An ocean of tears

It is estimated that more than 80 percent of all religiously persecuted people worldwide are Christians. This is one of the reasons why the Evangelical Church in Germany has called for a "Day of Persecuted Christians". The focus this year is on believers in Iraq.

Those who profess Christianity risk their lives in many places around the world. At least six Christians have been murdered in Iraq in recent weeks. In Malaysia, several churches burned at the beginning of January after a series of attacks. Almost simultaneously, Muslim fanatics in Egypt murdered eight Coptic Christians after a Mass. In Somalia, a pastor and family man was shot dead in January.The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) has announced for Sunday (28. February) called for the first time for a "Day of Persecuted Christians". The focus this year is on the believers in Iraq. "Many Muslims believe we helped the U.S. conquer Iraq," says Iraqi priest Sami Danka, a refugee living in Essen, Germany.

Iraqi Christians have become scapegoats

Iraqi Christians have become scapegoats on whom hatred against Americans is directed, Danka says. "Our liturgy is an ocean of prayer and tears." But it is not only in Muslim countries that Christians experience major problems: reprisals also exist in communist countries such as North Korea, China and Vietnam. Churches are also burning in Hindu India and Buddhist Sri Lanka.It is estimated that more than 80 percent of all religiously persecuted people worldwide are Christians. The "Yearbook Martyrs," co-edited by Bonn-based evangelical theologian Thomas Schirrmacher, speaks of some 200 million persecuted Christians in 50 countries. Other experts estimate that there are about 100 million people under threat. According to Schirrmacher's observation, persecution used to come mainly from non-religious groups or atheist governments, such as under communism. Today, however, the instigators are above all religious communities."Statistically, this is a huge shift and gives it a whole new dimension," judges Schirrmacher, who is also spokesman for human rights at the World Evangelical Alliance. He sees a main cause for this development in the "phenomenal growth of Christianity in non-Western countries," which is perceived as a threat.

"It has something to do with the culture"

The foreign bishop of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) also expresses concern. Although he has "no precise figures" and does not know how to determine them, says Martin Schindehutte. But persecution is a sad reality for many, he said. "Christians are often active people, they are successful people, it has something to do with the culture," he explains. "And then social tensions arise, which become religiously shrouded or religiously charged."Schindehutte refers, for example, to the situation in Orissa, India, where in August 2008 anti-Christian riots killed some 50.000 people were displaced and hundreds of churches were destroyed. In addition to such terrible attacks, however, the EKD foreign bishop often sees a kind of creeping expulsion, for example in the Near and Middle East: "Then people are gradually deprived of all prospects in life."The philosophy lecturer Elena from Kabardino-Balkaria in the Caucasus, who prefers not to give her full name, had such an experience. "You don't get beaten up right away, but something can happen to you at any time," the slender, dark-haired woman says of threats by Islamist Wahabis against Orthodox Christians.

"They made our lives a living hell"

Little by little, all acquaintances have disappeared. "You are insulted in the street, in kindergarten, your car is set on fire. They made our lives hell," says Elena, who now lives with her son in the Rhineland as a recognized refugee.Catholic theology professor John Fernandes from Mangalore in southern India also sees globalization as a reason for the growing religious radicalization worldwide. The 74-year-old calls for more commitment, not only from churches. After all, freedom of religion is enshrined in the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "The whole world must intervene if someone is discriminated against in the name of religion."

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