United in bloodshed

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | January 29, 2015

Pope notes Christian persecution

Religious persecution around the world was a backdrop for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, held Jan. 18 to 25. When Pope Francis held an ecumenical prayer service at the Vatican Jan. 25, he noted that Christians are indeed united in bloodshed.

Violence against Christian communities continues to grow as religious extremists force their way into new cities and villages around the world. Pope Francis said that these terrorists do not make a distinction about the denomination a Christian belongs to. “They are Christians and for that (they are) persecuted,” he said. “This, brothers and sisters, is the ecumenism of blood.”

In the last year, two Muslim extremist groups have come to prominence, one in the Middle East and one in Africa. Since its formation in Iraq last June, the Islamic State (ISIS) has driven out or executed religious minorities in the region. They have committed atrocities in Syria and Iraq, forcing Christians to either pay a tax, convert to Islam or die.

In Nigeria, another militant Islamic group, Boko Haram, has been terrorizing Christian communities in the African nation. Their growth, fed by twisted faith and disdain of the Western culture, has forced civilians into abandoning their homeland.

Nigeria’s Catholic bishops have called for Western intervention to stop Boko Haram. According to news reports, more than 11,000 people have been killed by Boko Haram soldiers since 2009. Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme told Catholic New Service on Jan. 19 that nearly 70,000 of his 125,000-member diocese have fled their homes and about 1,000 have been killed. Boko Haram has destroyed more than 50 churches and chapels in the Diocese of Maiduguri. More than 200 churches have been abandoned in the past five years.

Boko Haram’s influence is spreading into the neighboring countries of Cameroon and Niger.

Archbishop Michel Cartateguy of Niamey, Niger, reported that 10 people were killed and another 200 injured Jan. 16 and 17. Nearly 50 Catholic and Protestant churches were set on fire.

On numerous occasions, Pope Francis has condemned violence in the name of religion. “War can never be waged in God’s name,” he said Jan. 21.

What good can come from these acts of violence? Pope Francis believes it offers an opportunity to unite Christians, as well as other faiths.

“Today the blood of Jesus, poured out by many Christian martyrs in various parts of the world, calls us and compels us towards the goal of unity,” he said last October.

Religious doctrine and practices have divided Christians for hundreds of years. Now the threat of death brings us together. May our prayers for peace help deliver Christian unity that has sorely been missing for too long.

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