Persecuted Christians tell their stories in Rome

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At the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See in Rome, Stand Together hosted this event to continue to give voice to persecuted Christians. The theme of the event was Christian persecution and vulnerability in times of Covid.

Among those present was Vatican Secretary of State, Card. Pietro Parolin. He offered hopeful encouragement, saying that initiatives like this one continue to make a difference for victims of religious persecution.

Secretary of State, Vatican
“We must never lose the hope that, through God’s grace and our efforts that cooperate with that grace, the mind and heart can change. St. Paul’s life and conversion are a wonderful example of how even those who were ardent persecutors of the faith became one of its principal defenders and preachers.”

The first guest speaker was Blessing Okoeyedon, a Nigerian human trafficking survivor. She explained that ethno-religious conflicts increase women’s risk of being trafficked, by leaving them to fend for themselves when their husbands are killed and their homes destroyed.

“I’ve understood that each of us, women victims of trafficking, always has a similar story, a story full of deceit, betrayal of trust and exploitation by organized criminals with the goal of making profit at the expense of others.”

Fr. Mussie Zerai, an Eritrean priest, shared his experience from 25 years working with refugees forced to flee their homes because of persecution. He said in Eritrea, religious freedom is limited, although the authoritarian government says otherwise because it allows Christians to pray in churches.

“However, if you want to talk about justice, or if you start to work with the poor, to talk about the rights of the poor, of young people—you’re not allowed to do that.”

Fr. Steven Azabo, an Iraqi priest from the Nineveh plains, spoke about the plight of Christians in his parish, who have faced a serious wave of violence since 2003, suffering kidnapping, torture and death. He remembers very well when in 2014 ISIS invaded Mosul, forcing many people to flee to villages in the Nineveh plains.

“From the beginning, their houses were marked with an Arabic letter “N,” for Nazarene. In other words, the “N” for Nazarene to indicate Christians. Underneath that they wrote in Arabic, ‘Property of the Islamic State.’”

The hope is that these testimonies can be yet another step to build a future where all religious groups can coexist in peace.