Arab Spring turns to Winter?

0313_scotland.jpgBy John Pontifex
UK Charity head warns parliamentarians of disaster for Christians in Middle East

THE UK leader of a Catholic charity has warned Scottish parliamentarians that the Arab Spring is threatening to turn into a disaster for Christians in the Middle East – and Western indifference is making the problem worse.
Speaking at a fringe meeting of the Scottish National Party spring conference, Neville Kyrke-Smith of Aid to the Church in Need highlighted the plight of Christian communities especially in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, saying that in some regions the Church’s very survival is at risk.
During his address, given in Glasgow on Sunday (11th March), Mr Kyrke-Smith said: “The storms after the Arab Spring have hit or are threatening the Christian communities and other religious minorities in particular.
“The Christian communities in the Middle East have become almost paralysed by fear as they face huge difficulties which threaten their existence.”
Mr Kyrke-Smith was critical of what he termed “a religious correctness” – the failure to speak out in defence of religious freedom, especially for Christians.
He warned of the impact of such inaction on countries where religious freedom is under threat.
He said: “Maybe those seeking totalitarian control know that Christians are weakened and are vulnerable because of a lack of backing and backbone in the faith of Western Christians – they are easy targets.”
While acknowledging the widespread attacks suffered by other religious communities, Mr Kyrke-Smith pointed to evidence showing that Christians suffered the most – particularly in parts of the Middle East.
He said that in Iraq for example persecution of Christians was so severe that the faithful were putting their lives at risk by remaining in the country.
Mr Kyrke-Smith said Church leaders in the Middle East were fearful of fundamentalists taking power or Arab countries being split into “confessional states”.
He went on to warn of an exodus of Christians from countries such as Syria, following the example of Iraq where Christians had declined from 1.4 million in the 1980s to less than 250,000 today.
He quoted Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations, who earlier this month told the UN human rights council in Geneva that increasing restrictions on religious freedom affected more than 2.2 billion people.
The archbishop went on to say that attacks on Christians in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia and increased by 309 percent between 2003 and 2010.
Responding to Mr Kyrke-Smith’s address, John Mason, MSP for Glasgow Shettleston, said that, while there were some problems for Christians in the West, “it is hugely more difficult for Christians in many other parts of the world.
“We have to remember that Christianity is a Middle Eastern religion which has become a worldwide religion.”
Also speaking at the conference in Scotland was Dr John McArthur of the Church of Scotland who gave a report on violence and oppression against Christians in India and Pakistan.
He called on people to lobby parliamentarians in the UK and Europe for action to protect vulnerable minority religious groups.

Editor’s Notes

Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.

Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 130 countries throughout the world.

The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 162 languages and 48 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN’s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow.

While ACN gives full permission for the media to freely make use of the charity’s press releases, please acknowledge ACN as the source of stories when using the material.

For more information, contact John Pontifex, ACN UK Head of Press and Information 020 8661 5161 or John Newton, ACN Press Officer, 020 8661 5167.