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.
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).
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.
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 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.
A Kenyan Muslim teacher who risked his life to shield Christians who were on a bus with him, has died from the gunshot wound he received.
Salah Farah was on a bus travelling through Mandera in Kenya when it was attacked by al-Shabab in December.
The attackers told the Muslims and Christians to split up but he was among Muslim passengers who refused.
A bullet hit Mr Farah and almost a month on, he died in hospital in the capital, Nairobi.
In interviews, when asked why he did this, he replied,
“people should live peacefully together”.
“We are brothers.
“It’s only the religion that is the difference, so I ask my brother Muslims to take care of the Christians so that the Christians also take care of us… and let us help one another and let us live together peacefully”.
Anglican leader Justin Welby, as well as Christian persecution watchdog groups, have warned that U.K. government policies on granting asylum are discriminating against Christians who are avoiding entering formal refugee camps populated by Sunni Muslims amid fears of attacks by Islamic radicals.
“As countries like the U.K. debate how to deal with the refugee crisis, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said that their policy will discriminate against Christians. The policy takes those who are in camps, but many Christians fearing discriminant, violence, and intimidation have not been willing to enter formal camps that are largely populated by Sunni Muslims,” International Christian Concern said in a statement shared with The Christian Post.
Separately, Lord George Carey, a retired Archbishop of Canterbury, issued a similar statement: But the frustration for those of us who have been calling for compassion for Syrian victims for many months is that the Christian community is yet again left at the bottom of the heap.
According to the Barnabas Fund, a charity which recently resettled some 50 Syrian Christian families in Poland, Mr Cameron’s policy inadvertently discriminates against the very Christian communities most victimised by the inhuman butchers of the so-called Islamic State. Christians are not to be found in the UN camps, because they have been attacked and targeted by Islamists and driven from them. They are seeking refuge in private homes, church buildings and with neighbours and family.
A popular Nigerian pastor, who is touted as a dedicated servant to the poor, was “butchered” to death last week on his way back from pastoral duties by Muslim Fulani herdsmen, whom some say could be linked to the terrorist group Boko Haram.
As Morning Star News reports, pastor Joshua Adah, who founded and operated a school that provides over 400 kids with free education in the village of Bantaje, fell victim to the wrath of Muslim extremists belonging to the Fulani ethnolinguistic group, the same herdsmen that also reportedly attacked Nigerian Christian communities last week.