Besides the periodical and meritorious reports of ‘Aiuto alla Chiesa che Soffre’ (Aid to the Church in Need), lacking in current affairs journalism in Italy until now has been a detailed and well reasoned study on the mounting spread of anti-Christian persecution around the world. This gap has now been filled by this collective essay penned by more than seventy scholars from various backgrounds and coordinated by the French journalist of La Croix, Samuel Lieven. In this work the authors focus continent by continent (except for Oceania alone) on the “Christian-phobia emergency”, as Benedict XVI had already defined the situation of a real ‘Christian hunt’ evident with alarming regularity for some time, and for all kinds of reasons, in so many and all too many critical areas of the planet. Objectively snap shot in nature, this overview narrates that what has been taking place since the beginning of the century, while the western world was still celebrating the unexpected and peaceful end to the Cold War, is a “worldwide war against Christians” (pg. 6), to quote the words of the Vatican specialist of the Boston Globe, John Allen. This is warfare being waged often for different reasons not always the same or even similar in the various parts of this world, but it nonetheless remains true warfare and not a series of accidental episodes. Perhaps this is why it still struggles for pride of place in the mass media. In fact, when the issue is raised in the wake of heinous acts of unprecedented violence, such as the attack at the cathedral of Baghdad (Iraq) on 31 October 2010 (58 victims, including two priests who were celebrating Mass), or the pogrom in the Indian state of Orissa launched by Hindu fundamentalists back in the summer of 2008 (500 victims, thousands of persons wounded, 5,000 homes destroyed, along with 350 churches and schools), what ordinarily doesn’t come to the surface is the organized framework of systematic anti-Christian violence as such, almost as if the religious element wasn’t the most relevant factor in absolute terms and actually the selfsame cause for the violence perpetrated. The fact of the matter is that “Christians are subject to forms of de iure or de facto oppression in 139 countries, in practically three-fourths of the societies on earth” (pg. 19). Moreover, the IGFM, (Internationale Gesellschaft für Menschenrechte) calculates that at present, “80% of all the acts of religious persecution perpetrated in the world concern Christians” (Ibid). Then there is the latest report of the USCIRF (United States Commission on International Religious Freedom), which “has singled out 16 nations that have committed brutal and systematic crimes against religious freedom, including torture, arrests and murders. Many have been the religious communities persecuted in those countries, but only one community is under attack in all sixteen: the Christian community”. (pg. 20). In brief, while scholars do not all agree on the aggregate figures of Christian-phobia – ranging from one martyr every hour to one every day – it is evident that, at present, “there are no doubts regarding the fact that Christians nowadays constitute the most persecuted confession on earth, and that this phenomenon has reached alarming dimensions” (Ibid).
As the saying goes, the spontaneous question immediately arising is this: why does silence seem to reign on the international scene? The authors of this study suggest the hypothesis argued by the French intellectual Règis Debray, who remarked that the anti-Christian persecutions “take place exactly in the ‘blind spot’ of western politics. The victims are ‘too Christian’ to generate interest on the part of the left wing, and ‘too foreign’ to attract the right wing” (pg. 24). Albeit paradoxical, this explanation is lucidly grounded: since the religious dimension is the connotation of the victims in primis, they do not attract any interest on the part of progressive politicians and left wing parties, which, in general terms, and at least in Europe, still look upon the religious ‘fact’ from a die-hard communist position whereby the faith appears as wreckage from the past, the fruit of a corrupt society, and sooner or later destined to disappear definitively. Nonetheless, at the other extreme of the political pendulum, the problem often has to do with the provenance of the victims, this being difficult to wed with mind frames focused on national or patriotic interests of concern. Unfortunately, therefore, the final result is an evident lack of any substantial interest on the part of elective bodies, no matter how they may be represented, with respect to what humanitarian organizations have already described as “a disaster of epochal proportions in terms of human rights” (pg. 27).
