Rome (AsiaNews) – “Don’t forget us,” said bishops, priests and faithful from Mosul at the end of my visit to Kurdistan last January, as they prepared to bid me goodbye.
After being subjected to violence and threats from the Islamic State group and forced to choose conversion to Islam or death, they had abandoned the life they had built. Running into the deserts for days, they reached, exhausted and penniless, refugee camps the Iraqi Church had set up for them.
However, their poverty and total destitution were not the result of an abstract idea of perfection, but the consequence of their martyrdom and bearing witness. For them, faith was and is the most precious thing they had, something worth protecting even at the cost of everything else.
The Italian Bishops' Conference has organised a prayer vigil for the eve of Pentecost, which falls next Saturday. This event will be an important way of not forgetting, of coming together in a great action of prayer to God and a show of closeness to our brothers and sisters. Through this simple prayer, "we can break the wall of indifference and cynicism, far from any sectarian or ideological exploitation".
Indeed, this "wall of indifference and cynicism", the silence and apathy so often denounced by Pope Francis have become almost a fortress. It is not enough to have 21 young Copts beheaded, hundreds of young Kenyans killed, hundreds of Nigerian girls abducted, migrants thrown overboard, bishops abducted, churches destroyed; our world looks, shudders (perhaps), then looks elsewhere, going back to do whatever it was doing.
Sometimes it seems that people are mobilised and shocked more by lambs killed at Easter or at the Eid than by Christians killed as "lambs led to the slaughter house." As Italy’s Catholic bishops said in their press release, this happens because such issues can be easily manipulated.
The first kind of manipulation is confessional. Indeed, there is a tendency to stigmatise Islam as a whole because of the persecution of Christians, omitting the fact that it is Islamic fundamentalism that "kills in the name of God," not all Muslims. Indeed, many Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, are among the victims of fanatics and their literalist interpretation of the Qur‘an. Sadly, this means not going beyond a narrow defence of the western way of life, behind a draw-bridge that leaves other cultures and religions outside.
The second kind of manipulation is ideological, rooted in a tendency to talk only about violence perpetrated by the Islamic State group, saying nothing about the terror against Christians in North Korea or China, where bishops may disappear in police custody (as in China’s Hebei province); where priests are arrested, churches torn down and crosses removed from steeples; where young bishops like Thaddeus Ma Daqin of Shanghai are forcibly placed in isolation for resigning from the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the long arm of the Party in the life of the Church. It seems that political leaders and Church members become tongue-tied because of the need for good economic relations with the Chinese juggernaut.
Ideological exploitation is even more refined in the West. Post-Christian Europe appears to be increasingly uninterested in Christians. Perhaps indeed, if someone got rid of the latter, it would be doing them a “service”, and please a society based “solely of one's own ego and desires”, as Pope Benedict XVI put it, indifferent to what Christians say about the family, adoption, men, women, gender and indeed stigmatise Christian positions as "intolerant".
It is not an accident that, even in Italy, it is not Muslims who have a gripe with Christians over crèches or blessings, but school principals and mayors – who are neither Christian nor Muslim – who try to build schools and cities where religious identities are suppressed and where political power rules without religion.
As we pray for the victims of violent persecution on the eve of 23 May, it is important to pray for the victims of this kind of relativistic persecution. We must ask the martyrs of the Middle East, Asia and Africa to help Christians in the West to bear witness that religion is not synonymous with intolerance, that on the contrary, only religion can make reason more humane.
After all, 70 years after the end of World War II, is it still necessary to show how ideologies without God kill men?