Christianity is on course to disappear from parts of the Middle East

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• Charity’s report receives backing from Prime Minister David Cameron and a message of support from the Pope
By Clare Creegan
CHRISTIANITY looks set to disappear from key parts of the Middle East, according to a report due out today (Tuesday, 13th October) which highlights a worsening cycle of persecution.
Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians oppressed for their Faith 2013-15, compiled by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, concludes that if the exodus of faithful from Iraq continues at existing levels, the faithful could all but disappear within five years and that a faster rate of attrition is noted in Syria whose faithful have reportedly plummeted from 1.25 million in 2011 to as few as 500,000 today.
In a message to be read out at today’s launch of the report in the House of Lords, the Prime Minister states:
“Every day in countries across the world, Christians are systematically discriminated against, exploited and even driven from their homes because of their faith.”
Highlighting the UK Government’s commitment to promoting religious freedom, he describes ACN’s work as “crucial”, adding: “This [Persecuted and Forgotten?] report serves as a voice for the voiceless, from their prison cells, and the places far from home where they have sought refuge.”
The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, also sent a message of support for the charity’s report. She said:
“Only by publishing reports such as this and identifying the extent and scale of the problem can we hope to take steps to address the persecution of minorities that sadly still exists across the world.”
At today’s launch, another message will be read out from the Vatican stating: “His Holiness [the Pope] deeply appreciates the efforts of all involved in producing this report and in keeping before the world the plight and suffering of Christians persecuted for their faith.”
The message, to be read out by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations continues: “[the Pope] prays that those in positions of authority will diligently strive not only to eradicate religious discrimination and persecution in their own nations, but also to seek ever more effective ways to promote international cooperation in order to overcome these offenses against human dignity and religious freedom.”
Assessing 20 countries where persecution is severe, ACN’s Persecuted and Forgotten? report describes what it calls a “religiously motivated ethnic cleansing” of Christians by Islamist terror groups especially in Iraq and Syria but also in parts of Africa.
Examining countries of core concern in the Middle East and elsewhere such as China, Egypt, Eritrea, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Sudan, and Vietnam, Persecuted and Forgotten? draws on eye-witness reports and testimonies.
The report concludes that since 2013 the situation for Christians has worsened in 15 of the 19 core countries under review.
In 10 countries – more than half – the persecution is ranked “extreme” – up four from the last edition of Persecuted and Forgotten? report which covered 2011-13.
Ranking Islamism as the greatest threat, the 2015 Persecuted and Forgotten? report also highlights growing problems caused by other extremist religious groups – militant forms of Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism – with attacks increasing in number and ferocity.
Totalitarian regimes, notably China, have put increasing pressure on the Church, according to the report, with severe threats facing Christians in Eritrea and Vietnam.
The report notes that in many cases Christians are persecuted not so much because of their faith but because of their perceived links with the West and a view associating the faithful with colonialism.
Describing the report as “a shocking read for shocking times”, Persecuted and Forgotten? editor John Pontifex – Aid to the Church in Need’s UK Head of Press and Information – said: “A cultural genocide of Christians is erasing the presence of faithful from large swathes of the Middle East, the very heartland of the Church.
But he added: “Far from laying the entire blame for persecution against Christians at the door of extremist Islam, Persecuted and Forgotten? demonstrates that many of the problems stem from non-Muslim extremist – nationalist – faith groups and historically communist totalitarian regimes.”
The report states that the loss of Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere represents a blow to community relations as the faithful have acted as bridge-builders in increasingly fragmented societies.
Today’s London launch of Persecuted and Forgotten? takes place in the House of Lords at a meeting chaired by Christian persecution expert Lord David Alton of Liverpool, a trustee of Aid to the Church in Need.
Speeches will be given by UK Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood MP, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva and there will be a video message from Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster.
Witness testimonies of persecution will be given by Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria, teenager Victoria Youhanna, who escaped Boko Haram in northern Nigeria and Timothy Cho, originally from North Korea.
In the report’s foreword, Archbishop Jeanbart writes: “We are confronting one of the most important challenges of our 2,000 year history.
“Despite our problems here in the Middle East, we are doing everything we can to help those who lack food, clothes, or other essentials.”
As a charity supporting persecuted and other suffering Christians, Aid to the Church in Need is prioritising emergency aid and pastoral help for displaced and refugee faithful in the Middle East.
Archbishop Jeanbart’s foreword states: “By God’s grace, and with the continuing help of organisations including Aid to the Church in Need, we have been able to respond to the urgent needs of our people.”
Persecution witnesses will speak at public launch events for Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians oppressed for their Faith 2013-15:
• Wednesday, 14th October 2015 (7.30pm) – Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, Mount Pleasant, Liverpool L3. Free entry.
• Thursday, 15th October 2015 (7pm) – St Mary’s Cathedral, 20 Huntly Street, Aberdeen, Scotland, AB10. Free entry.
• Saturday, 17th October 2015 (10.30am) – Mass at Westminster Cathedral, Ambrosden Avenue, London SW1 followed by talks in the cathedral hall. Entry is by ticket only.
Information available from ACN on 020 8642 8668 or email

Editor’s Notes

For more information, contact John Pontifex, Head of Press & Information, on 07815 591427 and John Newton, ACN Press Officer, on 07891 920013.

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 Blessed 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 172 languages and more than 50 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.