Every year at Christmastime, I write my Sun column about persecuted Christians around the world. And every year, I pray that this will be the last year I have to do it.
In the past, I’ve written about disappearing Christian populations around the world.
In many parts of Asia, including Pakistan and China, Christians are harassed, persecuted and banned. In much of Africa, they are targeted and slaughtered by warlords and Islamist terrorist groups. And even in Europe, the birthplace of many of our Christian traditions, Christians have been attacked by terrorists in Christmas markets and churches.
The most intense examples of this troubling persecution is in the Middle East, where Christian populations have all but disappeared.
At the end of the First World War, about 100 years ago, it is estimated that one in five people in the Middle East was a Christian. Today, it is less than 4%.
Once vibrant Christian communities in places like Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Egypt no longer exist. While these countries once fostered pluralism and tolerance, rising Islamist fundamentalism has wiped out that diversity. The Muslim populations in Iran and Turkey now surpasses 99%.
Christians have been the victims of ethnic cleansing, targeted killings and genocide.
The year before last, I wrote about an Islamic State attack on a Coptic Christian church in Egypt. On Palm Sunday, one of the most important days in the Christian calendar, suicide bombers struck and murdered 44 Christians while they prayed.
These types of cowardly attacks on churches are sadly commonplace, and not just in the Middle East.
While it barely made news in Canada, a church was attacked in Burkina Faso earlier this month. On a Sunday morning while they were praying, the church’s pastor as well as five children and eight adults were murdered by jihadists, according to the BBC.
Christians are being targeted, and they remain the most persecuted religious group in the world.
Last Christmas, I wrote about a persecuted Christian villager named Asia Bibi in Pakistan. Bibi was attacked by a mob after she was accused of drinking water from a Muslim person’s cup. She was swarmed, and told to convert to Islam. When she refused, she was sent to jail and given the death penalty under the country’s twisted blasphemy laws.
This story has something of a happy ending. Bibi was acquitted by a high court, and Canada accepted her as a refugee earlier this year.
She still faces death threats, however. Just weeks after she arrived in Canada, a Pakistani man released a video online saying he had come to Canada, “to give Asia Bibi a terrible death and to send her to hell.”
“I also reached Canada last night,” said the man, whose identity remains unknown. “I am ready to die for the respect of Prophet Mohammed, and I will show that.”
Christians in the West comprise some of the wealthiest, freest, safest, most secure and privileged people in human history. This is, in part, because of our Christian values that make up the foundation of our tolerant and peaceful society.
But other Christians don’t have the same fortune. While we celebrate Christmas with our families, friends and loved ones, we should also commit to doing more — donating funds to Christian aid groups, sponsoring persecuted Christians through Canada’s private refugee program, and pressuring our leaders to stand up for persecuted Christians around the world.