VATICAN CITY – Thousands of Christians are killed every year because of their faith and the persecution is becoming more widespread, Catholic observers said as Christmas celebrations are increasingly marred by attacks in at-risk countries.
Pope Francis addressed the killings in a recent interview saying there was “an ecumenism of blood,” meaning that Christians of all denominations, including Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox, are targeted.
“The narrative about Christianity in the Western mind is that a Christian is rich, powerful and has massive political influence,” said John Allen, a Vatican expert and author of the new book “The Global War on Christians.”
“It doesn’t reflect the reality. They are impoverished, linguistic and cultural minorities,” he said.
Estimates on Christian deaths are contested and vary widely.
Out of around 2.3 billion Christians in the world, between 9,000 and 100,000 people are said to be killed because of their religion every year.
In an editorial for Italy’s top-selling Corriere della Sera daily on Monday, Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant’Egidio Catholic charity in Rome, criticized the “silence at Christmas over the persecutions.”
The U.S. evangelical group Open Doors said the worst country for anti-Christian violence is North Korea, followed by Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran, Yemen and Eritrea.
Open Doors has said that 100 million Christians are being persecuted, but this figure has been widely criticized for including entire communities and not individual Christians at risk for their faith.
Some observers say the reasons for anti-Christian violence are much more varied than simply a question of faith and are often linked to a variety of local issues.
The issue is a highly sensitive one, as shown by the criticism of Allen’s talk of “war on Christians” by U.S. professor Andrew Chestnut, an expert on Pentecostalism.
Chestnut said that Allen has written about “a fictitious war that exists only on the pages and in the questionable data of certain Christian organizations.”