Category: persecution of Christians

So marveled Egyptian TV host Amr Adeeb, in the aftermath of the Palm Sunday bombings of Christians by ISIS. The forgiveness expressed by a widow of one of the victims had taken his breath away:

Stunned, Adeeb stammered about Copts bearing atrocities over hundreds of years, but couldn’t escape the central scandal.
“How great is this forgiveness you have!” his voice cracked. “If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.”
Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt.

It has often been said of the ancient church that the blood of martyrs was the seed of the Church. The witness of the Coptic community, which has seen numerous attacks in the past few years, has made an impact, both on the Coptic church itself, and on the wider community.

Christianity Today quoted Christian psychiatrist and former member of parliament Ehab el-Kharrat as saying, “The Coptic community is definitely in defiance. The services of Holy Week have doubled in attendance, and the churches are flowing out into the streets.”

With regard to their muslim neighbors:
“The families of the martyrs are promoting a worldview that is 180 degrees contrary to that of the terrorists,” he said. “The great majority of Egyptians now carry deep respect for the Copts, who are viewed as patriotic people of faith.”

Two churches in Egypt were attacked today during Palm Sunday services, killing scores of worshippers. Our prayers go out to our persecuted brethren.

In Tanta, news footage shows people gathered at the church, singing hymns. The video then quickly switches to bars as harrowing screams and cries echo in the background.
“Everything is destroyed inside the church” and blood can be seen on marble pillars, said Peter Kamel, who saw the aftermath of the carnage.

You can read more at CNN.

Nearly 100,000 people gave their lives as a witness to the faith. The majority of the deaths (60,000) were due to tribal violence in Africa. Most of the rest can be attributed to the activities of Islamic terror groups like ISIS.

A new study has found that Christians are the most persecuted people on earth today. A research conducted by The Center for the Study of Global Christianity shows that every six minutes a Christian loses their life because of their faith in Jesus Christ.

Read more at World Religion News: “A Christian Was Killed for Their Faith Every Six Minutes”.

I have felt compelled to highlight a bright spot amid the darkness of Revolutionary Cuba, namely the witness of countless ordinary people who stayed true to their beliefs, and to their Christian faith, in the face of intimidation, imprisonment, and bullets.  Many shouted “Vivo Cristo Rey!” (or “long live Christ the King!”) as they were being executed by Fidel Castro and his henchmen.  One of those who heard these shouts was dissident Armando Valladares, imprisoned by Fidel Castro. Mr. Valladares is himself a remarkable witness who stated:

I am not an extraordinary man, and I am quite ordinary. But God chose me for something quite extraordinary.

Armando Valladares is a poet who in 1960 was jailed as a political prisoner. After his release he later wrote Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro’s Gulag (Encounter Books, 1985). He also has served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Initially supportive of the Revolution, he had been appointed to a low level position in the new government. Over time he began to have reservations about the human rights abuses of the new regime. He was arrested, for refusing to display a sign on his desk that said, “I’m with Fidel”. He was convicted of terrorism and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment (of which he served 22):

“For me, it meant 8,000 days of hunger, of systematic beatings, of hard labor, of solitary confinement and solitude, 8,000 days of struggling to prove that I was a human being, 8,000 days of proving that my spirit could triumph over exhaustion and pain, 8,000 days of testing my religious convictions, my faith, of fighting the hate my atheist jailers were trying to instill in me with each bayonet thrust, fighting so that hate would not flourish in my heart, 8,000 days of struggling so that I would not become like them.” (Quoted in Richmond Times Dispatch).

With God’s help succeeded, as he later stated: “Even though my body was in prison and being tortured,” Valladares said, “my soul was free, and it flourished. My jailers took everything away from me, but they could not take away my conscience or my faith.” (National Review).

Regarding the executions, Valladares recalled in a Washington Post editorial:

Antagonizing believers is a particular specialty of the Castro regime. To them, faith is especially dangerous, because it kindles the conscience and keeps it burning when enemies advance. “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” were the last words of so many of my friends who were dragged to the shooting wall. Eventually, the government realized this was a battle cry for freedom, one that came from the deepest part of the men they were killing, and one that was only inspiring more men to die faithful to their consciences and to something greater than Fidel Castro. Their executioners realized that an expression of faith was more powerful than the explosion of a gun. So eventually, they gagged them.

