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#KeepPrayerFree & stop T-Mobile from charging callers for prayer on free conference lines

HELP stop the #profiteering by T-Moble that attacks your right to #pray for free! What can you do right now. SIGN and share this petition not only because it affects our mission’s prayer call for the persecuted, but your ability to join a prayer line without being charged a fee.

Prayer should never come with a cost.

The right to pray for free is under attack by T-Mobile. Despite its aggressive advertising campaign – including Super Bowl spots – positioning the company as the #Uncarrier for offering the “first unlimited subscription” void of surcharges, bogus fees and assorted taxes, the mobile conglomerate is waging a war on prayer. T-Mobile is blatantly, but surreptitiously charging an additional $0.01 per minute to customers who call prayer lines using free conference call services. One such service that has been affected is FreeConferenceCall.com, of which tens of thousands of prayer line callers have been affected by these charges and have taken to social media to voice their opinions about T-Mobile.

Many T-Mobile customers call into prayer lines multiple times a week to pray with others for long periods of time, resulting in hundreds of dollars a year added to their service plan costs. By forcing them to pay additional fees for these calls, T-Mobile is effectively cutting off a spiritual lifeline for its loyal customers who cannot afford these charges.

We are asking for your help to take action to prevent T-Mobile and any other greedy cellphone carriers who follow suit from gouging and targeting prayer customers with unnecessary and unfair costs. We strongly urge everyone interested in maintaining religious liberty to support the right of all people to pray together, free of costs and other barriers. Please call upon T-Mobile and any other corporations considering similar action to stop charging customers unfair, punitive and discriminatory fees that were designed to prevent faithful people of all religions from praying for free. Help the millions of individuals who utilize these services for prayer by signing and sharing this petition.

#AttackonPrayer #KeepPrayerFree

CLICK TO SIGN

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Asia Bibi, her Sakharov Prize nomination and Blasphemy laws in Pakistan

Asia Bibi was the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and her case is one of the most controversial

(Voice of the Persecuted) For 7 years, Asia Bibi has clung to Jesus as she sits in a Pakistani prison facing a death sentence. The Christian mother of 5 upholds she is innocent of the charge, but her court appeals have been postponed to an undetermined date. Extremists have promised to kill Bibi if she is released from prison and her death sentence not upheld. Those exonerated of blasphemy charges are at great risk, even murdered by radicals when released. Christian Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was also murdered for opposing the blasphemy laws and advocating on her behalf. Some extremists blame her for his death.

Note: Muslims consist of an overwhelming 96 percent of the population in Pakistan. Pakistan’s blasphemy law is often misused by Muslims to attack Christians and other religious minorities to settle personal issues.

Recently Asia was listed as one of the nominees for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.  The Prize is an initiative of the EU Parliament and is awarded to individuals or groups battling to defend fundamental human rights. Describing Bibi’s nomination, Polish ECR member Anna Fotyga said,

“Her behaviour and dignity in prison all these years is the best proof of her being able to present the dignity of a defender of human rights in the face of the worse fate. We look forward to a final sentence from the supreme court eventually acquitting her.”

Though Bibi is not on the updated short list, her initial nomination brought renewed attention on Pakistan’s unfair blasphemy laws.

Read this OP-ED by Kaleem Dean:

Here in Pakistan, Asia Bibi remains a Christian prisoner of faith. Yet as her seventh year on death row draws to a close – it seems that the outside world has not forgotten about her. For she has been nominated for the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought 2017.

The Prize is an initiative of the EU Parliament and is awarded to those individuals or groups battling to defend fundamental human rights. Asia Bibi is in good company. Among this year’s nominees are: a Guatemalan human rights campaigner, two members of the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a Swedish-Eritrean playwright, journalist and writer and a Burundian human rights activist.

Asia Bibi has suffered long and hard. Her status as a prisoner of faith was taken up by the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), a political group that enjoys strong presence within the EU Parliament. And it is this backing that has made her a serious contender for the Sakharov Prize. SEE MORE (recommended)

Pray for Pakistan

  • Pray for our sister, Asia Bibi
  • Pray for God’s healing power
  • Pray for God’s mercy
  • Pray for the light of Christ to shine through this darkness
  • Pray for comfort, knowledge, wisdom and guidance

Coptic girl, 16, rescued 92 days after Islamists kidnapped her

Marilyn with her parents, after her return home. (World Watch Monitor)

A 16-year-old Coptic Christian girl kidnapped on 28 June to be “converted to Islam, then married off or sold”, was released and returned to her family on 30 September after police found her and arrested her kidnappers in a city just outside Cairo.

