For several months now, Crux, the Sunday religion magazine published by the Boston Globe, has been putting out a series of well-researched pieces from all over the world on the new Christian martyrs mostly written by John L. Allen. There have been 13 stories posted to date, many of them in the final days of December.
One of the most interesting stories was on the new martyrs of Latin America.
When one thinks of that continent, thoughts of fast-growing Pentecostal churches or the homeland of the current pope spring to mind. What most of us don’t think of are the folks in El Salvador and Colombia who are caught in the middle of the wars between left-wing and right-wing death squads. The carnage is enormous and tragedy is that the deaths are so common, few journalists report on them any more.
What’s sad is how rare these stories are. Not since Mark O’Keefe’s five-part series on Christian persecution worldwide that ran in 1998 in the Oregonian has there been anything like it. I also noted Crux's series this past spring, so this is a quick check-in to see how their coverage has progressed. Click here to see tmatt's original post at the start of the series.
Here’s how one article starts:
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador/BOGOTÁ, Colombia -- When two Colombian women, a mother and a grandmother, were shot to death within a month of one another in early 2013, there was tragically little on the surface to make their deaths remarkable. They became merely the latest casualties of a decades-long civil war that’s left 220,000 people dead.
Yet on closer examination, the lives and deaths of Alba Mery Chilito Peñafiel and Alicia Castilla not only illustrate the carnage their country has endured, but also one of its least-understood aspects: Despite belonging to an overwhelming statistical majority, Christians in Colombia who stand up to the violence are remarkably at risk. They face danger not for their religious beliefs, but for preaching against the drug trade and the killing in ways that infuriate both gangs and paramilitaries of left and right. ... Chilito was executed by a right-wing paramilitary and Castilla by a left-wing guerrilla group, proving that martyrdom in Colombia is an equal-opportunity enterprise.
Globally, the two women are chapters in one of the most widespread human rights scourges of the early 21st century, which is lethal anti-Christian persecution. Though estimates vary widely, even low-end counts suggest that one Christian is killed for motives related to the faith somewhere in the world every hour of every day.
Did you read that last sentence? Is there any other religion on the globe that's seeing the murder of one adherent every hour of every day? Is it no wonder that some observers are rather bitter about media silence on this topic?
Allen’s stories continue on with a mix of statistics explaining how criminal gangs linked to the drug trade have given the continent the world’s highest murder rate and that with less than 10 percent of the world’s population, Latin America counts for a third of some 450,000 homicides a year worldwide. Many of those killed are individuals who got in the way of the gangs, stood up to them in some way or refused to go along. And the country with the highest amount of homicides per capita in the world is El Salvador. The piece is depressing, but very much worth reading.
Another story, which untangles the mess that is the Central African Republic, was written by Allen along with Inés San Martin. They explain how impossible the situation is and why Pope Francis was risking his life to visit there last November.
Then there’s Allen’s story on Somalia and why that African country is the world’s second most dangerous place for Christians after North Korea. It mainly tells the story of a nun and her Muslim driver and how both were gunned down by Al-Shabaab, a vicious Islamic terrorist group.
Some of the pieces are vignettes, like this one on embattled Christians in Asia and how there’s anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 Christians in North Korea’s labor camps alone. Another story about persecution in India explains how India on one hand is a paragon of diversity while on the other hand a place where right-wing Hindu militias torture and kill Christians at will while the local police does nothing or is complicit. Two Crux reporters went to India last summer to report on that situation. Some of what they found out is near the beginning of the article; a harrowing account of the killing of a Baptist preacher who was basically drawn and quartered before he died. And his story is not unique.
Then there’s an overview of persecution in Africa, especially northern Nigeria, the home of Boko Haram, a vicious home-grown movement that specializes in terrorizing Christians along with any Muslims who object to this radicalized version of Islam and, thus, get in the way.
We are talking, in story after story, about Christians who, every time they go to church, they never know if they’re going to come home. As the article says:
On one hand, Africa is the zone of Christianity’s greatest growth. It is already the world’s most populous Christian continent, with slightly more Christians today than there are in North America, and the numbers are burgeoning. The Pew Forum projects that by 2050, sub-Saharan Africa will have 1.1 billion Christians, almost twice as much as its nearest rival for adherents, Islam…
It is fashionable in Christian circles to say that Africa is the future of the faith. If so, it’s a future in which tremendous growth and energy are one half of the picture, but widespread persecution and martyrdom seem destined to be the other.
Why are Christians so often at the wrong end of the machete or gun? Because in strife-torn areas where other institutions have long since pulled out their personnel, the churches have hung on, believing they are the last vestige of help and hope for the people trapped there. And from Syria to the northern Nigerian city of Sokoto, they’re paying the price.
If you've any doubt as to if such stories are true, put in "Christians" and "persecution" in a search engine, then click on "images." The horrifying and bloody photos that pop up will convince you. (Editor's note: Or dig into Allen's book, "The Global War On Christians.")
These are the kinds of stories many journalists wish they had the institutional backing and money to do and it says a lot about the Boston Globe that it has given Crux staff the time and a huge budget to get them done. So, do read them. Because it may be a long time before any other secular publication will get around to doing something similar of this magnitude.