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UK Foreign Secretary: Millions of Christians celebrate Easter under shadow of persecution

This poignant reminder of the grim reality of the persecution of Christians worldwide was published before the attacks in Sri Lanka that had churches as some of their principal targets. Those attacks, in which nearly 300 people were killed and 500 wounded, are an urgent reminder to the nations of the world that Christians today are the most persecuted religious group in the world. Let us pray that Jeremy Hunt’s words here will be heeded at the UN and all over the world, and that governments would move swiftly to alleviate the plight of Christians.

“Notre Dame was a tragedy. But in too many parts of the world it’s the Christian congregation that perishes, says JEREMY HUNT,” by Jeremy Hunt, The Mail On Sunday, April 21, 2019:

The Easter story begins with persecution but ends in salvation. A man is crucified for his faith, only to rise from the dead and re-join his followers, a miracle that we celebrate today.

But the sombre truth is that millions of Christians will today celebrate Easter while living under a similar shadow of persecution.

Many will be gathering in churches at risk of attack; countless more will have suffered threats or discrimination.

Some Christians will be worshipping at the scene of unspeakable atrocities. St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria, Egypt, for example, was the target of a terrorist attack on Palm Sunday in 2017 that killed 17 people.

In the southern Philippines, terrorists planted a bomb in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, claiming 20 lives during mass on January 27 this year.

The world was rightly shocked by the flames destroying Notre-Dame in Paris last week, a tragedy that touched our common humanity. In too many parts of the world, however, it is the congregations themselves who perish.

As the Prince of Wales wrote on Good Friday, there is something inexpressibly tragic about the innocent being murdered because of their faith.

There is a peculiar wickedness about hate-filled extremism that justifies murder because of the God someone chooses to worship. Of all the people who suffer persecution for their faith, it may surprise some to know that the greatest number are Christian.

In total, about 245 million Christians endure oppression worldwide, according to the campaign group Open Doors. And last year more than 4,000 Christians were killed because of their faith.

In 2015, Christians faced harassment from governments or social groups in 128 nations, according to the Pew Research Centre. By 2016, this had risen to 144. China imposes the ‘highest levels of government restrictions’.

In total, about 245 million Christians endure oppression worldwide, according to the campaign group Open Doors.

Should religious persecution matter in an increasingly secular world? The truth is that, if a regime tries to control what you believe, it will generally seek to control every other aspect of your life.

Where Christians are persecuted, other human rights are often brutally abused.

Yet the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed by the United Nations General Assembly without a single negative vote in 1948, enshrines ‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion’.

The declaration makes clear that everyone has a right to the ‘practice, worship and observance’ of their faith.

Britain has always championed freedom of religion or belief for everyone. In my first weeks as Foreign Secretary I prioritised the plight of the Rohingya Muslims, horrifically targeted by the army of Myanmar (formerly Burma.) But I am not convinced that our efforts on behalf of Christians have always measured up to the scale of the issue.

In the Middle East, for example, the survival of Christianity as a living religion now hangs in the balance. A century ago, about 20 per cent of people in the region were Christians; today the figure is below five per cent.

The bitter irony is that Christianity is retreating in the very region of its birth, where its earliest followers worshipped. Anxious not to offend minorities or appear ‘colonialist’ in troublespots around the world, British governments have occasionally taken refuge behind the principle that all religions must be protected.

But this must include Christianity, where those targeted are often extremely poor, female and living in or close to poverty….

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