We have been living with our Christian brothers for all these centuries," Abdullahi Salat, chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims, told CNN. "We'll continue living with them. . . Anybody who does anything to divide us is just wasting his time."

Al Shabaab has said that the attack was revenge for the presence of Kenyan soldiers in Somalia, but also for the mistreatment of Kenyan Muslims, Reuters reported. Since the Kenyan army went to Somalia in 2011 on a peacekeeping mission backed by the UN, Al-Shabaab has killed at least 470 people in Kenya.

The Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, said on Saturday that "the planners and financiers of this brutality are deeply embedded in our communities."

One of the gunmen was the son of a Kenyan government official. All four were killed during the siege and their bodies were paraded through the streets of Garissa.

The Kenyan air force announced on Monday that it had destroyed two al Shabaab camps in Somalia.

"While governments have a vital role, even more important are the hearts and minds of ordinary people," Dr Wabukala said on Friday.

"We will not be intimidated, because we know and trust in the power of the cross, God's power to forgive our sins, to turn death into the gate of glory, and to make us his children for ever."

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