ROME — As an estimated 200 million Christians globally face the threat of persecution because of their faith, Pope Francis has raised his voice on their behalf through his monthly prayer video, asking the world to pray and give material support to persecuted Christians.
“How many people are being persecuted because of their faith, forced to abandon their homes, their places of worship, their lands, their loved ones!” Francis said in the latest video, produced by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, produced by La Machi Communication for Good Causes and the Vatican’s Television Center.
“They are persecuted and killed because they are Christians,” the pope continues in the video, that shows three people, from different Christian denominations: a Catholic, a Protestant and an Orthodox Christian.
Francis has often spoken about an “ecumenism of the blood,” because, as he says in the video, those who persecute Christians don’t make distinctions among the religious communities.
“I ask you: how many of you pray for persecuted Christians?” Francis asks, before giving March’s prayer intention, which is for the support through prayers and material help of all the Churches and communities.
According to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), an international papal charity that has recently joined the initiative as a grand benefactor, religious liberty is decreasing in 11 of the 23 worst-offending countries.
Their 2016 Religious Freedom Report found that in seven of the worse countries- Afghanistan, northern Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Syria- Christians are facing a rising level of intolerance and such severe oppression that “it can scarcely get worse.”
The pope videos are based on the pope’s monthly prayer intentions, which for years have been entrusted to the Jesuit-run global prayer network also known as the Apostleship of Prayer. The initiative to present them through videos that include exclusive footage with Francis began last year, in an attempt to make them more widely known.
According to Jesuit Father Frédéric Fornos, international director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network and its youth branch, this month’s intention is “as difficult as it is urgent.”
“Thousands of Christians around the world are discriminated against or persecuted, simply for the fact of being Christian,” he said in a statement. “And let us not forget that there are also other religious persecutions.”
Johannes Heereman, international executive president of AIC said in the same statement that religious liberty is a fundamental principle of human rights.
“In the headlines practically every day, we see the clear link between violence, oppression and the negation of this basic human right,” he said. “We believe we must raise our voices whenever any faith community is being unjustly attacked.”
A recent example of this is the report of Christians escaping the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, fleeing attacks by Islamic State group militias who’ve perpetrated a string of sectarian killings.
Amnesty International said on Wednesday that the Egyptian government has failed to protect hundreds of Coptic Christians who fled their homes.
According to the London-based human rights group, the response fits with a pattern of failing to protect the embattled minority, adding that after other sectarian attacks the government sought reconciliation agreements between communities rather than prosecuting those responsible.
An estimated 200 million Christians around the world are at risk of physical persecution, and even the low-end estimate for the number of Christians killed for religious reasons each year puts the count of new martyrs at roughly one every hour, 365 days a year.