Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation

Blood Ecumenism

In Terris 01.03.2024 Giacomo Galeazzi Translated by: Jpic-jp.org

Religious freedom is in danger. Pope Francis speaks of 'ecumenism of blood'.  Recalling that "in some countries they kill Christians because they wear a cross or have a Bible. And before killing them, they do not ask them if they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox”. Insofar, ‘we are united in one wound'.

Anti-Christian persecution keeps growing: the danger is increasing especially in Africa. Never so intense as in the last three decades. More than 365 million Christians experience a high level of persecution and discrimination in the world (1 Christian in 7). North Korea is stable in the first place. SOS for Sub-Saharan Africa too: the more it destabilises, the more religiously based violence spreads.  The persecution figures are frightening: 4,998 Christians killed, with Nigeria the epicentre of massacres, 14,766 Christian churches and buildings attacked, 3,906 Christians kidnapped.

Religious freedom in danger

Jorge Mario Bergoglio has set up a Commission to give a name, a face and a story to the many unknown Christians who have lost their lives in recent years to bear witness to the Gospel. Journalist and writer Maria Acqua Simi was awarded the journalism prize of the Swiss Association of Catholic Journalists for one of the reports she wrote as a correspondent in Iraq. She has collected some of the stories of the new martyrs.

"Who are those who are still being persecuted and killed for their faith in Christ? - asks the Middle East expert -. It is not a question of numbers; it never has been. Even if - as Pope Francis recalled when he announced that he had established at the Dicastery of the Causes of Saints the Commission of the new martyrs-witnesses of the faith, in view of the Jubilee of 2025 - 'martyrs are more numerous in our time than in the first centuries. They are bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, lay people and families, who in the different countries of the world, with the gift of their lives, have offered the supreme proof of charity'. Hence Francis' idea to collect all their stories, on the path already traced by Benedict XVI and John Paul II”.

Karol Wojtyla, in fact, in his letter Tertio millennio adveniente had forcefully recalled that everything must be done so that the legacy of the "unknown soldiers of God's great cause" is not lost. This is precisely what Francis has repeatedly called 'ecumenism of the blood'.


"Some of their lives are well known, others less," says Maria Acqua Simi. “Many will remember the killing of Jesuit Frans van der Lugt in Syria, in Homs, in April 2014. Father Frans, of Dutch origin, had been living in the Middle Eastern country since 1966 and had refused to leave his community when the war broke out. He was the last priest left in Homs and in a letter to his superiors, a few months before he was killed, he wrote: 'Here out of tens of thousands of Christians only 66 are left. How can I leave them alone? The Syrian people have given me so much, everything they had. And if people are suffering now, I want to share their pain'. And how can we forget the image of the 21 kneeling Coptic Orthodox Christians, wearing the orange jumpsuits used by Isis for prisoners, summarily executed on the Libyan coast on 15 February 2015 by terrorists?"

Their sacrifice was also recognised by the Catholic Church, which included them in Roman Martyrology. As a sign of spiritual communion with the Coptic Orthodox Church led by His Holiness Tawadros II, the Pope of Alexandria.

Maria Acqua Simi continues: "There are names that bring to mind other similar stories, such as that of Sister Maria De Coppi, a Combonian nun killed in a terrorist attack in Mozambique in 2020. Or that of Fr Jacques Hamel, the parish priest of the French town of Rouen whose throat was slit on the altar of his church while he was celebrating Mass. The same thing happened to Father Olivier Maire, killed in 2022 by a Rwandan who months earlier had set fire to the cathedral in Nantes”.