Marilyn was recovered from a city named 10th of Ramadan, but she is from a village several hundred kilometres south, in the governorate of Minya.

Her village priest, Father Boutros Khalaf, told World Watch Monitor: “Recently we found out that Marilyn was held in a place in 10th of Ramadan city…. We went to the local police station and they really did their best to reach her and managed to arrest her kidnapper, Taha, and his brother, Gaber, and release Marilyn. She returned back to her family on Saturday, 30 September, after 92 days”.

Fr. Khalaf said she had “not been treated well” by Taha and his friends, but she is just “very happy to be back with her family”.

“We thank God for answering our prayers and the prayers of many other people,” he added. “And we thank all the policemen in the police station that helped us so much in releasing our daughter, Marilyn. We appreciate their great efforts.”

One of many

Her kidnapping was part of a series of disappearances in which Coptic girls were targeted by Islamist networks, who kidnap and force them to convert to Islam and then either marry them off or sell them for large amounts of money, as World Watch Monitor reported last month.

According to ‘G’, a former kidnapper who said he actively targeted Coptic girls before he left Islam, the group he was part of “rented apartments in different areas of Egypt to hide kidnapped Coptic girls. There, they put them under pressure and threaten them to convert to Islam. And once they reach the legal age, a specially arranged Islamic representative comes in to make the conversion official, issue a certificate and accordingly they change their ID”.

‘G’ said one of the strategies they used to gain the girls’ trust was for the kidnapper, a Muslim man, to tell the Christian girl he loved her and wanted to convert to Christianity for her.

“They start a romantic relationship until, one day, they decide to ‘escape’ together,” ‘G’ explained. “What the girls don’t know is that they are actually being kidnapped. Most of the time they will not marry their kidnapper, but someone else.”

Marilyn was kidnapped in this way as well. And although the name of her ‘boyfriend’ at the time was known, a young man named Taha, no arrests were made. Meanwhile, videos of Marilyn, in which she said she had converted to Islam, appeared online. In one, she held a Quran; in the other, veiled, she seemingly repeated what was dictated to her through an earpiece.

Her mother, Hanaa Aziz Shukralla Farag, seeing the video said her daughter was being forced. “She was holding the Quran as if she was holding a medal,” she said. “I see she is under pressure.”

In their desperate attempts to retrieve their daughter, Marilyn’s family wrote letters to the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the interior minister, and many other high-ranking figures, though it is unknown whether these helped to secure her release.

Congress Clashes With Trump Administration Over Aid for Iraqi Assyrians

Two young Assyrians fled with their families from Islamic State’s held Mosul to Koysinjaq, Iraqi Kurdistan. Photo Flickr christiaantriebert

AL Monitor  By Bryant: Harris Disappointed with United Nations efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Iraqi minorities, Congress is calling on the Trump administration to bypass the world body and provide assistance directly to Christians and other genocide victims.

Even as the Islamic State (IS) loses its last grasp on Iraq, the group’s Yazidi and Christian victims are clamoring for a boost in US support so they can rebuild their lives. They complain that ethnic minorities are having trouble accessing the $1.3 billion that the United States allocated for humanitarian aid to Iraq in 2017, and have turned to Congress for help.

Testifying at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing last week, a former Yazidi sex slave who goes by the pseudonym Shireen warned that IS’ genocidal campaign will succeed without international help. The hearing aimed to hasten congressional action on the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act, which would authorize the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to fund faith-based entities providing humanitarian assistance to Iraqi and Syrian genocide and war crime victims rather than funnel the money through UN agencies.

Read the full story here.

