Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli
History has the uncanny habit of repeating itself. American writer, historian, and philosopher Will Durant once said, “So the story of man runs in a dreary circle, because he is not yet master of the earth that holds him.” The biblical writer Qoheleth made the same observation about 2,000 years earlier. He said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9). This seems certainly true when it comes to the persecution of Christians.
For the first three centuries after Christ, his followers faced fierce persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire. From the persecution under Nero (64 A.D.) to the Edict of Milan (313 A.D.), Christians were persecuted sporadically for 129 years. As many as 100,000 Christians gave their lives rather than renounce Christ for the state religion.
Even a cursory glance at news reports confirms that we are witnessing a brutal recurrence of the persecution of Christians. On Feb. 24, 2016, radical Islamic mercenaries swept through Christian villages in Nigeria, slaughtering more than 300, including pregnant women and children. On March 3, 2016, al-Qaeda gunmen attacked a hotel on the Ivory Coast, murdering anyone who refused to praise Allah with them. They killed 18 people, including a five-year old Christian. On the following day, 16 militant Muslims stormed a Catholic retirement home in Yemen, murdering four nuns and the elderly residents.
So abhorrent is Christian faith to these radicals that they feel obliged to eliminate anyone who converts from Islam to Christianity. On Oct. 10, 2015, radical Muslims in Uganda dragged a mother of eight from her own home and shot her in reprisal for her husband’s conversion to Christianity. On Jan. 7, 2016, a group of Muslims in Bangladesh took the life of a man for leaving Islam.
Those who hate Christians like to use Christian holy days as the occasions to make their violent attacks. This year, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah prohibited the public celebration of Christmas in his country of Brunei. Those who disobeyed faced a five-year prison sentence. Following the warnings of ISIS condemning the celebration of Christmas in the Middle East, angry rioters greeted the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem with a barrage of stones as he entered Bethlehem on Christmas day.
Pakistan is a predominantly Muslim nation. On Easter Sunday, 2016, Pakistani Taliban set off a bomb in a public park in the city of Lahore where families were celebrating Easter. They killed 70 people and wounded more than 300 others. This attack mercilessly targeted innocent women and children for no other reason than the fact that they were Christian.
On Dec. 21, 2015, Islamist gunmen attacked a bus traveling from Kenya’s capital of Nairobi to the town of Mandera. After spraying the passenger bus with bullets, the gunmen demanded that the Muslim passengers step aside so that they could kill the Christians. The Kenyan Muslims courageously refused. They protected the Christian passengers. They told the attackers that, if they wanted to kill the Christians, they would have to kill everyone. The militants left in defeat. Love of neighbor had triumphed over fear of death.
In the midst of the daily disheartening news of bloodshed and terrorism, the heroism of the Kenyan Muslims should be broadcasted far and wide. Their common stance shielding their Christian neighbors from harm has brought the two communities closer together in the area of Mandera, Kenya. Their brave act is a bright light amid the darkness.
The ongoing attacks on Christians and other religious minorities have little to do with war or insurgency. The victims are singled out simply for their religious beliefs by those who claim exclusive possession of the truth about God. The evil perpetrated by such misguided individuals should not blind us to a goodness in human nature that transcends the division of religious beliefs. As in the brave stance of the Kenyan Muslims, good people of every faith will always stand against those who, like the Romans of the first century, murder anyone who does not accept the state religion. Compassion toward one another out of respect for our common God-given humanity is an answer to religious persecution.