The authors then pass in review the well known and the less known theaters of this global, phenomenon; from Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia to Turkey, Nigeria and Sudan, without overlooking the ideological roots of persecution inherited from the last century, which John Paul II so eloquently referred to as “the century of Cain”. In particular, the historian Andrea Riccardi evokes the echo of Pope Wojtyla’s profound reflections on martyrdom, which had almost disappeared from the awareness of the ecclesial ‘corpus’, sustained as this pontiff was by the firm belief that “the persecutions suffered by Christians during the XX century were just as grave as the ones during the early centuries” (pg. 103). John Paul II knew this very well, also because he came from a people which, geographically speaking, had been at the very center of this mass violence during the ‘short century’: “During World War II more than 6 million Poles died as a result of Hitler-inspired violence, the aim of which was the physical and spiritual annihilation of that nation. More than 22% of the entire population died” (pg. 103). Nonetheless, “Pope Wojytla’s vision of martyrdom was not limited to Europe and forms of totalitarianism. John Paul II wanted to reawaken memories of the martyrdom of the XX century Christians of each country. He made this a special goal for the Great Jubilee of 2000 and set up a commission to gather documentation in this regard and compose a catalogue with the names of the ‘new martyrs’. In the apostolic letter promulgated in preparation for the Jubilee of 2000, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, the Pope resolutely affirmed: ‘At the end of the second millennium the Church has once again become a Church of martyrs’. His endeavor was partially successful, above all within the Christian world […]but failed to have much if any impact on the scenarios of western public opinion” (pg. 104). This is illustrated by the undeniable fact that – in the face of the revival of limitless persecution after the fall of Communism – public opinion in our respective societies just doesn’t seem to be interested in it at all. Also when, as illustrated by Prof. Roberto Morozzo della Rocca – professor of contemporary history at the Roma Tre University – persecution reaches the point of rubbing elbows with our daily life: for example, in the Balkans, where the Catholics in Bosnia and the Orthodox Christians in Kosovo are subject to grave discrimination on the part of Croatian and Albanian Muslims. On the other side of the Adriatic, in fact, the war of 1991 – 1995 doesn’t seem to have ever ended, and continues in other forms and new ways even after the Dayton peace agreements, as if the official reports of victims and damage during the conflict did not suffice: 8 priests and an unspecified number of religious and lay faithful killed, 133 churches razed to the ground and 113 seriously damaged, without even counting monasteries and cemeteries. Crystal clear in this case is how revived ethnic and nationalistic thinking promoted the new wave of persecution that has transformed the former Yugoslavia into a powder keg ever ready to explode from one moment to the next. Nonetheless remaining is the fact that, especially in Bosnia – as the Cardinal Archbishop of Sarajevo His Eminence Vinko Puljc has been denouncing for years – the presence of Catholics, once accounting for close to 17% of the population, has dramatically fallen to 8%. Moreover, if the de facto Diaspora favored and encouraged by the public authorities is not stopped, it is rather likely that the current number of 400,000 believers will continue to decline, with the ensuing consequences still to be seen for what is already a social-political situation in precarious balance.
In brief, the situation is Europe is not rosy at all, and this also for essentially cultural reasons. A case in point is France, where the regime of aggressive laicity institutionally founded at the basis of the pact of citizenship and the Constitution of the Republic has progressively led to an ideological highlighting of the public dimension of laicity not to be found elsewhere in the western world (for example, even the word ‘laicità’ has no equivalent in English or German). Therefore, historical merit may be attributed to this book and its authors for having homed in with due attention on the core theme of the main situations of suffering experienced by Christian communities today in the world. The focus concentrates especially on the Middle East and Central Africa, the two parts of the world most seriously affected in proportionate terms, and likewise the most complex to be monitored insofar as the domestic social dynamics and the external economic and geopolitical dynamics do not always appear very clear to outsiders expected or requested to express a global judgment. Nonetheless, in the light of the data provided, all the situations flagged in this book should always be at the very center of our individual and community prayers. If I might be allowed to voice a critique in the light of this book’s essential intent, it would have to do with what come across as the excessively optimistic tone and nature of the final considerations entrusted to Rev. Timothy Radcliffe. Present therein is nary a trace of a certain inability on the part of Muslim societies to come to terms with the modern codification of human rights on the international level (it is a fact that some governments still do not acknowledge the Universal Declaration of Human Rights dating back to 1948). In addition, there is the repeated yet insufficiently argued conviction that some economic processes of globalization may have had a negative impact on the social condition of some Christian communities in the world. In such contexts, however, it would seem that the problem is one of accepting ‘diversely-other-than-self’ with respect to the ideas and mores of the majority, as well as the politically instrumental manipulation of national identity. In any case, this is a precious opus to conserve, make known and keep in one’s library: in order to read it, consult it, and keep public debate ever alive in the ways and forms each person can use in his or her daily surroundings, and this before it is too late.
AA. VV., Il libro nero della condizione dei cristiani nel mondo (Black Book on the condition of Christians in the world), Mondadori, Milan 2015, Pgs. 604, Euro 20,00.