The rising incidence of Christian persecution in the world was the focus of The Lay Centre’s Washington Lecture last month, now available on YouTube. We are grateful to our friends at the Catholic Apostolate Center for producing this video and making it available.
In his lecture, Rev Prof Leo D. Lefebure noted particularly the Christian persecution in China, Vietnam, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, India and Algeria. In some cases, government officials are responsible for it; in other cases, the persecution is at the hands of militant groups.
The title of his Feb. 2 lecture, given at Georgetown Visitation, was: “‘You Will Be My Witnesses’ (Acts 1:8): Following Jesus Christ in a World of Conflict and Suffering.”
Fr Lefebure, who is the Matteo Ricci, S.J., Professor of Theology at Georgetown University, told those gathered that China saw more persecution against Christians in 2014 than in the past generation. Chinese government officials have been removing crosses, disrupting Christian activities and destroying churches, he said. Christians who do not in belong to government-recognized churches have been known to face harassment and imprisonment, including bishops, he added.
In India, Christians have been attacked and displaced from their homes, and churches have been vandalised and burned. Many of these crimes are not properly investigated, he said.
He also spoke of the Middle East, particularly of Iraq and Syria, where the situation “is difficult, even desperate.” In 2006, between 1.6 million and 1.8 million Christians lived in Iraq; now there are about 400,000, he said.
“We face the very serious danger that, especially in some areas of the Middle East, some Christians are leaving and may never return in the foreseeable future,” he said.
While “a number of the most difficult areas today involve relations with the Muslim community,” he said, “it’s still important not to project a monolithic, hostile identity onto Muslims.”
“There’s over a billion Muslims in the world. They often disagree sharply with the violence that is being done today against Christians and other minorities,” he said.
He attributed the primary cause of the violence against religious minorities to pervasive corruption in governments and society.
“Militant religious movements in such contexts often appear to offer a hope of an uncorrupted alternative and gain popularity for a time,” he said, citing an argument proposed by an American journalist.
Introducing the lecture, Dr Donna Orsuto noted the topic was chosen last August.
“Little did we know that the precarious situation of Christians and other minorities in the world would escalate even more than we could imagine,” said the director of The Lay Centre.
“The courage of these Christians offers us an example of discernment, solidarity and faithfulness,” she added.
Dr Orsuto also recalled her friendship with Fr Ragheed Ganni, a young Iraqi Chaldean priest who was assassinated in Mosul, after celebrating mass in June 2007. He had celebrated mass regularly at The Lay Centre chapel during his time of study in Rome.
“Ragheed and so many others remind us of the cost of discipleship and also the responsibility that we have to be in solidarity with these Christians and to work towards peace,” she said.