The new martyrs

"And what can we say about the many religious men and women killed in Mexico, Nigeria, Haiti for opposing narcos, militiamen or armed gangs? - adds Maria Acqua Simi -. Among them was Sister Luisa Dell'Orto, murdered on 25 June 2022 in Port-au-Prince, capital of the Caribbean Island. For twenty years she had worked in Haiti in a centre, Kay Chal (Saint Charles House) where she took in the city's poorest orphaned children. The list is endless. It touches every continent and does not only concern consecrated persons. There are in fact thousands of Christians, and among them many young people, killed in hatred of the faith. Many of them are unknown. In Uganda, a commando of armed men entered the dormitories of a school in Mpwonde at night and, after asking those present of the Muslim faith to leave, they slaughtered Christian boys and girls aged 12 to 17 with machetes”.

The account is stark. After the violence, they locked the doors of the dormitories and set everything on fire. Thirty-seven children and four adults, including the director of the institute, who had rushed to the aid of the students, died. Their bodies could not be identified because they were completely burnt.

In the crosshairs

"Who were those kids? What families and what lives did they have? What did it mean to them to be Christians and to sing praises together every night (as one of the survivors testified) while sharing study days with other Muslim students? What must they have been thinking while they were being killed? - wonders the author of many reports in the Middle East -. A question that also applies to Maryam, who saw her husband and children die in Mosul in 2015 for opposing Islamic State militiamen; that also applies to Basharat Masih, a Pakistani Christian widower and father murdered in revenge. He had fought to bring home his 12-year-old daughter, Hoorab, kidnapped in December by a trader who had forcibly converted her to Islam in order to marry her. We would also like to be able to tell and give a face to the thousands of Christians killed in recent years in Kenya, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Colombia, Mexico, India, Sri Lanka. The list is long and painful. However, the martyrdom of Christians is not only the work of fanatical terrorists. It is often the governments of countries where the Christian community is a small minority that persecute them”.


"Suffice it to think of North Korea, where the dictatorship considers religions a distortion of the system," explains Maria Acqua Simi. “Anyone found in possession of a Bible or religious symbols risks the death penalty or being interned in prison camps (according to Open Doors there are at least 70,000 Christians detained without trial in the country), where rape, forced labour and summary executions are the norm. It is no better in Afghanistan, where the Christian community lives in hiding for fear of the Taliban regime, or in China where religious freedom is a mirage."

Often these states persecute not only Christians but also other religious minorities. As in the case of the Uighurs confined to the illegal Chinese labour camps in Xinjiang. Or of Myanmar, which kills and forces into exile the Rohingya Muslims, victims of real ethnic cleansing.

The journalist as a writer points out: "In recent years Pope Francis has wanted to be close to all of them with his trips from Iraq to Africa, passing through Turkey, Armenia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Myanmar, among others. And with the choice of this Commission. Because ecumenism, as he has recalled several times in his travels, is not mere diplomacy, strategy. It is a path of conversion asked of everyone. A journey that also passes through rediscovering unity between the different Churches, also by looking at the martyrs of yesterday and today”. Precisely because "we are united in a single wound".

See, SOS libertà religiosa. Un cristiano su 7 è in pericolo

Leave a comment

The comments from our readers (2)

Paul Attard 02.04.2024 I hope Europe realises what is happening to Christians throughout the world, but I fear not. Europe has lost its way.
Bernard Farine 02.04.2024 Ce texte relève d'un constat qu'on ne peut contester. Il fait bien la distinction entre le terrorisme islamique, qui s'attaque aux chrétiens en particulier, et la position d’États totalitaires qui, soit s'opposent à toutes les religions, soit s'attaquent aux religions qui ne sont pas la religion officielle ou celle de la majorité. Sur le premier point, l'exemple du prêtre de Nantes est hors du champ indiqué car il est le fait d'une personne déséquilibrée, malade psychiatrique, contrairement à la situation de St Étienne du Rouvray, près de Rouen ou encore celle des fidèles, dont le sacristain, de l'église de Nice. Sur le second point, il faudrait citer le Vietnam (qui réprime plus qu'il ne tue), mais aussi l'Inde qui, quoique démocratie, est en train d'instaurer l'hindouisme comme religion d’État en s'attaquant d'abord aux musulmans, principale minorité religieuse, puis, plus sournoisement aux chrétiens.