“Our Lives Have Turned into Hell”

Report Series: Muslim Persecution of Christians, May 2017 by Raymond Ibrahim (Gatestone Institute)

  • Long touted as a beacon of Muslim tolerance and moderation, Indonesia joined other repressive Muslim nations in May when it sentenced the Christian governor of Jakarta, known as “Ahok,” to a two-year prison term on the charge that he committed “blasphemy” against Islam.
  • The blasphemy accusation is based on a video that Ahok made, in which he told voters that they were being deceived if they believed that Koran 5:51, as his opposition said, requires Muslims not to vote for a non-Muslim when there are Muslim candidates available. The Koran passage states: “O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you — then indeed, he is one of them.”
  • “Morocco’s 2011 constitution allows for freedom of religion. The authorities claim to practice only a moderate form of Islam that leaves room for religious tolerance. Yet, in reality, Moroccan Christians still suffer from persecution.” Mustafa said: “I was shunned at work. My children were bullied at school.”

One month after Islamic militants bombed two Egyptian churches during Palm Sunday and killed nearly 50 people in April 2017, several SUVs, on May 26, stopped two buses transporting dozens of Christians to the ancient Coptic Monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor in the desert south of Cairo. According to initial reports, approximately ten Islamic militants, heavily armed and dressed in military fatigues, “demanded that the passengers recite the Muslim profession of faith” — which is tantamount to converting to Islam. When they refused, the jihadis opened fire on them, killing 29 Christians, at least ten of whom were young children. Two girls were aged 2 and 4. Also killed was Mohsen Morkous, an American citizen described as “a simple man” whom “everyone loved,” his two sons, and his two grandsons.

According to eyewitness accounts, the terrorists ordered the passengers to exit the bus in groups:

“As each pilgrim came off the bus they were asked to renounce their Christian faith and profess belief in Islam, but all of them—even the children—refused. Each was killed in cold blood with a gunshot to the head or the throat.

“By the time they killed half of the people, the terrorists saw cars coming in the distance and we think that that is what saved the rest,” said one source. “They did not have time to kill them all. They just shot at them randomly and then fled.”

According to another report:

“The dead and dying lay in the desert sand amid Islamic leaflets left by the assailants extoling the virtues of fasting during Ramadan and forgiveness granted to those who abstain from eating during the Islamic ritual. Ramadan … is often seen as the worst time for persecution of Christians who live in the Middle East.”

video of the immediate aftermath “showed at least four or five bodies of adult men lying on the desert sand next to the bus; women and other men screamed and cried as they stood or squatted next to the bodies.” According to a man who spoke to hospitalized relatives, “authorities took somewhere from two to three hours to arrive at the scene.” The man “questioned whether his uncle and others might have lived had the response been quicker.

The attack occurred in the middle of a three-month state of emergency that began 47 days earlier, on Sunday, April 9, when twin attacks on Coptic Christian churches left some 49 Christians slaughtered. The December before that, 29 other Christians were killed during another set of twin attacks on churches. Both before and after the monastery attack, dozens of Christians, mostly in Sinai, but some in Egypt proper, were killed in cold blood, often decapitated or burned alive. According to a May 9 report, “A [Christian] father and his two sons were recently kidnapped by ISIS and their bodies were finally found over the weekend.”

Days before the latest attack on Middle Eastern Christians, Fox News journalist Shannon Bream announced a forthcoming television segment on the growth of Christian persecution around the world. In response, Matthew Dowd of ABC News tweeted , “Maybe you can talk about the bigger problem which is persecution of Muslims in America and around the globe. Bigger issue…. Muslims are threatened every day in America, by right wing Christian extremists.” Christians, however, are currently the world’s most persecuted religion: 90,000 died for their faith in 2016. And 12 of the 14 worst nations in which Christians are persecuted are Islamic. (The two that are not are North Korea and Eritrea.)

The rest of May’s roundup of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes, but is not limited to, the following:

Muslim Slaughter of Christians

Mexico: On May 15, a knife-wielding Muslim attacked and tried to behead a Catholic priest while he officiated at the altar of the nation’s largest cathedral, the Metropolitan Church of Our Lady of the Assumption. The assailant, apparently named John Rene Rockschiil and possibly of French origin, managed to plunge the knife into the neck of Fr. Miguel Angel Machorro, 55, before being restrained by parishioners. Fr. Miguel later died of his wounds.

Germany: A Muslim man and asylum-seeker stabbed and killed a Christian woman with a kitchen knife in front of her two children near a public market. Those who knew the slain woman, an Afghan who had converted to Christianity eight years earlier, said she was a successful “example of integration”. “A religious motivation is being examined” said officials— apostasy from Islam does earn death — “although we cannot confirm this yet,” police spokesman Stefan Sonntag said.

