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Back to La arriesgada visita del Papa Francisco
Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, , Professor Emeritus of the School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra.
Pope Francis' risky visit to the African hornet's nest of the persecuted Church
As is well known, the persecution of Christians is not a new phenomenon; it began 2000 years ago and has not ceased. What is new is that this persecution today is more intense than in the first centuries of the Church and that it is causing many more martyrs, as Pope Francis has recently denounced. The "Center for the Study of Global Christianity", based in the United States, reports that about 100,000 Christians are killed every year because of their religious beliefs. Christianity is the most persecuted religious denomination.
This fact raises an inevitable question: Why? Part of the answer can be obtained by answering another question: Do the countries where persecution is strongest have something in common?
In the last report of "Religious Freedom in the World" that the organization "financial aid to the Church in Need" (ACN) elaborates every two years, it is affirmed that the right to religious freedom is being violated in 82 countries. It adds that among the countries where this right is most bluntly denied, two of them are communist (North Korea and China) and 14 are Muslim. The latter are promoting persecution linked to extremist Islam. The following seven are worth mentioning: Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Syria and Central African Republic.
The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has greatly increased the issue of murders, expulsions and escapes of Christians in that area of the planet. In Syria - according to the reliable testimony of several friends who were born there - before the current war Christians were respected in their worship by the Al Asad government, and were even helped by giving them free land so that they could build new temples.
Why are Christians being so persecuted in these countries? In my opinion, because Christianity poses a serious danger as a moral, cultural and social reference. Faith has a great liberating power and inspirational force, especially the Christian message of freedom, love, justice, forgiveness, hope and fraternity. The propagation of this message is not tolerated in order to avoid a loss of followers in the official non-Christian religion, which would be followed by a loss of political influence.
The Vatican has recently published the program of the trip that Pope Francis will make to Kenya, Uganda and the Central American Republic, from November 25 to 30, 2015. I will limit myself to comment on the visit to the latter country, which is in a technical state of war.
In response to an invitation from Archbishop Nzpalainga of Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, Pope Francis will visit the country on November 29-30. It is one of the most insecure African territories since the Muslim Seleka rebels staged a coup d'état in 2013. The coup plotters burned churches and looted parish houses, health centers and Caritas facilities. Thousands of Christians fled their homes and still do not dare to return.
Central African Christians are very excited about the Pope's visit but fear for their safety staff, especially after the new outbreak of violence in Bangui just two months ago. More than 40,000 people were forced to flee their homes.
What does the Pope intend to do? On the one hand, to promote reconciliation between Christians and Muslims. On the other hand, to be with those who have dead, wounded and displaced people in his family. On the first day, he will visit a refugee camp, hear confessions and celebrate Mass.
The Pope will be able to count on partnership from the local delegation of the organization "financial aid a la Iglesia necesitada" (www.ain-es.org). Werenfried von Straaten, whom John Paul II called "an extraordinary apostle of charity". Its main purpose is to inform and sensitize society about the status of the Church in need or suffering persecution anywhere in the world and apply for prayers for that intention. It also aims to be a bridge of charity to finance pastoral projects in countries where the Church suffers the most.
Christians living in countries where the Church does not have this problem cannot be indifferent. One way to channel our solidarity is through ACN, without forgetting to pray a lot for persecuted Christians, as Pope Francis is asking us to do:
"How many of you pray for persecuted Christians? Let each one answer in his heart: Do I pray for that brother, that sister, who is in difficulty to confess and defend his faith?"