I watched one of my favorite movies the other night, “Quo Vadis”.
Despite the corny costumes and over-the-top acting, it has significant historical value, in that it depicts a critical but faded episode of inhumanity: the persecution of Christians. We know, we have vague memories of people having to dance around the lions in the Colosseum, but the events are usually filed under “news too old to care”.
Except “news too old to care” is today’s headline. No lions, no Colosseum, just the massacre of Nigerian Catholics in a church on Whit Sunday 2022.
Nigeria is a country whose Christians have been attacked for more than a decade. According to the Genocide Watch website, more than 45,000 Christians have been murdered in the past 13 years, making this country the most dangerous in Africa for believers. Catholics are particularly at risk, because we represent a large percentage of Christians in the country and attract attention.
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This time they waited for worshipers to enter St. Francis Church in Owo, Ondo state and then started shooting at them from inside and outside the building. Reports indicate that some of the attackers were disguised as parishioners. Some attributed the assault to random violence.
But make no mistake. Nigeria’s history of anti-Christian violence is part of the fabric of the nation, something that mirrors a similar wave of persecution that engulfed much of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and Central America.
Much of it is fueled by a particularly extreme and virulent form of Islam, such as that practiced by Boko Haram in Nigeria and ISIS in the Middle East. Some of these are rooted in hostility to the social justice mission of many Christian churches, such as those evangelizing against gang violence in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
In my 25 years of practicing immigration law, I have handled many asylum cases. But the ones that cause me the most sleepless nights are those involving religious persecution.
Last week we managed to secure asylum for a Catholic youth leader in El Salvador who had a gun pointed at his head while counseling young boys in church.
He was told that if he didn’t stop trying to stop the boys from joining Mara Salvatrucha, the most violent gang in this country, he would “end up like Romero”. It was a clear reference to the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero who was murdered at the altar while celebrating Mass in San Salvador over 40 years ago.
I have also represented Protestant preachers who have been kidnapped, threatened and in one case orphaned (mother and father murdered) because of their ministries in Honduras and China.
The most heartbreaking case is that of a young Salvadoran woman who was raped by her boyfriend, a policeman, and became pregnant. When he demanded that she abort the child, she refused due to her Catholic beliefs, at which point he beat her so badly that she miscarried.
And when she tried to report it to her fellow police officers, she was told she should have had an abortion (this, in a country that has sacrificed martyrs for the church).
Somehow these stories rarely cut through the media muddle, the dense layers of preferences that the people who run the newspapers and cable networks impose on the rest of us.
The fact that someone thinks she was assaulted by Bill Cosby in 1975 is more interesting, they think, than stories of kidnapped missionaries in Haiti. People Magazine will give its cover to the juicy details of Meghan Markle’s latest grievance, while the butchered bodies of worshipers will make page 5 of The Washington Post.
The truth is uncomfortable, but it’s still the truth. The vast majority of Christians persecuted for religious reasons are killed by non-Christians, including Muslims, Hindus and Chinese atheists. The statistics are pretty clear on this, although Amnesty International (which believes abortion is a human right) will try to avoid naming names.
And I will go even further. The last acceptable prejudice in America is anti-Catholicism. It is not persecution, but the level at which it infects our current society is insidious.
Instead of making jokes about misogynism, bigotry and backward Christians, it might be better to notice the bleeding bodies.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at [email protected]