Egyptian Christians carry the casket of a victim during a Nov. 3 funeral Mass outside Prince Tadros Orthodox Church in Minya for a group of pilgrims killed by gunmen as they headed to a monastery Nov. 2. CNS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters

Charles Lewis: We must open eyes to anti-Christian bigotry

  • November 14, 2018

There is something about distance, numbers and repetition that I have always found peculiar in terms of evoking reaction. I find this is especially true when thinking about anti-religious persecution.

When several people are killed in an incident close to home, attention is massive. Think of the awful event last month when a madman shot up the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh leaving 11 dead. Or think of Dylan Roof, who killed nine people at the Emanuel Episcopal Church in South Carolina in 2015.

Those events are visceral. Each of those obscene, cowardly attacks hit us hard because they were relatively close to home. 

Most of us take for granted the safety and peace of our houses of worship so when that is broken it is akin to being punched in the gut.

The same is true with numbers. The case of one person or a few hit by violence born of bigotry always seems more real than when the numbers are in the thousands. Big numbers for many of us are hard to relate to. We can see one or two but the greater the number of victims the less personal it seems.

A few weeks ago Islamic militants killed seven Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt. I am willing to guess that most people, like me, forgot about it quickly. We are so used to hearing about the repetitive anti-Christian violence in the Middle East that it is easy to become inured.

Felipe Bezerra, a co-ordinator with Aid to The Church in Need (Canada), a global organization and pontifical charity that aids embattled Christians, said what happened to the Copts was not an extraordinary event.

“Unfortunately, this horrific hate crime perpetrated by the Islamic State is close to becoming a norm,” he said in an interview. “Christians today are the most targeted groups of all religious groups in the world.  When we say most, we mean approximately 75 per cent of all acts of violence or hatred for religiously motivated reasons are perpetrated against Christians.”

The Coptic people are part of one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. No matter one’s Christian affiliation, the Copts were some of the first to worship Jesus as the Son of God. We might not be here today worshipping as we do if not for the Copts.

But the Copts are not alone.

“We have seen the most ancient groups of Christians displaced from their homelands in the cradle of Christianity by groups such as and affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS), such as the Nineveh Plains in Iraq — that invasion left behind thousands of dead and razed entire villages,” said Bezerra.

“The same can be said in many sectors throughout the Middle East. We could also drop down to Africa where Christians in Nigeria or Cameroon face persecution and death and slaughter on a daily basis because of their faith. We might go east, say to Pakistan, where at this very moment the story of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman — acquitted after nine years on death row of violating the (Islamic) blasphemy law — is unable to leave the country because of violent protests.”

To put anti-Christian violence into even more stark relief, here is what the group Open Doors reported earlier this year: “215 million Christians now experience high, very high or extreme levels of persecution; that means one in 12 Christians live where Christianity is illegal, forbidden or punished.”

Cardinal Thomas Collins has asked Torontonians to come together on Nov. 21 for a prayer vigil at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica to show their concern and offer support for their brothers and sisters in Christ. 

The day has been designated as Red Wednesday. It is not a Catholic Mass, said Bezerra, so other faith groups can participate fully

“During the vigil we are going to hear the word of God, a homily from Cardinal Collins and we will pray together,” Bezerra explained. “The main altar will be lit in red to remind us of the blood of the martyrs of this century.”

The hope is that Red Wednesday will also inspire participants to become more active in the fight against global anti-Christian bigotry and perhaps donate to, or volunteer with, groups like Aid to the Church in Need.

And even though these events are happening thousands of miles from where we live, showing solidarity with Christians under pressure will help, said Bezerra. 

“This reality affects us as a global community in Christ, our brothers and sisters are dying simply because of their faith. In Canada, we have no real experience with this level of persecution. We do know from the many contacts we have around the world with bishops and clergy and religious that when we speak out on their behalf, when we tell them we are praying for them, we are often told that their strength returns a little because they no longer feel alone.” 

The Red Wednesday event begins at 6:30 p.m. Information about Red Wednesday events can be found at 

(Lewis is Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Register.)


Comments (1)

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Catholics historically were more middle class, banking, and catholic services financiers. Christians are more about work and making things while Catholics are more focused on people? I just say American based faith or "ro(w)men" modern worker,...

Catholics historically were more middle class, banking, and catholic services financiers. Christians are more about work and making things while Catholics are more focused on people? I just say American based faith or "ro(w)men" modern worker, rowers, athletes. Catholics are the middle class Rules, laws, min welfare in welfare states ect, most others "commoners" are "Ro(w)man" and Anglicans are more West American, Asian, Islander a little different but also in the Catholic family. Latino, Indotinos, Asitinos… Africans are usually more Jewish or other Christian and that's for health reasons, African Americans are also Latino sometimes.

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