The following video is of Mr. Valladares reading a poem that he wrote in prison, using his own blood as ink.  The video is produced by the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom, which conferred its “Canterbury Award” upon Mr. Valladares in 2016:

With ISIS forces retreating, a handful of Christians were able to worship once again in the ruins of a church near Mosul.

Surrounded by charred walls and in front of a ruined altar, dozens of Iraqi Christians celebrated mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh on Sunday for the first time since it was recaptured from Islamic State.

Church bells rang out in the town on the southeastern approaches to Mosul where Iraqi troops, backed by U.S.-led air and ground forces, have been driving back the Sunni Muslim jihadists ahead of a battle for the city itself.

Read more at Reuters.

We pray for God’s blessings upon his people in Iraq.

Recently, Canadian leader Justin Trudeau, and to a lesser extent U.S. President Obama, were soundly criticized for statements that seemed to lionize the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.   Trudeau stated:

“It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President. Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation. While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for “el Comandante”.  (You can read the entire statement here).

His warm words have sparked parodies on Social Media, mockingly praising Hitler and Osama Bin Ladin. For example, “Osama Bin Laden was certainly a controversial figure, but his contribution to airport security is unparalleled”, and “Today we mourn the death of Jeffrey Dahmer, who opened his home to the LGBTQ community and pushed culinary boundaries.” One of my favorites is “We mourn the passing of Henry VIII: A man who always kept his head, while all around were losing theirs”.

In slight contrast, President Obama’s words were more measured, but still a far cry from a realistic appraisal of the monstrosity of Castro’s communist dictatorship:

“We know that this moment fills Cubans – in Cuba and in the United States – with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”

In Miami, home to much of the Cuban population in exile, those “powerful emotions” were joy and celebration:

It did not matter that it was the middle of the night, or that it began to drizzle. When this city’s Cuban-American residents heard the news, they sprinted to Little Havana. They banged pots and pans. They sang the Cuban national anthem and waved the Cuban flag. They danced and hugged, laughed and cried, shouted and rejoiced. (Read more at New York Times).

These Cubans recall “el Commandante” with a bit less than fondness, after all.  It is estimated by historian Thomas Skidmore that 550 people were summarily executed in the first 6 months of Castro’s reign. Over the years spanning 1959 – 2012, at least 3615 people are documented to have died in firing squads, and 1253 in “extrajudicial killings”, according to Cuba Archive. The Black Book of Communism (available in its entirety at Archive.org) estimates the number of political killings at 15,000-17,000. Between 1950 and 1980 over a million Cubans fled the island, mostly to the United States.  In 1964, Castro admitted holding over 15,000 political prisoners.

A Washington Post opinion piece summarizes some of the disaster brought upon Cuba by this “legendary revolutionary”:

It began with mass summary executions of Batista officials and soon progressed to internment of thousands of gay men and lesbians; systematic, block-by-block surveillance of the entire citizenry; repeated purges, complete with show trials and executions, of the ruling party; and punishment for dissident artists, writers and journalists. Mr. Castro’s regime learned from the totalitarian patron he chose to offset the U.S. adversary — the Soviet Union, whose offensive nuclear missiles he welcomed, bringing the world to the brink of armageddon. Mr. Castro sponsored violent subversive movements in half a dozen Latin American countries and even in his dotage helped steer Venezuela to economic and political catastrophe through his patronage of Hugo Chávez.

Castro should also be remembered as a relentless persecutor of Christianity.  Cuba is officially an atheist state. When he seized power, almost immediately he shut down 400 Roman Catholic schools for teaching “dangerous beliefs.”  Christians were initially denied membership in the Communist Party.  Due to restrictions in building churches, many people met in homes.  Christians were, of course, among the purged. The dissident Armando Valladares, who was locked in a pitch-dark Cuban prison cell for eight years while stripped naked, has recently given his recollections in a Washington Post editorial:

Antagonizing believers is a particular specialty of the Castro regime. To them, faith is especially dangerous, because it kindles the conscience and keeps it burning when enemies advance. “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” were the last words of so many of my friends who were dragged to the shooting wall. Eventually, the government realized this was a battle cry for freedom, one that came from the deepest part of the men they were killing, and one that was only inspiring more men to die faithful to their consciences and to something greater than Fidel Castro. Their executioners realized that an expression of faith was more powerful than the explosion of a gun. So eventually, they gagged them.

