5 Countries Where Christians Celebrated Easter Despite Persecution

Easter this year was a time of mixed emotions for the Christians who live under pressure for their faith. While political and religious leaders called for peace, reconciliation and brotherhood, Christians in countries like Syria and the Philippines continued to face violence and its consequences.Below, World Watch Monitor gives a snapshot of what Easter 2018 looked like in some of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

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In war-torn Syria, the Catholic community in the city of Aleppo celebrated Holy Week with a mixture of hope and scepticism, Bishop Georges Abou Khazen told AsiaNews. The Apostolic Vicar of the Catholic Church said: “We have experienced death and destruction but at the same time we have lived great testimonies of love and solidarity. The war continues and new victims die every day, an exaggerated number of deaths. People continue to flee from the country. Faced with all this suffering we cannot remain deaf and impassive; even after eight years we cannot resign ourselves to the logic of violence and war.”

 

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In the Philippines, 7,000 of Marawi’s 400,000 displaced citizens were able to visit their homes on Easter Sunday for the first time since the Philippine army liberated the city, which is on the southern island of Mindanao, from Islamist militants in October.

It followed a day of protests on Good Friday when, according to Catholic news site UCAN, thousands gathered to demand the opportunity to visit and pray in their devastated city. The protestors also claimed displaced residents had been mistreated by the government.

 

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People in Indonesia defied fears of growing Islamist extremism when Muslims joined Christians in celebrating Holy Week. Following dance performances by dozens of young Muslims during a procession on Good Friday in Ambon, capital of the south-eastern Maluku Province, Bishop Canisius Mandagi told the UCAN: “This is an example of where religion becomes a unifying tool and this religious celebration becomes a bridge to strengthening relations”.

Meanwhile Jakarta’s Catholic Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo toldChristians they “should go out and mingle with people from different backgrounds. This is a very important thing to do right now”. In his Easter message he also challenged the “money, power and prestige” that, he said, have become “serious challenges to national unity in Indonesia”, as “money is spent to gain power through bribery and corruption.”

 

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For Catholics in the mountainous north-western part of Vietnam, Holy Week was marked by the first ever visit by a bishop since Catholic communities were established in the area over a century ago, reported UCAN. Bishop John Mary Vu Tat of Hung Hoa, in Hanoi, travelled 160km north-west to Yen Bai Province, where he visited nine parishes, sub-parishes and mission stations.

He baptised and administered Confirmation to members of the ethnic minority Hmong people group during an Easter Mass at Vinh Quang Church, which was attended by 2,000 people. A Paris-based Vietnamese human rights group recently expressed concern about an increase of attacks against religious minorities, like the Hmong Christians, in the Southeast Asian country.

 

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In Israel, 13 church leaders in Jerusalem issued a joint Easter message on Good Friday as violence erupted between Palestinians and Israeli security forces along the Israeli-Gaza border. “We pray to almighty God that people who are walking in the way of the cross may find it the way of hope, peace, and life,” they said.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Christianity’s holiest site, was visited by hundreds of pilgrims on Easter Sunday. This following its closure in Februarywhen churches protested against the municipality’s plan to end the tax-exempt status with regards to commercial properties the churches hold.

 

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Pope Francis addresses the crowd gathered in St Peter’s square on 2 April 2018.

In his Easter message, Pope Francis remembered the people in Syria and other conflict zones in his annual Urbi et Orbi (‘To the City and the World’). He called for reconciliation in the Middle East and other regions, and told tens of thousands gathered in Rome’s St Peter’s Square that the resurrection of Christ “bears fruit even today in the furrows of our history, marked by so many injustices and violence”.

‘Brotherhood’ was one of “the most precious fruits of Christ’s resurrection”, the Pope told pilgrims on Easter Monday. “Jesus tore down the wall of division among men and restored peace, beginning to weave the web of a new [sense of] brotherhood. It is so important in our time to rediscover brotherhood, just as it was experienced in the early Christian communities. There can be a no true communion nor commitment to the common good and social justice without brotherhood and sharing,” he said.

Meanwhile, Prince Charles focused his Good Friday message on the plight of those persecuted for their faith, telling them in a video message that they were “not forgotten and that they are in our prayers”. The prince recently met with Church leaders from the Middle East, including the Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, whose diocese has been taking care of thousands of families who fled Islamic State in 2014.

 

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Four Christians Killed, Girl Wounded in Easter Monday Attack in Pakistan

Body of Firdous Masih after attack in Quetta, Pakistan. (Morning Star News)

LAHOREPakistan (Morning Star News) – Four Christians, including a woman, were killed and a young girl wounded in a terrorist attack in Pakistan on Monday (April 2), sources said.

