Christians are the victims in 80 per cent of acts of religious discrimination, despite only accounting for 30 per cent of the global population, a conference in Washington heard on Tuesday (5 December).
The statistics, from the International Society for Human Rights, were presented at the 3rd International Conference on Religious Freedom – an annual event initiated by Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Orthodox Church in 2014 to highlight the situation of Christians in the Middle East.
“Freedom of thought and belief are underpinning of the most innovative and vibrant economies in human history,” US Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, told the conference. “That is at least partially why it is troubling to see a resurgence in the persecution of Christians in recent years.”
Meanwhile, Coptic Bishop Angaelos from the UK, said ahead of the conference that Christian persecution is underestimated. “It is time for us to stand and work together… It is an epidemic spreading through the world and it affects everyone,” he said.
His comments echoed those of Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who in November used the very same word – “epidemic” – when calling for robust safeguards against extremist ideology.
In a statement, they wrote: “In many countries of the Middle East and Africa there is persecution of Christians, manifested in mass killings, the barbaric destruction of churches, the desecration of holy sites and the expulsion of millions of people from their homes.”
Referring to the Middle East, they voiced concern at the rapid emigration of Christians, as well as “more subtle forms of discrimination, where life is made so difficult that it is easier for them to leave their ancient homeland than to stay”.