The shocking murder of several dozen Coptic Christians in Egypt as they worshipped in their churches on Palm Sunday ought to shake other Christians to the core and draw far more attention to the violent persecution of Christians in many parts of the world – chiefly in the Muslim world – but it won’t. Why not?
The relative ignorance and apathy among Christians in our part of the world is particularly worrying. How often do you hear a priest or bishop here in Ireland talk about it? Organisations like Aid to the Church in Need do highlight it but it still doesn’t receive the prominence it deserves from the Church as a whole.
The Christian communities of the Middle East are the most ancient of all because Christianity began in the Middle East, but they are shrinking fast frequently due to persecution. This comes in three forms; State persecution (as in Saudi Arabia etc); direct targeting by terrorist groups (such as ISIS); and anti-Christian mob violence such as can break out at any time and does in countries like Pakistan or Egypt.
By one estimate the Christian population of the Middle East was 20pc of the total population of the region as recently as 100 years ago, and is now down to 5pc and shrinking fast. The Coptic Christians make up about 10pc of Egypt’s population, making it easily the biggest population of Christians in the Middle East.
As a general rule, Middle Eastern Governments are not doing enough to protect their Christian populations. Western Governments need to put them under far more pressure to do so. These same Governments are quick to promote abortion in developing countries when it suits them, so why not religious freedom?
But we Christians need to become much more concerned about what is happening to our fellow persecuted Christians than we are. If we are apathetic about it, if we do not become outraged then how can we expect anyone else to be? If we were the ones being violently persecuted, how would we feel if our fellow Christians overseas seemed to have little awareness of it or care about it?
Organisations like Aid to the Church in Need will keep on doing what they do in raising awareness of the issue and offering practical assistance to the victims of persecution, but every parish in Ireland needs to raise awareness among their parishioners of what is happening. We owe our persecuted Christian brethren that much at least.