AT LEAST 200 churches or places of worship are attacked every single day, a vice-president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, said this week, at a high-level meeting in Brussels investigating the persecution of Christians.
Mr Tajani, an Italian MEP in the Parliament’s European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) group, said on Tuesday that “every day, in every region of our planet, we register new cases of systematic violence and persecution against Christians. No other religious community is faced with such hatred, violence, and aggression as is the Christian community.”
A report prepared by the Parliament’s research unit highlighted the “paradoxical aspect of contemporary Christianity” in that, while Christians were in a majority across the world, they were in a minority in places of conflict.
“This minority status in regions of conflict, where the conflicts are not always religiously motivated, makes Christians potential targets,” the report says, “especially in the Middle East [where] their historical ties with the Western powers or with the Vatican may cause them to be seen as agents of an unwelcome Western influence.”
The meeting heard from a number of Christian leaders, including the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Bishop Anba Angaelos and the former Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, who is President of the European Council of Churches.
Bishop Hill told MEPs about a marginalised Christian village in Malaysia suffering from an almost total lack of basic infrastructure, and also of a region in Nigeria nearly totally void of Christians, owing to violent persecution at the hands of Boko Haram.
He said: “The persecution of Christians is neither simple nor uniform, especially where ISIS and its ideology reigns, Christians are definitely persecuted, churches destroyed, and the ancient churches of the birthplace of Christianity are on their way to almost extinction.”
His comments were echoed by Dr John Newton from the Roman Catholic relief agency Aid to the Church in Need. He told the meeting that nearly 700,000 Syrian Christians have fled during the recent conflict — more than half the country’s Christian population. He also said that there were now only 300,000 Christians left in Iraq after a decade of conflict and strife.
Besides hearing from church leaders and politicians, the meeting also heard from victims of persecution, including Helen Berhane. She had been arrested and imprisoned in a shipping container, where she was tortured because she refused to sign a document denouncing her Christian faith. After efforts by Amnesty International, Ms Berhane was released and now lives in Europe.
“I can assure you that Parliament will make its contribution wherever it can to protect Christians,” the President of the European Parliament, the German MEP Martin Schulz said. “Persecution is happening outside the EU, but we can’t afford to ignore it. All of us, particularly in the [European Parliament], are aware that dialogue and mutual respect are needed. Fundamental rights are under great threat today and persecution of a religion.”