GENERAL SANTOS CITY (January 3, 2011) – The bombing of Asturias Catholic Church in Jolo last December 25 was not an isolated incident of violence against Christians in places where Muslims are in majority. Similar incidents happened in the Muslim countries of Iraq, Egypt and Nigeria – and perhaps, in others unreported by the media. Pilgrims in Bethlehem were threatened.
In Central Bagdad, Iraq, the Our Lady of Salvation Cathedral was attacked by Islamist militants last October. Agence Framce-Presse reported 51 killed – 44 worshipers, two priests and seven security men. The Associate Press cited Vatican’s figure of 68 and the New York Times reported “almost 60”. Christians in Iraq have been persecuted. Since the American invasion, only 500,000 of the 1.4 million Iraqi Christians have remained in the country with a population of 30 million.
In the city of Kano in northern Nigeria, Islamist militants attacked a church on Christmas Eve but no one was hurt as soldiers fought off the attackers. But in another city of Jos, eight worshipers were killed and eight others were wounded from a bomb attack.
Last Saturday, January 1, in the city of Alexandria, Egypt, a suicide bomber killed 21 and wounded 79 Coptic Christians. Egypt has a population of 80 million of which up to 8 million are Copts according to Agence France-Presse.
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, confirming police findings, said the bombers were foreigners and calling the bombing as “blind terrorism” that “does not differentiate between Copts and Muslims” and urged “people from both faiths to unite”. He vowed to punish the terrorists.
Pope Benedict XVI condemned the Jolo and Alexandria bombings and the persecution of Iraqi Catholics and other Christians. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the head of the Anglican Church “urged people to remember those across the globe who face persecution because of their Christian faith”.
Muslims were among those who condemned the Jolo bombing. Like in Iraq, Egypt and Algeria, the Jolo bombing was done by militant Islamists. Many Christians must be angry but they must know that militant Islamists do not represent nor speak for Islam.
Christian responses of Iraqi Christians in Bagdad are enlightening:
Rev. Meyasar al-Qaspotros celebrated Christmas Eve with congregants fewer than 100 in the Sacred Church of Jesus, a Chaldean Catholic church built for 500. He told his flock: “Yes, we are threatened, but we will not stop praying. We do not want to leave the country because we will leave an empty space. Be careful not to hate the ones killing us because they know not what they are doing. God forgive them.” (The New York Times, December 24, 2010)
Fr. Saad Sirop Hanna, head priest at the Chaldean Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Central Bagdad spoke to about 40 worshippers on Christmas Eve: “Do not fear – that is the message today.” (Agence France-Presse as posted in Inquirer.net, December 25)
In the same AFP report above, Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal, the Middle East’s senior Catholic bishop, offered a message of solidarity to Iraqi Christians in his midnight Mass at Bethlehem Church of the Nativity: “We recall the tragedy that struck the Christian community in Iraq [obviously referring to the October attack]. Such fanatic actions are universally condemned by Christians and Muslims.”
The Christians in Jolo Prelature – with the Oblate Fathers – could take consolation in the message of Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal. And may all Christians and Muslims unite in prayers and efforts to prevail on the militant Islamists to stop their terroristic activities. – (Patricio P. Diaz, General Santos City, January 3, 2011)