Rickshaw driver Pervaiz Masih was transporting his brothers-in-law Imran Masih and Tariq Masih, along with their sister-in-law Firdous, in Quetta, capital of the restive province, when two unidentified terrorists opened fire on them, killing them instantly, according to the driver’s cousin, George Anjum. The visitors had just boarded the vehicle when they were attacked.

Pervaiz Masih’s 12-year-old daughter, Sidra, suffered bullet wounds and was receiving treatment at Quetta’s Civil Hospital. Her life was said to be out of danger.

The rickshaw driver lived in Quetta, while his relatives were visiting from Sheikhupura District, Punjab Province, to celebrate Easter, Anjum told Morning Star News.

“Imran had especially traveled to Balochistan to celebrate Easter with his sister in Quetta,” he said. “Their elder brother Emmanuel, whose wife Firdous is among those killed, makes a living as a rickshaw driver. He was inside the house when the attack took place. The poor man will now have to bring up his three minor children – two daughters and a son – all by himself.”

The bodies of the three visitors reached Lahore today for burial in their native Narangmandi, Sheikhupura District.

Bodies of slain Christians arrive home after arrival from Quetta. (Morning Star News)

Bodies of slain Christians arrive home after arrival from Quetta. (Morning Star News)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Islamic State (IS, also known as Daesh), claimed responsibility for the attack but presented no supporting evidence. An IS statement said that a “covert unit” of ISIS militants “managed to target a number of the combatant Christians.” It added that the assailants “shot them with a pistol, which resulted in the killing of four of them, and all praise is due to Allah.”

Police found 9mm bullet casings at the scene of the attack.

After a suicide bombing at a Methodist church in Quetta in December, a week before Christmas, IS claimed responsibility for the assault that killed at least nine people and wounded more than 50. It was the first time the Islamist terrorist group had claimed responsibility for a church bombing in Pakistan, though a number of churches have been attacked in the more than 96-percent Muslim country in recent years.

Suspects

A senior Balochistan police office, on condition of anonymity, told Morning Star News that the IS claim was not confirmed and that the attack seemed to be the handiwork of Sunni terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).

The official said that intelligence reports indicated the LeJ was collaborating with the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan (TTA) to target law enforcement agencies and army personnel, as well as the Hazara Shia and Christian minorities in Balochistan, particularly in Quetta.

“Armed forces personnel are on top of these terrorists’ hit-list, followed by Hazara Shias and Christians,” he said. “After studying their modus operandi, we have concluded that these outfits are targeting security personnel and members of the Shia and Christian communities through a well-planned strategy in a bid to destabilize Balochistan.”

The officer said that security across the province, especially in Quetta, was on high alert from Good Friday to Easter to prevent attacks on the Christian community.

“Since security was tight in churches, we believe that the terrorists chose to target the Christians on the roads instead,” he said.

Khalil George, a Christian member of the National Assembly from Balochistan, said that terrorists are now looking for soft targets, making Christians living in Quetta and elsewhere in the province vulnerable.

“The police and other law enforcement agencies had beefed up security at churches, and we acknowledge their efforts to protect us,” George told Morning Star News. “However, it’s imperative to trace and break terror networks involved in such attacks in order to ensure that all people, irrespective of their religious faiths, are able to move around freely without the fear of terrorists.”

Since 2007 Pakistan has been battling terror groups, including the TTP, LeJ, Jamaatul Ahraar and others that seek to impose a stricter sharia (Islamic law) on the country. Violence has dropped in recent years as a series of military operations succeeded in displacing the TTP and allied groups from their strongholds in northwestern Pakistan, but sporadic, large-casualty attacks continue.

In all, at least 242 people were killed in attacks in Balochistan Province in 2017, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal research group.

Attacks often target Pakistan’s minorities, including Shia Muslims as well as Christians, Hindus and members of the Ahmadiyya sect.

The suicide bombing on the Methodist church in December was claimed by the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan and Pakistan, known as ISIS Khorasan. In 2016, a Pakistani Taliban splinter group targeting Christians killed a bystander and injured three members of Pakistan’s security forces when suicide bombers struck a Christian neighborhood near Warsak Dam on the outskirts of Peshawar.

Also in 2016, an Easter Sunday bombing targeting Christians at an amusement park in the eastern city of Lahore which killed at least 69 people, mostly Christians.

Pakistan is ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 Word Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.