Philippines: In late May, a jihadi uprising of Philippine Muslim militants, including ISIS-linked Indonesians and Malaysians, erupted in the Islamic City of Marawi. In the initial carnage, Muslim militants stopped a bus, and when they discovered that nine passengers were Christian, they were tied together and shot dead, execution style. “I am pissed by those kinds of people,” said a local. “They kill defenseless people. The militants also torched a school and a church. One official called the violence an “invasion by foreign terrorists, who heeded the call of Isis to go to the Philippines if they find difficulty in going to Iraq and Syria.” It took more than three days for the military to quell the uprising; meanwhile, 15 members of the security forces and 31 militants were killed.

Kenya: On May 12, two militant Muslims shouting “Allahu Akbar” — and suspected of being connected to neighboring Somalia’s Al Shabaab terrorist group — shot and killed two non-Muslims, one of whom was a member of a Pentecostal Church. According to the report, “Predominantly Christian workers from Kenya’s interior have been targeted in a series of Al Shabaab attacks that have shaken Christian communities in Kenya’s northeast”. “These Al Shabbab militants,” said a local Christian leader, “have made some of our Christians to be their scapegoats, as they see Kenya as a Christian country that is fighting to rid Al Shabaab from Somalia.”

Muslim Attacks on Churches and Crosses

Sudan: On Sunday morning, May 7, as Christians were preparing to worship in the Sudanese Church of Christ in Khartoum, authorities arrived with bulldozers and demolished the church. The government, according to the report, claims the church was “built on land zoned for residential or other uses, or… on government land, but church leaders said it is part of wider crack-down on Christianity.” A lawyer, Demas James, said that Sudan was in serious violation of constitutional and international conventions of human rights, and that the building being destroyed on a Sunday shows the government’s lack of respect for Christian holy places: “You can see there is no place for worship left now for the believers to worship.” The demolished church is one of 25 church buildings marked for demolition on the claim that the churches were illegally built. The government has yet to shut down or demolish a single mosque on the same claim.

Austria: Someone described as a “dark skinned immigrant” was videotaped by a bystander’s phone camera throwing things and striking at the large cross in front of the St. Marein parish with a long pole, and causing 15,000 euros’ worth of general damage. Police eventually subdued the “apparently insane man” and took him “to a hospital.” There have been countess instances of Muslim refugees attacking churches and other Christian symbols — the cross, and statues and icons as well — in every European nation that has accepted Muslim migrants.

Bangladesh: The evening of May 10, a Muslim mob vandalized and invaded the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Khagrachhari district. According to the church’s pastor, Stephen Tripura:

“They stormed into the church after kicking and smashing in the door. They attempted to rape my sister and niece who live there by tearing off their clothes. After hearing their cries, local Christians rushed over to help and the attackers fled. My sister and niece moved here to get an education but now they are traumatized…. We didn’t file a case for fear of angering local Muslims further and inviting more violence.”

Islamic Attacks on Christian Freedom

Indonesia: Long touted as a beacon of Muslim tolerance and moderation, Indonesia joined other repressive Muslim nations in May when it sentenced the Christian governor of Jakarta, known as “Ahok,” to a two year prison term on the charge that he committed blasphemy against Islam. According to one report, “The blasphemy accusation was key in Ahok’s defeat in a bid to be re-elected as governor of Jakarta,” and “Islamic extremist groups opposed to having a non-Muslim lead the city organized massive demonstrations against Ahok.” The blasphemy accusation is based on a video that Ahok made in which he told voters that they were being deceived if they believed that Koran 5:51, as his opposition said, requires Muslims not to vote for a non-Muslim when there are Muslim candidates available. The Koran passage states:

“O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you—then indeed, he is one of them.”

Effigy used in recent protests against Jakarta’s Christian Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama falsely accused of blasphey.

A five-judge panel concluded that Ahok was “convincingly proven guilty of blasphemy.”

