Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Where murder stalks the streets

Over the past century, Christians have gone from 20 per cent of the population of the Middle East to less than four per cent today.

Syria used to be one of the easiest places in the Arab world to be a Christian, with Christians respected by the Muslim majority. That changed with the outbreak of hostilities in 2011. Tens of thousands of Christians have been displaced from their homes by threats and violence.

Some 450,000 Christians have fled the country. The city of Homs was almost completely cleared of its 50,000 to 60,000 Christians. Houses have been ransacked, and believers kidnapped for ransom or murdered.

The United Nations says at least 126,000 Syrians have been killed since March, 2011.  One commentator says the true figure may be nearer 200,000. According to the BBC, there are believed to be as many as 1,000 armed opposition groups in Syria, commanding an estimated 100,000 fighters.

Christians throughout Syria are suffering a harsh winter. Many Christians are trapped in Aleppo, where they have been suffering heavy snow and temperatures from minus seven to minus 10 degrees without fuel for heating.

Thirteen nuns seized in Maaloula, as well as two kidnapped archbishops, Yohanna Ibrahim and Boutros Yazigi, are still held.

In Iraq, before 2003 there were around 1.2 million Christians. Today there are as few as 200,000. Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes, mostly to other countries. Christians have been robbed, kidnapped and murdered. Migration is constant.

Sunni militants have stepped up attacks across Iraq, while Shia groups began deadly reprisals, raising fears of a return to full-scale sectarian conflict. In 2013, at least 2,818 civilians and 1,050 members of the security forces were killed.

At least 37 people were killed in two separate bomb attacks on Christmas Day. One bomb exploded outside St John's Catholic Church as worshippers were leaving, killing at least 26. Another bomb went off in an outside market in a Christian neighbourhood, killing at least 11. Around 60 people were injured.

In Egypt, 207 churches were said to have been attacked during 2013. In August, 80 churches were destroyed in two days.

Gunmen fired on people leaving a church wedding in Cairo, killing two adults and two children. Christian girls continue to be kidnapped for forced conversion to Islam and marriage to Muslim husbands. Many Christians live in poverty.

With the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi and the outlawing of the Muslim Brotherhood, a new draft constitution written in December offers some hope for Christians. It promises freedom of belief for Muslims, Christians and Jews, and lifts restrictions on the construction and renovation of church buildings. It is not clear whether Christians will be able to share their faith and whether people will be able to change their religion without consequences.

Pray for these nations.

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