POPE FRANCIS has said that the increasing scale of Christian persecution is bringing different denominations together in closer unity.
The Pope said that the common witness of martyrdom among Christians of all persuasions was more powerful than any of the confessional differences that existed among them.
“In various parts of the world,” he said, “the witness to Christ, even to the shedding of blood, has become a shared experience of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Protestants, Evangelicals, and Pentecostals, which is deeper and stronger than the differences which still separate our Churches and ecclesial communities.
“The communio martyrum is the greatest sign of our journeying together.”
He said that he hoped that the martyrs of the early 21st century, because they belonged to many Christian traditions, “help us to understand that all the baptised are members of the same Body of Christ, his Church. Let us see this profound truth as a call to persevere on our ecumenical journey towards full and visible communion, growing more and more in love and mutual understanding.”
The Pope addressed his remarks to the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, and to the participants of the Global Christian Forum, which met last week in Tirana, Albania, to discuss the theme “Discrimination, Persecution, Martyrdom: Following Christ together”.
A report last month from the Roman Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need said that the flight of Christians from Islamist terrorists in Iraq was so extensive that the Church there may disappear within five years.
In neighbouring Syria, similar levels of religious persecution were threatening to extinguish one of the oldest Churches in the world within the space of a decade, the charity said.
Just days after the Pope’s remarks, the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon and Archbishop of Baghdad, the Most Revd Louis Raphael Sako, met the President of Iraq, Fouad Masoum, to veto a new law requiring his assent, because it obliged non-Muslim children to become Muslims if their fathers converted to Islam, or if their mothers married Muslim men.
Archbishop Sako complained that the new charter — approved by the Iraqi Assembly of Deputies, in spite of protests from Christian, Yazidi, Mandean, Kakai, and Bahai religious minorities — “trampled over” parts of the Iraqi constitution which guaranteed religious liberty.
He said that it also put the country in breach of its international obligations to uphold human rights.
“This norm is one of the most discriminatory, because it shows a total disregard for the values of the civilisation of Iraq and against those who are considered to be among the first citizens of this country,” Archbishop Sako said.
“All this is a threat to the unity of the nation, as well as social balance, religious pluralism, and the principle of acceptance of the other in their diversity, with their unique situation and common life goals.”
He continued: “We want to state emphatically that, in the case of application of this law, we will make our voice heard at the international level.”
President Masoum was reported to have acknowledged “constitutional violations” in the new charter, and promised to seek a solution acceptable to all parties.