Although the Castro regime eventually moderated its stance toward Christianity, and sought the favor of the Pope, still, as recently as 2015 more than 2300 incidents of persecution–arrests, beatings, demolition of churches, and the like–were reported. (Newsweek)

The Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan had a “eulogy” for Castro that should have been a model for Trudeau and Obama:

“Although the death of a human being is rarely cause for celebration, it is the symbolic death of the destructive ideologies that he espoused that, I believe, is filling the Cuban exile community with renewed hope and a relief that has been long in coming. And although the grip of Castro’s regime will not loosen overnight, the demise of a leader that oversaw the annihilation of those with an opposing view, the indiscriminate jailing of innocents, the separation of families, the censure of his people’s freedom to speak, state sanctioned terrorism and the economic destruction of a once thriving & successful country, can only lead to positive change for the Cuban people and our world. May freedom continue to ring in the United States, my beautiful adopted country, and may the hope for freedom be inspired and renewed in the heart of every Cuban in my homeland and throughout the world.”

I am startled to realize that it has been over a month since I last posted anything on this blog. I have had good intentions of commenting on some major issues that have arisen lately. However, I have found that my time has become consumed by other work, and the preparation for (and enjoyment of) a family vacation. Here are a couple of things.

1. The Olympics: Had I been more on task last month, I would have posted something about the faith statements of Olympians. Many of the greatest athletes in the world are also giants of spirit. They are Olympians of faith. We certainly appreciate them. For all people, whether or not you posses athletic prowess, there’s nothing better than to aspire to be an Olympian of faith. That is something attainable by the smallest, the slowest, the oldest, and the sickest among us.

2. Kayla Mueller: The recent publicity about Kayla Mueller, the aid worker who was kidnapped by ISIS, is another story worth telling. At the end of her life, she found an inner strength through her faith in God that allowed her to withstand unimaginable tortures. Her strength earned the respect of her fellow prisoners as well as her captors. Her faith prior to capture is a topic of some mystery. She once said something to the effect that some people find God in a church, but she found God in adversity, and her own life certainly demonstrates this. Our admiration is added to that of others, as she takes her eternal place among the great martyrs and heroes of the Christian faith.

If I get more time soon I may revisit these stories. For now I commend them to you for further research and reflection.

Earlier this week, two assailants loyal to ISIS entered a church in St. Etienne, near Rouen in France. They forced the 86 year old priest, Fr Jacques Hamel, to kneel and then slit his throat. The attackers were later shot by police.

Fr. Hamel was remembered as a kind and quiet man, who loved his work and chose not to retire when he could have done so. “He was loved by all. He was a little like a grandfather”, stated one mourner.

Further information available at New York Times”.

So says a colleague today while discussing the latest atrocity in Istanbul. I have gathered today for further reflection two unrelated ISIS stories–even as they lose ground in Iraq and Syria, they manage to stay in the news.

First off, our prayers are offered for the victims and loved ones who were affected by the Istanbul airport bombings. The death toll has apparently reached 42 with hundreds injured. You can read the latest at BBC.

Also in the news, an escaped ISIS sex slave testified before Congress about her plight and that of many others. CNN reports that Nadia Murad, a member of the Yaziri ethnic minority in Iraq, appeared before congressmen to describe what is going on:


Speaking about the Middle East’s Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities, she warned that “if they are not protected they will be wiped out.”

Yazidis are ethnically Kurdish members of an ancient religion who live mostly in Iraq.

Murad detailed how she and thousands of Yazidi women and girls were enslaved and raped by their ISIS captors. She recounted how six of her brothers and her mother were executed by ISIS in a single day.

…”I was freed, but I do not (have) the feeling of the freedom because those who have committed these crimes have not been held accountable,” she said.

A UN report released last week estimated that ISIS holds about 3,500 slaves and that the terror group continues to subject women and children to sexual violence, particularly in the form of sexual slavery. The report said ISIS’ actions “may, in some instances, amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide.”

This Reuters artice referenced the UN report in January 2016.

This Twitter hashtag surged in popularity last month, inspired by an ugly outpouring of rage by Muslims on Christians that took place in May in the Egyptian village of Karma. Rumors of an affair by a Christian man with a Muslim woman spawned a mob that burned and looted seven homes and dragged a naked 70 year old woman through the streets.

You can read more at The Associated Press.