Christmas is an opportunity to reflect upon how fortunate many of us are to spend time with loved ones, particularly after a devastating year like 2020.
But for many Christians around the world the holiday season offers no respite from suffering and persecution.
Christians are Suffering around the World
Many Christian families in Aleppo have suffered since the Syrian civil war started in 2011. Furthermore, the coronavirus pandemic has made things worse for them in many ways, because those who have needed urgent hospital treatment have been left at a particular disadvantage due to the unsuitability of many hospital beds badly damaged by the conflict.
In the city, large numbers of Christians live in extreme poverty. Because of Syria’s circumstances, many have lost their jobs and their survival becomes increasingly difficult each day.
The Church of Aleppo, which has been on the front-line since the beginning of the war, has informed the Catholic foundation Aiuto alla chiesa che soffre (Aid to the Church in Need) that supports Christians wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in need, that 6,190 Christian families with children and the elderly are in need of help. They are working hard to provide these families with a new emergency initiative that will help them with food and medicines.
Aiuto alla chiesa che soffre is also aiming to help the diocese of Maiduguri in Nigeria, which includes the city of Baga in the Nigerian state of Borno. The area was previously invaded by the violent Islamic extremist group Boko Haram. The invasion caused 8,000 women to become widows. The Catholic foundation aims to build a center designed to allow Christians who have been sexually abused by Boko Haram terrorists, as well as countless widows, to be adequately assisted by a team of experts.
China and Pakistan are ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ for Christians
Nigeria and Syria are not the only countries where Christians are suffering. The US again recently designated Pakistan and China as “countries of particular concern” for their “systemic and egregious violations of religious freedom.” The Trump Administration further noted that these nations’ treatment of Christians and other religious minorities “could lead to the imposition of certain sanctions against them.”
In particular, this is because China authorized the formation of the “Administrative Measures for Religious Groups” in February this year. The laws aim to strengthen the Chinese Government’s resolve against unregistered church gatherings, stipulating stiff fines for participants, and those who host such activities. According to Christianity Today, many Chinese Christians would agree that restrictions on religious freedom are increasing in Xi Jinping’s China.
Furthermore, Pakistan also has many anti-Ahmadiyya laws and enforces the culture of impunity for violence against religious minorities including Christians, leading to a culture of false accusations against Christians of blasphemy and religious-fueled violence.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also added Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan to the list of nations that are currently violating the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
Some Areas are Getting Better for Christians
Despite this, some Christians are experiencing positive changes across the world. In the Central African Republic, Bambari’s Kidjigira market remained a no man’s land separating the Muslim and Christian districts of Bambari. However, since 2017, international donors and humanitarian agencies have helped transform the town into a place where people of all faiths could come together.
Iraq has experienced an exodus of Christians in recent years, and Pope Francis’ visit in March 2021 is being viewed as an opportunity to support all Iraqis. Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “It also represents a message of peace to Iraq and to the region as a whole.” The Pope has long sought a trip to Iraq and told a meeting of Catholic aid agencies last year that he wanted to travel there in 2020.
As Christmas approaches around the corner, it is important to remember that the festive season celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, who founded the Christian religion. There will be no opportunity for many Christians around the world to celebrate this occasion in a safe and secure environment.
We can only hope that their fortunes change soon.