The ICL just finished hosting a conference exploring Modern Christian Martyrs entitled, “The Seed of the Church.” The conference was outstanding with many excellent talks and engaging questions and discussion. It was especially striking to attend the conference while much of the rest of the U.S. was focused on the presidential election as this conference sought to bring greater awareness to an issue that is so often overlooked today, especially by U.S. politicians and American Catholics.
In his talk on Monday night, John Allen noted that between 100,000 and 150,000 Christian martyrs are being created each year. He suggested that this translated to 11 deaths during the period of his talk alone. These are unbelievable numbers when we consider how little attention this issue has been given. Allen highlighted that religious martyrdom is surely not solely a Christian experience, but noting secular figures collected by NGOs, the State department, and others highlighting that around 80% of the acts of persecution in our current era have been directed at Christians, he argued that it is currently a disproportionately Christian experience.
John Allen also highlighted some myths concerning this issue. For instance, that it is all about Islam. While Muslim extremism is an increasing concern for persecution of Christians, even if all such extremists disappeared and Muslim-Christian relations became conflict free, Christian martyrdom would still be occurring in extremely large numbers. He also debunked the myth that this is a right-wing or a left-wing issue. In fact, he ended his talk by arguing for the intense need for a unified response to this contemporary tragedy. The scope and magnitude of the issue calls for going beyond the polarization or “tribalism” of Catholicism. On the eve of an election in a closely divided US, the point came through loud and clear.
If we cannot come together on behalf of martyrs for the faith around the world, what can possibly bring us together? If their witness does not convict, what can?
n.b. I will write more about the conference soon, but have to go to a meeting. Also, the picture across the top is an Icon of the New Martyrs that is associated with the Sant’Egidio community.