One of Pope Benedict’s prayer intentions for January is for the plight of Middle Eastern Christians who are “so often discriminated against.” The organisation Release International which serves persecuted Christians worldwide says the continuing upheaval in the Islamic world looks set to pose the greatest threat to Christians in 2013. Andrew Boyd is Press Officer for Release International and he spoke to Vatican Radio’s Susy Hodges about their predictions for the coming year.
Boyd says Pope Benedict’s prayer intention for January “is extremely appropriate” as Release International believes that Christians face a growing risk of persecution in 2013 owing to the continuing turmoil in the Islamic world. Pointing to the situation in Egypt, he says they learnt from their local partners that “around 100,000 Christians have left the country” since the 2011 parliamentary elections where the Islamic Brotherhood emerged as the dominant party. He says there are many questions marks about the future facing Christians in Egypt and “concern there continues to grow.”
Another area of the world where there is one “of the greatest immediate threats” to Christians is the situation in Northern Nigeria. Boyd says “there is a clear agenda to drive out Christians from the north” by radical Islamic groups and describes it as “a religious cleansing.”
In Pakistan, Boyd says persecution against Christians “is increasing in leaps and bounds” and points to the nation’s controversial blasphemy laws. “Once you’ve been accused of blasphemy in Pakistan,” he says, “that’s like a death sentence, whether you’re found guilty or not.”
The situation in North Korea and Eritrea is also a cause of deep concern with “severe and worsening” persecution against Christians. Asked if there are any bright spots in an otherwise gloomy picture, Boyd says despite the threats posed by the upheaval in the Islamic world there is also hope mixed in with these fears. He points to "a growing unity” among the different Christian denominations in these countries and adds: “in that, there’s a great hope for 2013.”