Pakistan: A Christian pastor who has been “tortured every day in prison” since July, 2012 when he was first incarcerated, was sentenced to life in prison in May. Zafar Bhatti, 51, was found guilty of sending “blasphemous”[1] text messages from his mobile phone, but human rights activists contend that the charge “was fabricated to remove him from his role as a Pastor.” His wife, Nawab Bibi, says:

“Many Muslim people hated how quickly his church was growing; they have taken this action to undermine his work… I wish our persecutors would see that Christians are not evil creatures. We are human beings created by God the same God that created them although they do not know this yet… There have been numerous attempts to kill my husband — he is bullied everyday and he is not safe from inmates and prison staff alike.”

In 2014, he “narrowly escaped assassination after a rogue prison officer,” Muhammad Yousaf, went on a shooting spree “to kill all inmates accused of blasphemy against Islam.” Bhatti is one of countless Christian minorities to suffer under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which has helped make that country the fourth-worst nation in the world, after North Korea, Somalia, and Afghanistan, in which to be Christian. Asia Bibi, a Christian wife and mother has been on death row since 2010 on the accusation that she insulted Muhammad.

As Bhatti was being sentenced to life in Pakistan, all charges against Noreen Leghari — a 20-year-old Muslim medical student who was arrested in connection to a planned suicide attack on a church packed for Easter celebrations — were dropped and she was set free. During a televised public statement, Major General Asif Ghafoor, voicing public concern and compassion for her, and indicated that it would be a shame to destroy her career. As Wilson Chowdhry, a human rights activist, remarked, however:

“How many of these same Pakistani citizens would be so forgiving had Miss Legahri planned to bomb a Muslim School?…. If it were Muslims that were targeted by Legahri I am certain many of the campaigners would find her crime too offensive for granting a pardon – Christian lives are ostensibly less valuable in Pakistan…. It is hard to believe the deep-rooted hatred that Miss Leghari had towards Christians that led to her becoming a suicide recruit, has simply vanished…. I asked several Pakistani Christians whether they would trust a doctor who had previously attempted to bomb a Church on Easter Day, to administer care for them. It was no surprise to me that the unanimous response was a resounding no.”

Morocco: Converts to Christianity in the 99.6% Muslim majority nation are coming out of the closets, complaining of their treatment and “demand[ing] the right to give our children Christian names, to pray in churches, to be buried in Christian cemeteries and to marry according to our religion,” said Mustapha, a convert since 1994, who, along with other converts, wrote a request to the official National Council of Human Rights to end the persecution of Christians in Morocco. According to the report, “even though the state religion is Islam, Morocco’s 2011 Constitution allows for freedom of religion. The authorities claim to practice only a moderate form of Islam that leaves room for religious tolerance. Yet, in reality, Moroccan Christians still suffer from persecution.” Accordingly, “[f]or two decades, Mustapha kept his faith in Christ secret.” When he finally came out in public about his conversion less than two years ago, all his friends and family “turned their backs on me,” he said: “I was shunned at work. My children were bullied at school.”

Muslim Contempt and Hate for Christians

Iraq: One of the Shia-majority nation’s leading Shia clerics, Sheikh Alaa Al-Mousawi — who heads the government body which maintains all of Iraq’s Shia holy sites, including mosques and schools — described Christians in a video as “infidels and polytheists” and stressed the need for “jihad” against them.

Pakistan: Mian Mir Hospital, which is run by the City District Government of Lahore, was exposed as forcing Christian paramedics and staffers “to either recite verses from the Holy Quran at morning assembly or be marked absent for the day,” says a report. This news came to light when the Medical-Superintendent, Dr. Muhammad Sarfraz, “slapped a Christian paramedical staffer for not attending the assembly.” The act led to staff protests against Dr. Muhammad and other supervisors. “Experts said extremism was creeping into public hospitals and was a massive concern for law enforcement agencies,” continues the report.

Separately, when a Christian girl in the Pakistani public school system sought “to study Ethics rather than Islamic Studies because of her Christian beliefs,” says a report, her Muslim teacher informed her that “if she refused to take a class in Islamic studies, she must leave…. The teacher also ordered her Muslim students to avoid eating with the Christian girl because of her faith.” According to the teenage Christian girl, Muqadas Sukhraj, her problems started in early April:

“… class teacher, Zahida Parveen unnecessarily began creating problems for me and expressing her displeasure with me because I chose Ethics. First, the teacher argued over the textbook of the Ethics class. Then she sent me out of the class as punishment. Later, she told me that if I could not study Islamic education, then why do I study in a Muslim school in the first place? She even told me, that, when she comes into the class, I must leave.”

