During an interview with reporters in mid-April, Kenyan Bishop Anthony Muheria described this dilemma currently facing Catholic pastors in his country: Should they teach their parishioners a line from the Quran to recite if and when asked about their faith by a Muslim terrorist seeking to kill Christians?
It is a jarring question, and one that underscores the treacherous reality of life for Christians in the Middle East and parts of Africa today. The grueling topic was raised in the aftermath of the killing of nearly 150 students at Kenya’s Garissa University College at the hands of the Muslim extremist group al-Shabab. In the April 2 incident, 700 students were taken hostage. Only the Christians were executed.
All of us are called to weather the storm of persecution with our Christian brethren.
In the aftermath, Bishop Muheria said the incident was met with “deafening silence” by the international media, a silence that only was intensified by the incident’s inevitable comparison with the worldwide outcry that followed the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris in January. “Are lives not worth the same?” he asked.
In addition to no televised protest, no march of solidarity and no visit by heads of state after the Kenya attack, there was no direct condemnation of the targeting of Christians. Indeed, while President Barack Obama did issue a statement mourning the deceased, he made no mention that those killed had been singled out because of their Christian faith. Other world political leaders were equally as muted.
The members of this editorial board take great umbrage to this and strongly declare that Christianity can no longer afford such silence. Should the targeting of the followers of Jesus Christ continue, particularly in the Middle East and Northern Africa, but also in India, China and elsewhere around the world, Christians will end up on a path to extinction in the land of their birth.
Perhaps such appalling events would be more shocking in the eyes of the world were they less common. But stories of violence against Christians are becoming all too routine.
It’s time for this to change. From Church leaders to Catholics at the parish level, protection for our Christian brothers and sisters should not only be discussed, but demanded. Solidarity should not only be promoted, but prioritized. As Pope Francis said recently, “The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard by everyone who can still distinguish between good and evil. All the more this cry must be heard by those who have the destiny of peoples in their hands.”
Each of us plays a role in that destiny, and all of us are called to weather this storm with our Christian brethren. At the parish level in particular, we are called to pray, give and raise awareness in solidarity with the men and women whose faith we share. Priests could commit to speaking about Christian persecution regularly in homilies or at the end of Mass. A parish could take up a special collection for aid organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, Aid to the Church in Need or Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Parishes could schedule a speaker to discuss the issues. Catholics also can stay informed via Catholic media. OSV Newsweekly pledges to continue covering the stories you won’t find anywhere else.
As in the days when members of the Church so adamantly countered the threat of communism in the Western world, we are in need of a similar grassroots groundswell on behalf of Christians around the world.
To remain silent is to abandon them. It is time to speak out.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor