At many parishes across the world, Massgoers enthusiastically sang “Easter glory fills the sky” on Sunday morning. It was dark plumes of smoke that filled the skies above churches in Sri Lanka as parishioners gathered for the most important festival in the Christian calendar.
Occasions like Easter Sunday and Christmas Day are usually occasions of great joy, but they are increasingly a time of trepidation for believers in many parts of the world. Islamists and other militants who target Christians have become adept at choosing occasions when they will kill and maim the maximum number of people.
Last Easter, four people were shot dead in an attack targeting Christians in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta. The year before, bombings at two Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday saw 45 people killed. A year before that, 75 people died and more than 300 were injured after bombs exploded in a park in a Christian neighbourhood of Lahore, Pakistan, as people celebrated following Easter Masses. Just a year earlier, Christian students were targeted as the University of Garissa, Kenya, was attacked on Holy Thursday; 148 people died.
We are living through another era of martyrdom in the Church. The UK Foreign Office estimates that some 215 million Christians face discrimination and violence this year because of their faith.
According to all measures, violence against Christians is rising dramatically. Last year, an average of 250 Christians were killed every month simply because of their faith.
While Britain has joined some other EU countries in prioritising assistance to suffering Christians, the silence from the Irish Government is deafening. In an historically Christian country where 82% of people say they profess the Christian Faith the apparent indifference from those in positions of leadership to the suffering of so many people is hard to explain.
It’s bewildering that so many Irish politicians could muster up the empathy to rightly condemn the atrocious mosque attacks in New Zealand in March, but not manage even a whimper following Sunday’s murderous attacks in Sri Lanka. At the time of the New Zealand massacre, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addressed to the issue thus: “to our Muslim community in Ireland – all 70,000 of them – to all Muslim communities around the world, I think the most important thing is that we not be afraid. That we don’t allow the terrorists to win by changing our lifestyle or changing the way we look at each other because of what was a terrible act.”
Fine words of solidarity, concern and reassurance. But not a single word from Mr Varadkar about the attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka.
The Taoiseach and the Irish political establishment appear tone deaf to the sense of connectedness that binds Christians in Ireland with fellow believers around the world – particularly those who are suffering.
Unless the world starts to take a strong line on religious freedom, Christians will disappear from large parts of the world including the very birthplace of the Faith – the Middle East. Already, Christians have been fleeing in large numbers and those who remain keep their heads down for fear of provoking ire.
All across the Muslim world, Christians face persecution and discrimination because of their Faith. Ireland’s silence on the issue is shameful and shouldn’t continue.
While the plight of desperate Christians might not be as trendy as worthy causes like LGBT rights or the empowerment of women and girls, it’s hard to think of a right more core than the right to worship as one sees fit.
A failure to speak up is a damning indictment and when historians come to write the history of the persecuted Christians of this generation, it will be the silence from countries such as Ireland that speaks the loudest.
Michael Kelly is co-author of a new book with Austen Ivereigh How to Defend the Faith – Without Raising Your Voice – it is available from Columba Books.