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World News

Faith under fire in 2023

by Ros Mayfield

Christians in several countries around the world found their faith tested in 2023.  Many spent months on trial or behind bars, while others were propelled onto the frontlines of conflict.  At the same time a study found that even in areas were persecution was on the rise, Christianity was continuing to grow.

After a sudden wave of premeditated attacks by Hamas on October 7th in which over a thousand Israeli civilians were killed and hundreds more taken hostage, there were fears that the Christian witness could disappear from parts of the Holy Land altogether. Christians in northern Gaza fled Israel’s retaliatory attempts to eradicate the radical militant group.

Further north in the West Bank, Christians in Bethlehem who refused to leave Christ's birthplace cancelled their Christmas celebrations in solidarity with Gaza, placing a baby Jesus doll in a pile of rubble as a poignant reminder of the conflict.

The war in Ukraine continued, with no clear victory in sight for either side.  Ukrainian Army chaplains spent six months in the UK being trained by their British counterparts, before returning to their homeland in June, to pastor those on the frontline against Russia.  Meanwhile the split between the two countries' Orthodox churches widened, with the Ukrainians opting to move their liturgical calendar in protest at the Russian patriarch’s high-profile support for Vladimir Putin's campaign.

In north east India, a peaceful protest by the mainly Christian Kuki tribe in Manipur at the beginning of May led to months of violent attacks sparked by the predominantly Hindi Meitei group.  Premier Christian News led the reports of hundreds of churches and homes being set alight - their occupants subjected to brutal assaults in what was widely described as 'religious cleansing'.  Tens of thousands of Christian believers were displaced, many sought shelter in nearby forests.  The Archbishop of Canterbury issued a statement, while the UK's Foreign Office was accused of complacency

A Kuki tribal leader who had travelled to the UK was invited to meet the Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Fiona Bruce MP.  The US and European governments raised concerns, and a coalition of opposition parties in the Indian government forced Narendra Modhi’s ruling BJP party to address the issue in parliament.  Still, the Kuki people say little concrete action has been taken.

In August, Christians in the Jaranwala neighbourhood in Pakistan narrowly escaped with their lives, after their Muslim neighbours warned them of an imminent attack by an extremist mob.  Houses and churches were ransacked and burned, following rumours that someone had committed blasphemy against the Koran.  The attack brought heartfelt pleas for urgent help and justice for the community.  Pakistani Christians in Wales, who had escaped persecution years earlier, caught the attention of politicians with a protest on the steps of the Welsh Senedd.

Meanwhile in Nigeria, strict blasphemy laws meant a Christian mother of five remained in detention in the north of country until just before Christmas.  Rhoda Jatau was imprisoned in May 2022, for allegedly sharing a WhatsApp video condemning the murder of Christian schoolgirl Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu.  More than 50,000 Christians have been killed for their faith by Boko Haram since 2009, amid the worst religious divisions in 50 years.  Campaigners continue to call on the US State Department to put Nigeria back on its list of 'Countries of Particular Concern' with regard to Freedom of Religion.  Experts from the United Nations sent a letter to the Nigerian government accusing it of violating Jatau’s “most basic human rights”.  She was finally released on bail in mid-December, and is awaiting trial in the New Year.

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