Much of this is in keeping with ongoing revelations, including a 2016 report by Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace, which found that the government continues to issue textbooks that promote religious hatred for non-Muslims.

Also separately, after a fist fight broke out when a Muslim teenager snatched a Christian teenager’s phone, a mob of armed Muslims responded by attacking Christians in Phul Nagar, District Kasur in Punjab Province. According to the report:

“The armed men pitilessly bashed every person who came in their sight on the streets. What is more they stormed into the houses of Christians and sta[r]ted beating the Christians. They also resorted to aerial firing, therefore, causing terrors and harassment in the entire neighborhood. The attackers did not spare Christian women, and beat them also.”

Christians informed local police, who did not arrest any of the assailants, although they are known to police by name and face.

Uganda: Area Muslims continue to hound Pastor Christopher James Kalaja for having filed a court case against sword-waving, “Allahu Akbar”-screaming Muslims who earlier destroyed his farm, home, and church. “We just want to inform you that the battle is now on, and you risk losing the whole family,” read one text message he received after formally filing a police case. According to his wife, who lives in hiding, he “makes a brief appearance at our current residence because the Muslims are trailing him. They can do anything to kill him, so as [to] stop the court case to proceed since he is the key witness.” The couple’s seven children are also “very fearful” and constantly asking “Why are we here? What have we done that we are undergoing such a great suffering?” “These are questions that I cannot answer,” said the mother. “I only tell the children to pray.”

Nigeria: Janet Habila, a 16-year-old Christian youth leader and daughter of “a devoted church leader with the United Mountain of Grace in Shundna village,” was forced to convert to Islam and marry a Muslim man against her will. According to the report, the Christian girl “was enrolled in the tailoring institute in 2016 by her parents … but rather than learning the trade, the parents were shocked to receive a notification of her marriage through a Sharia court.” According to sources, a Muslim man named Nasiru “craftily organized some Muslim men and women in the area to stand as the parents of Janet in court to enable the marriage to take place.”

About this Series

While not all, or even most, Muslims are involved, persecution of Christians by Muslims is growing. The report posits that such Muslim persecution is not random but rather systematic, and takes place irrespective of language, ethnicity, or location.

Raymond Ibrahim is the author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians(published by Regnery with Gatestone Institute, April 2013).

Coptic Orthodox priest brutally murdered in Cairo

On Thursday morning, Father Samaan Shehata, a priest of St. Jules Church in Cairo, was beaten to death by moderate Islamists

(World Watch Monitor) The images were horrific. Father Samaan Shehata, a 45-year-old Coptic Orthodox priest, lay dead on the ground, stabbed and beaten by a young man wielding a meat cleaver.

Blood dripped down his face into his long, black beard. Dirt discoloured his flowing black robe. His cross pendant rested peacefully on his chest, eerily imitated in the cross-like stabbing etched into his forehead.

Many details remain unknown, but early indications point to extremism. Fr. Shehata was from Beni Suef, visiting a family in Cairo 150 kilometres north in a lower-class, urban suburb of Cairo.

It may well be he was targeted only for the clothes he was wearing – in Egypt, a clear indication of his religious profession.

He was left a public spectacle. So far, no claim of responsibility, no message of intention. There are possible hints circulating of mental instability on the part of the attacker.

Perhaps. Murder is rare in Egypt. Despite the increased terrorism suffered by Copts in recent years, this killing is unusual. There is a chance it was random. But few think so. Coptic social media immediately proclaimed Fr. Shehata a martyr, adding him to the growing scroll.

The image, however, may have lasting effect, reinforcing a decades-old message: the streets are not the place for priests.

Bishop Angaelos of the United Kingdom held the requisite forgiveness to the end of his statement, pouring out instead his frustration and anger.

“Why should a priest not be able to walk safely down a street?” he demanded. “Coptic Christians who have endured injustice, persecution, and loss of life for centuries without retaliation, repeatedly forgiving unconditionally, deserve to live with respect and dignity in their indigenous homeland.”

Father Samaan Shehata Photo: Twitter

Samuel Tadros, a Coptic-American analyst, took to Twitter to highlight the social reality.

