We have a responsibility to 100m persecuted Christians

“Only by raising awareness can we end the silence that has left many struggling Christians feeling that they are abandoned”, writes Michael Kelly

The battle to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul from the insane Islamic State terrorist organisation has begun. Iraqi Christians are cautiously welcoming the start of the battle. The Christians were driven out by Islamic State more than two years ago – many were killed.

Mosul has been the ancestral home of Christians in the region for 1,400 years. Yet, two years ago – for the first time in those 14 centuries – no Christmas Masses were celebrated in Mosul.

Think about that for a second: Iraqi Christians in Mosul have survived the most awesome challenges down the centuries but are now living in fear far from their homes – often unable to practise their faith.

It’s a heartbreaking story. But, you’d be forgiven for not knocking much about it. With the exception of Catholic newspapers, the plight of the Christians of Iraq goes largely unreported. 

The international news media – and there is no shortage of journalists in Iraq – appears to be largely uninterested in reporting what is a massive humanitarian crisis and an injustice against a hard-pressed minority.


Why the silence? Many people who are attracted to working in journalism approach the profession with a desire to sincerely report the news as they see it. Many journalists would see themselves as having a preferential option for oppressed minorities, and yet, there is scant reporting of the crisis – even as the battle for Mosul gives the story a perfect background from a news point of view.

Undoubtedly, one of the reasons is the fact that many people in the West simply find it impossible to see Christianity or Christians as a powerless minority. Growing up in the West, many people can only perceive Christianity – Catholicism in particular – as a powerful organisation. Such a vision of the Church – obsessed with perceiving divisions between ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’ or ‘progressives’ and ‘traditionalists’ – sees little room for stories about persecuted Christians.

Yet, the statistics are unmistakable: Open Doors – a non-denominational organisation which monitors the global situation – says that systematic religious cleansing is widespread across Africa and the Middle East. 

The Open Doors 2016 World Watch List reveals that every year well over 100 million Christians are persecuted because of their beliefs.

North Korea remains the worst place to be a Christian while Iraq has replaced Somalia as the second most dangerous place. Eritrea, now nicknamed by campaigners the ‘North Korea of Africa’ due to high levels of dictatorial paranoia, follows at number three. 

Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan are the next most difficult places for Christians according to the research.

Irish Catholics have a responsibility to speak up for our fellow Christians suffering for their faith. While I was in the Holy Land recently, Christians I spoke to told me of their struggles and their sense of isolation. Time and again, they expressed the fear that Christians in the West have forgotten about them – that they are a community cut off from their fellow believers. 

We have a responsibility to ensure that they are not forgotten. 


I once visited a parish where the entire noticeboard at the back of the church is taken up by a large map of the world. The map is maintained by children in the local school, and highlights places around the world where Christians are experiencing fear and intimidation. There are little factboxes about these Christian communities detailing what they experience and urging parishioners to pray for them. 

It’s a simple and yet very effective way to draw attention to the fact that more Christians are suffering for their faith today than in the early centuries of the Church with which we associate persecution.

More should be done to make Irish politicians aware of the situation as well. If the Christians of Mosul get little mention in Irish newspapers, they get even less mention in the Oireachtas. Catholics should make this a live issue that they lobby politicians about. 

Only by raising awareness can we end the silence that has left many struggling Christians feeling that they are abandoned. 

We need to demonstrate that no matter how grave the challenges they face, at least there are not forgotten by their fellow Christians.