‘There are more Christian martyrs today’ than ever – Pope

Pope Francis has led renewed calls for an end to anti-Christian persecution. 

Leading his weekly Sunday audience in Rome, the Pontiff celebrated the life of newly-beatified Lebanese martyr Syriac Bishop Flavien-Michel Malke but then departed from his scripted address to issue a call to the international community to act on the continuing persecution of Christians.

Asserting that “there are more martyrs [today] than there were in the first centuries” of the Church, Pope Francis said, “I ask the international community to do something to put a stop to the violence and oppression”.

Using the example of Bishop Malke, the Pope expressed his hope that the prelate’s life as “an untiring defender” of the persecuted offer “consolation, courage and hope” to victims of persecution everywhere.

In Lebanon itself, in a separate development, a leading Muslim philanthropic organisation issued what has been described as a declaration on religious freedom, specifically drawn up to call for the rights of Christians to practise their faith without persecution.

In its Beirut Declaration on Religious Freedom, The Makassed Philanthropic Islamic Association, a conservative Islamic group closely linked to Lebanon’s highest Sunni Muslim authority, Dar el Fatwa, stresses the value both of peaceful co-existence and the place of Christians in the Middle East.

“To deny Christian communities the right to exercise their religious freedom and destroy their churches, monasteries and educational and social institutions are contrary to Islam’s teachings, and are, since these abuses are made in its name, a blatant violation of its principles,” the declaration states. “We proclaim… that we are absolutely opposed to these destructive acts and we call on our fellow Christians to resist the acts of terror that seek to drive them from their land. We urge them to stay attached and rooted in these lands, along with their Muslim brothers, enjoying with them the same rights and duties.”

“In the eyes of the Koran, no one has the right to wage war against someone because of his beliefs or against a people or a community to drive them from their homes, or deprive them of their land. It is therefore our duty to unite our efforts to protect religious and national freedoms, and respect human dignity and protect coexistence on the basis of justice and love.”