“The world has turned away from Nigeria. A genocide is taking place, but no one cares,” laments Fr. Andrew Adeniyi Abayomi, associate pastor of St. Francis Church in Owo, Ondo State, Nigeria.
What gives him the certitude that a genocide is taking place in his country? For one thing, he lived through an attack on his church this past Pentecost Sunday, when gunmen killed at least 40 parishioners during Mass. He said that although the attack lasted 20 harrowing minutes, while he shielded frightened children and others in the sacristy, “nearby security personnel and police failed to come to our rescue.” Fr. Abayomi writes the foreword to Aid to the Church in Need’s new report “Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians oppressed for their Faith 2020-22.”
ACN, a Catholic charity serving the pastoral and humanitarian needs of the persecuted and suffering Church, reports that more than 7,600 Christians were killed in Nigeria in the period under review – October 2020 to September 2022.
“Christians are killed all across Africa, their churches attacked and villages razed to the ground,” Fr. Abayomi said. “In Pakistan, they are unjustly detained on spurious charges of blasphemy. Underage Christian girls are kidnapped, raped, forced to convert and marry middle-aged men in countries such as Egypt, Mozambique and Pakistan. In China and North Korea, totalitarian governments crush the faithful underfoot, monitoring their every move.”
Increase in 75% of countries
The new report says that in 75% of countries surveyed, the oppression or persecution of Christians increased in the period under review. It says that in Asia, state authoritarianism has been the critical factor causing worsening oppression against Christians in Myanmar, China, Vietnam and elsewhere.
“Indicators strongly suggested that, over the period under review, the persecution of Christians continued to worsen in core countries of concern,” says the report. “Religious nationalism and authoritarianism intensified problems for the faithful – including the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, which prompted Christians and other minorities to attempt a desperate scramble to escape. Systematic violence and a climate of control meant that in countries as diverse as North Korea, China, India and Burma, the oppression of Christians increased. At the same time, escalating violence – often aimed at driving Christians out – meant that the faithful suffered some of the world’s most vicious campaigns of intimidation orchestrated by militant non-state actors.
Threshold of genocide
“Of particular concern in this regard is Africa, where extremism threatens previously strong Christian communities,” the report continued. “In Nigeria and other countries, this violence clearly passes the threshold of genocide.”
It also said that “extreme Christian persecution” in North Korea had “reached the threshold for genocide, with reports of murder, forced abortions and infanticide, and slavery.”
750 of 1000 in a church, killed
One of the most horrifying events detailed in the report was the November 2020 attack on the Ethiopian Orthodox Maryam Tsiyon Church in Aksum, where the Ark of the Covenant is believed to be located. A local source told Aid to the Church in Need that he had heard that there were 1,000 people in the church when the attack occurred. The source said that “750 were killed for sure.”
Amnesty International verified the report after speaking to 41 survivors and witnesses. “Eritrean troops fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray state systematically killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in the northern city of Axum on November 28-29, opening fire in the streets and conducting house-to-house raids in a massacre that may amount to a crime against humanity.”
Worse in Qatar
Of current interest, conditions for Christians have gotten slightly worse in Qatar, the Gulf state where the World Cup is about to begin. “Despite improvements, including removing some anti-Christian references in school text books, there has been a sharp rise in reports of intolerance.”
Some positive news
The report did contain some positive news, though. Out of the seven Middle Eastern countries surveyed, Iraq actually saw an improvement for Christians. “A comprehensive post-Daesh [the Islamic State group] stabilization program involving the rebuilding of Christian towns and villages, homes, schools, churches and other public facilities was crowned by the long-awaited Papal visit of March 2021,” it said.
The report concluded that governments are “starting to recognize the importance of freedom of religion or belief,” but there’s a long way to go to ensure the protection of Christian minorities in many corners of the world.
“Part of the problem,” it said, “is a cultural misperception in the West that continues to deny that Christians remain the most widely persecuted faith group.”