Königstein/Montréal, August 18, 2022 – On International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, designated by the UN General Assembly, international Pontifical Charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a Catholic organisation that supports persecuted and suffering Christians in over 140 countries, wishes to highlight a number of critical issues at a time when violence is pervasive.
- Lack of international response to the countless Islamic terrorist cells in Africa. The rapid growth of militant Jihadist groups in the Sahel region, as well as in the southwest of the continent and in neighbouring countries, is one of the most serious issues that the world faces. Amid international concerns regarding the myriad of geopolitical conflicts in other places, climate change, and environmental disasters, ACN regrets that the victims of religiously motivated violence in Africa are too often forgotten.
- The threat to religious freedom in the Sahel region has severe consequences, not just for members of the threatened religious groups, but also for the growth and development of entire nations. A clear example is Burkina Faso, where for decades, the Catholic Church has had a tremendous impact on civil society through its important work in the fields of social development, education, and health. Today, it is nearly impossible to conduct any social, educational, humanitarian, or pastoral work outside of the capital. Around 80% of the country is inaccessible due to the presence of jihadist groups.
- A spiral of violence in Nigeria. The country with the largest population in Africa is experiencing an unprecedented rise in religious-based violence, which ACN warns could get even worse unless the international community unites to address and seek solutions to the issues. The number of recent cases of violence is only increasing. In May, the world learned of the killing of Deborah Samuel, a student at Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto who was stoned and set on fire by fellow students for allegedly having sent offensive messages about Muhammad.
In June, over 40 innocent people were massacred in a Catholic Church and at least 18 priests have been kidnapped to date in 2022, four of whom were murdered. Recently, terrorists launched several attacks in Abuja, the capital. It must be stated that the violence is often caused by struggles over natural resources or ethnic rivalries. Nonetheless, the religious motivation of the attacks by extremist groups is clearly a growing factor.
- Millions of displaced people and refugees. Many of the victims of violence provoked by religious extremists have had to flee their ancestral homes. ACN estimates that over 15 million people are currently displacedin the 12 African countries identified in ACN’s Religious Freedom in the World Report 2021 as being subject to severe religious persecution.
- A disturbing rise in the use of sexual violence against minority religious groups, including kidnappings and forced marriages and conversions in countries such as Pakistan and Egypt, represents a serious and growing problem that the world must not ignore. The great majority of the victims are underage women.
- An alarming rise of religious attacks in Latin America. Topping the list is Nicaragua, where in less than four years, the Catholic Church has suffered over 190 attacks and desecrations, including arson in the Cathedral of Managua, assaults on clergy, the closure of Catholic media, and the expulsion of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. In countries like Mexico and Colombia, as well as in Argentina and Chile, extremist groups seek to silence the voices of Church leadership and restrict the freedom of expression of faith groups in public.
- Imposition of new aggressive secular ideologies. In certain liberal democracies, there is a growing limitation on the expressions of religious beliefs in public spaces through growing cases of intolerance and discrimination against religious groups, predominately Christians, and attempts to criminalise traditional religious views where these contradict new aggressive secular ideologies.