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18 October 2015
posted by Canon Dakin on 29-10-2015

In a rural area of Pakistan, Asia Bibi, the mother of five children and a Christian, was picking berries when she heard a crowd of people approaching. They had come to accuse her of blasphemy. She had been drinking water from a well with some Muslim women who had apparently objected to her presence calling her an unclean Christian. “I believe in my religion”, she replied, “and in Jesus Christ who died on a cross for the sins of mankind.  What did your prophet Mahomed ever do to save mankind”? For this she was arrested and spent a year in goal before being sentenced to death for blasphemy. She is still in goal pending appeal. The governor of Punjab and a Christian cabinet minister who spoke up for her and for a reform of the blasphemy law have both been shot dead. Attacks on churches are frequent. Christians live on a knife edge.  The government is slow to protect them. We are familiar with the situation in Iraq and Syria where ISIS is determined to eliminate Christianity and is being so effective that the Church is on the verge of extinction in the places where it was first established.   In Nigeria ISIS has its equivalent in Boko Haram, which came into prominence with the abduction of two hundred school girls. Their declared intention is to kill all infidels. Fifty thousand Christians have taken refuge in neighbouring Cameroon. In China and North Korea Christians are second class citizens, being suspect because Christianity is considered to be a decadent Western influence. In Saudi Arabia the practice of any faith other than Islam is to be kept entirely private.

In the House of Lords last Tuesday Aid to the Church in Need made a presentation on the persecution of Christians all over the world in the last two years. Mr. Cameron is appreciative of the report and deplores what is happening but does not propose any action when actually there is scope for government initiative.  Pakistan, for instance, receives millions of pounds in aid from Britain. It could be made a condition of aid that the government there does more to protect religious minorities. But what is our attitude? Some politicians say that our ability to take in refugees is limited because there would be danger of upsetting the country’s cultural balance, but there are men and women and children from Syria and parts of Africa who are simply running for their lives. One young woman was asked: “Don’t you realise that you are risking your life trying to get to Europe?” “It is better”, she said. “than waiting to be killed at home”.

Our Lord in today’s gospel seems to imply that his Church is a Church that would have to suffer: ‘The cup that I must drink you shall drink’. Historically it has proved to be true - but not everywhere and all the time.

A participant in the Family Synod in Rome has suggested that Catholics today may be divided into two groups: “the suffering Church” and the “comfortable Church”. There’s no doubt to which we belong. Once here in England we were the suffering Church and many went into exile abroad to be helped by their brothers and sisters in Christ. Many of these Syrians are our baptismal family. One day we shall come face to face with Our Lord. What if he should say: “I as running for my life in your direction - and you just looked away”! 

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