“This may be a horrific crime but it does not happen in a vacuum,” he wrote. “Coptic priests are insulted and harassed daily as they walk in Egy[ptian] streets.”

Respect. Dignity. Insult. Harassment. What is the way forward? The answer may lie partially in the clothes that sparked the assault.

Better law enforcement is necessary. Education must be reformed. These are the standard answers offered, and there is logic to them. But if they are not going to change anytime soon, what are Copts to do in the meantime?

Years ago I met my first Coptic priest in America, and I asked him about his beard and robe. They are tradition, he explained, but they are so much more.

To a degree, they are public spectacle.

Protestant pastors often blend into society. Catholic priests sometimes take off their vestments. But the Coptic Orthodox clergyman must look distinctive at all times. He is a sign of the church, a message to the people that God’s kingdom is near.

But in recent decades in Egypt, that kingdom has become less and less visible.

Let no one think that the nation is aflame. Muslims and Christians are neighbours and friends. Sectarianism is an ever-latent virus poisoning many, but for the most part life goes on amid patterns of discrimination and identity groupings.

But facing a growing Muslim – often Islamist – domination of the public square, especially before the revolution, Copts have increasingly withdrawn into their churches.

Who can blame them? Spitting is real. Priests travel for visitation in cars with tinted windows. Why not, if the money is there? Egypt drives everywhere these days, just look at the traffic.

But money is also a demarcating line. A priest can shop comfortably in the hypermarkets of upper-class Cairo. Will he buy vegetables off a donkey cart in poor Upper Egypt?

Perhaps this murder is a reminder that he must. Otherwise he cedes the public square completely.

“Why should a priest not be able to walk safely down a street? Coptic Christians who have endured injustice, persecution, and loss of life for centuries without retaliation, repeatedly forgiving unconditionally, deserve to live with respect and dignity in their indigenous homeland.”

Bishop Angaelos

Courage is necessary. Conviction. A certainty his service is not only for Christians, but ‘salt and light’ in the stability of his nation. Kingdom of God or not, Egypt, as every society, is only as strong as its minority members.

So let Coptic priests go and find friends. Invite the local imam for a stroll. Have a tea in the corner coffee shop. Circulate together. Purposefully.

Much in Egypt is centralised, and institutions can be nervous. But who can oppose it? National unity is state discourse. The Azhar would esteem. But why wait for official endorsement? Just go and ask the imam already visited on holidays. Can he refuse?

Let this not be naïve. National unity is often perceived as a grudging obligation for public perception. Many hearts – on both sides – are not pure.

And there is another risk. This must not be about ‘protection’. An interpretation of Islam holds that Muslims must guard over the Christians in their society. It can be a noble intention; it can also be at odds with citizenship. The priest must seek no favours, only partnership in society.

But let them be a public spectacle. This is your neighbourhood. Your country. Your fellow Egyptian. Your friend. Teach together.

It is also your gospel. Christians believe Jesus disarmed the evil spiritual powers of sin and disunity, making a public spectacle of them on the cross.

To preach this message, St. Paul and the apostles became public spectacles on display, as ‘fools’ for Christ condemned to die.

Much like Fr. Shehata.

But this is not a fool’s errand. There is even an institution dedicated to the effort. The Egyptian Family House has walked priests and imams in the streets before. Children crowded around and celebrated. Adults took selfies.

Let the cynicism come; all too often it is justified. But let the heart be pure and fight through it with love and solidarity. And courage. Let no-one pretend there will not be another extremist.

Fr. Shehata died dishonourably in one of the most populated areas of Cairo. Soon his idealised image will circulate with the crown of martyrdom. But which picture will hold in the mind of Copts?

The cross on his chest, or the cross on his forehead?

A priest belongs on the streets, like any Egyptian. May he choose wisely.

INDIA – Place of anti-Christian violence becomes a place of inspiration for Indian Christians

Christians pray in India

(Agenzia Fides) – The victims of anti-Christian violence perpetrated in the Indian state of Orissa in 2007 and 2008 “are testimonies of authentic faith, that overcame difficulties and persecution, and today inspire many people in India and abroad”: says Archbishop John Barwa, at the head of the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, in the Indian state of Orissa (or Odisha), to Agenzia Fides. The district of Kandhamal, theater of that violence, has become a “place of pilgrimage where one listens to the testimony of survivors and therefore share solidarity with the victims, where economically poor people, but strong and rich spiritually”, explains the Bishop.

