2019 unfolded as ‘a year of martyrs’
“2019 WAS A YEAR OF MARTYRS, one of the bloodiest for Christians in history. It culminated in the attacks on three churches in Sri Lanka that cost more than 250 people their lives. We are also very concerned about the situation in China and India.” This is the assessment by Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive president of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
However, he added, “politicians and opinion leaders in Western Europe are talking about religious freedom much more frequently now.” Heine-Geldern in particular cited the Christmas video message recorded for ACN by the British heir apparent, Prince Charles. He called attention to the growing suffering and persecution of Christians all over the world and urged Christians in the West to stand in solidarity with their suffering fellow believers.
Heine-Geldern called upon multinational and international organizations—such as the European Union and the United Nations—to establish and protect religious freedom as a fundamental human right on all levels and in all countries. He said: “More and more is being said about it, but still too little is being done. It is difficult to believe that in a country like France there were more than 230 attacks on Christian churches and institutions last year. Also shocking were the events in Chile, where 40 churches have been desecrated and damaged since mid-October.”
Heine-Geldern expressed deep concern for the situation of Christians in Nigeria, where the Islamist terrorists of Boko Haram continue to brutalize people: “On Christmas Eve, in Kwarangulum, a Christian village in the state of Borno, was attacked by jihadists. Seven people were shot dead, a young woman was kidnapped and the houses and the church were burned down. Only a day later, ISIS West Africa Province released a video that reportedly showed the execution of ten Christians and a Muslim in north-eastern Nigeria. We are deeply distressed by this. We are celebrating while others are in mourning and live in fear.”
Heine-Geldern said that 2019 was also a disastrous year for Christians in Burkina Faso. He described how, little by little, Christians are being pushed out of some parts of the country. Schools and chapels have had to be closed. He said: “Our sources have reported at least seven attacks on Catholic and Protestant communities that have led to the deaths of 34 Christians – among them two priests and two pastors. Our project partners talk about attempts to destabilize the country, foment religious conflict and stir up violence.”
The plight of Christians in the Middle East continues to be a grave concern. In this context, Heine-Geldern cited the words of Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Kurdistan; the prelate has said that the 2014 invasion of northern Iraq by ISIS was only “one of many attacks on this community of Christians”. The archbishop had further said that the invasion had been preceded by a number of other attacks in recent history and “that, with every attack, the number of Christians in Iraq and Syria is reduced dramatically.” Archbishop Warda hast also noted that the escalating crisis in Lebanon exacerbates the situation of the Christians in the country, while also creating many obstacles for providing aid to Syria.
Heine-Geldern still looks back at last year with gratitude. “The beauty of our work is that, in addition to the cross and the suffering, we can also experience at first-hand the deep devotion and love of a large number of people. Take Syria as an example. A country that de facto is still at war and is suffering from the repercussions of war. Over the past few years, we have visited the country several times and it is awe-inspiring how everyone—dedicated lay people, religious sisters, priests and bishops, supported by the generosity of ACN donors—is doing everything possible to alleviate the spiritual and material hardships of the people.”
—Maria Lozano & Jürgen Liminski