Cardinal Thomas Collins speaks at A Service of Prayer for the Persecuted Church April 10 in Toronto Photo by Evan Boudreau

Christians unite under ‘fires of persecution’

  • April 12, 2016

TORONTO – The “fires of persecution” are bringing Christians worldwide closer together, a number of faith leaders in Toronto believe.

A global trend of persecuting Christians is bringing greater unity among the different traditions which follow Christ, the faith leaders said April 10 at A Service of Prayer for the Persecuted Church held at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church in midtown Toronto.

“The common experience of persecution of Christians has brought Christians together despite their differences,” said Cardinal Thomas Collins. “There has never been a time when Christians have been so persecuted. So it is good for us to come together to celebrate our common faith in Jesus Christ and to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being persecuted around the world.”

According to the Institute for the Global Study of Christianity, about 100,000 Christians are dying annually due to their faith with countless others being forced from their homelands. A driving force behind this devastation is the rise of terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State, who have been gaining momentum, particularly in the Middle East, since 2009.

Since then the number of Christians in Iraq has been reduced from about 1.5 million to fewer than 200,000. In neighbouring Syria, more than half of the Christian population has been killed or forced to flee. Similar stories are playing out in more than 60 countries worldwide, including Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia.

“The darkness of persecution that so many of our brothers and sisters are experiencing in this world is because of their faith,” said Collins. “That draws us together. Christian unity and ecumenism have been forged in the fires of persecution.”

Those words echoed within the church, where about 140 gathered in the pews to hear Collins joined by a number of other religious leaders, including Rev. Terry Smith, executive minister of the Canadian Baptist Ministries, Fr. Damian MacPherson, director of the Office of Ecumenical & Interfaith Affairs for the Archdiocese of Toronto, and Rev. Israel Obieje, who fled Nigeria after extremists burned his church to the ground.

Obieje said his church is one of about 400 in the northeastern region os Nigeria reduced to charred remains since 2009.

“All of those churches have been destroyed and burned and most of the pastors have been killed and several of the parishioners have been killed,” said the refugee priest. “They are after Christianity. If you call yourself a Christian then you are a target.”

Now in Canada, Objieje and his wife, Christiana, have been praying to see the violence against Christians end in their native land. “The violence carries on and there is no end in sight,” he said. “We pray for them to stop it.”

It isn’t just overseas where Christians and their faith are under threat, said Collins.

“There is a second threat, more subtle but also dangerous, that we here in Canada face,” he said. “It is the danger not of persecution but the danger of seduction. This challenge is growing ever stronger in our home and native land.”

“We are being seduced by commercialism, by materialism, every day of our lives,” said Randall Speller, a member of Yorkminster Park Baptist congregation. “You can’t walk onto the subway, you can’t turn on the radio, you can’t turn on your cellphone without being appealed to for some kind of consumer good, some product that you have to buy. It is endless, it is constant and we aren’t meant to be endlessly distracted from real issues in our lives.”

While Collins did not deny that the journey away from persecution and seduction will be lengthy, he did say there is strength to be found for Christians in the modern-day martyrs.

“We need to be inspired by the examples of those who not only live for Christ but have died for Christ,” he said. “(They’re) making God’s presence known in this world, this world which is as dark as we hear in the beginning of the Gospel of John when the light came into the darkness and darkness did not overcome. We must ensure that the memory of those who are martyred are not lost.”

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