Fides learned, a delegation of 45 women, representatives of 14 Indian regions, convened by the Bishops’ Conference of India for the National Meeting on “The Role of Women in creating the Family” gathered in Kandhamal. The delegation was led by Mgr. Jacob Mar Barnabas, President of the National Bishops’ Commission for Women and by Sister Talisha Nadukudiyil, Secretary of the Commission.

After the visit, Mgr. Jacob Mar Barnabas told Fides: “We visited a land of martyrs, we have a rich experience of faith that we must proclaim. These people need our solidarity. We shared their pain and suffering lived through faith in Jesus. These people shared his same cross. We too are called to live and proclaim that Christ is the Lord, like the people of Kandhamal. Their experience can be very important especially for young Indians”.

“We are called not to be just spectators. Before our brothers and sisters who have shown so much courage in defending faith, it is not enough to show sympathy and to listen to their story: it is necessary to engage, as a unique community, for the entire process of reconstruction. Only then our visit will be fruitful. This is a task for the entire Church in India”, added Mgr. Barnabas.
“My husband sacrificed his life so as not to not deny Christ. His sacrifice made me stronger in faith in Jesus. Every single breath I take today is the breath of faith in Jesus, which my husband witnessed with his life”, said to those present widow Kanakarekha Nayak, wife of Christian Parikit Nayak, attacked and tortured by Hindu militants.
“This visit caused emotion and I was really inspired and strengthened in the faith in Jesus”, says Chinama Jacob, a Catholic woman of Delhi, after listening to these stories. “I would like to come to Kandhamal and teach local students”, adds Mary Lucia from Tamil Nadu.
“Many women expressed the desire to economically and materially help the local community”, says Sister Bibiana Barla, regional secretary of the Bishop’s Commission in Orissa.

The whole group of women experienced so much love and affection from the villagers, despite their suffering and poverty. “Even if the people are poor and illiterate, their faith is firm in God’s word”, explains to Fides sister Talisha Nadukudiyil, promising commitment to nurturing co-operation and friendship.

In the wake of indiscriminate violence perpetrated in Kandhamal in 2008, about 100 Christians were killed by militant Hindu extremists, and the violence engulfed 600 Christian villages, 5,600 homes were looted, 295 churches and other places of worship destroyed, including 13 schools and leprosies. About 56,000 Christians in Kandhamal had to flee to save themselves and became refugees. During the violence, the faithful were told that the condition for them to remain in that district was to become a Hindu. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 12/10/2017)

LEBANON – Iraqi Christians protest “We do not want to go back to Iraq, give us permission to emigrate”

Iraqi Christians protest in Lebanon Photo: Youtube screenshot

Agenzia Fides reports that Iraqi Christian refugees organized a demonstration in Beirut on October 11, 2017 in front of the offices of the High Commissioner for Refugees to ask the competent authorities to remove the obstacles posed to their expulsion requests towards other Countries, registered in the competent offices of several foreign diplomatic missions operating in the Lebanese capital. The demonstrators reiterated that they have no intention of being repatriated to Iraq, and have also expressed critical considerations towards their respective ecclesiastical authorities, arguing that they also contribute to curbing and preventing the granting of expatriation permits, because they are afraid to see the Christian presence in Iraq irreparably diminish.

The demonstration confirms the impression that much of the Christian refugees who have left Iraq have no intention of returning to their country, and they do not even intend to take root in Lebanon, but hope to emigrate soon to some Western country. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 13/10/2017)

In February, some 200 Iraqi Christians protested outside the United Nations headquarters to demand the speeding up of their resettlement process.

In conversations with Iraqi Christians, who’ve left the country, told Voice of the Persecuted that entire families (or tribes) have left and now live in western countries, including the USA. More than one family relayed how volatile the situation is for Christians in Iraq. “We were forced to leave all we had behind. None of us, not one relative remains. We left our generational homeland set to never return.”

Please pray for Christians fleeing persecution, in countries of concern. That they will receive special consideration for resettlement, as they’re run out of places to live in peace.

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