The grim toll of Christians massacred at Easter rises again

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National Post, 25 April 2019

Christians are killed on Easter every year somewhere around the globe

Holy Week began with the great fire at Notre Dame, and the surprise was that it wasn’t arson, a deliberate attack, but an apparent accident. In 2018, French police reported that 875 churches — more than two per day — were vandalized. Just this year, another prominent church in Paris was set ablaze, and another was smeared with excrement and sacrileges against the Holy Eucharist.

Holy Week ended with the Islamist bombings of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, killing some 350 people, and wounding many others. On Tuesday, the Islamic State claimed responsibility.

This time the surprise is only where the massacre took place — Colombo and Negombo. There is no surprise that it took place on Easter Sunday. Christians are killed on Easter Sunday for being Christian. Every year.

In 2019 — yes, the same day as the bombing in Sri Lanka — an off-duty policeman rammed his car into a group of children in an Easter procession in Gombe, Nigeria. He killed nine people and some 30 more children were injured. The motive for the attack has not been established, but it is clear who the victims were — Christian children celebrating Easter.

On Palm Sunday 2019 — a week before the Sri Lanka bombings — an Assemblies of God church in Uttar Pradesh, India, was attacked by some 200 men who beat the pastor and congregation with sticks.

In 2018, a Catholic family was killed in Pakistan at Easter, and in India a pastor was beaten badly when Hindu extremists stormed his church.

In 2017, Coptic Christians in Egypt cancelled many Holy Week services when bombings at two churches on Palm Sunday killed 45 people.

In 2016, 75 people were killed and some 300 injured by bombs in a park in Lahore, Pakistan. The park was in a predominantly Christian neighbourhood and was filled with Christian families having Easter lunches after the morning services.

In 2015, Islamist terrorists attacked Garissa University in Garissa, Kenya, killing 148 people during Holy Week. The university was home to both Christian and Muslim students, but the Christians were targeted for killing.

That is just Easter. Terror attacks at Christmas are also not rare in recent years. Indeed, a few years back in Egypt, religious officials moved “midnight Mass” to the afternoon after Christians had been attacked in successive years when coming to church in the night.

In the aftermath of the Sri Lanka bombings, senior security officials have been fired for failing to heed intelligence warnings that attacks were imminent. That is a particular failure, specific to this attack. But the general phenomenon of Christians being massacred in Holy Week means that we ought to expect it somewhere, independent of intelligence about a particular locale.

I was in Sri Lanka in January 2015 for the visit of Pope Francis, who came to canonize Sri Lanka’s first saint, Joseph Vaz. Like most Catholic visitors, I made a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Anthony, bombed on Sunday. And I visited Negombo, known as a “little Rome” or local “Vatican” for its many Catholic churches and shrines in a country where Christians are a small minority. St. Sebastian’s Catholic parish in Negombo was bombed on Sunday. In addition, Zion Church in Batticaloa was bombed, in addition to the three hotels, where many people were enjoying an Easter brunch.

But when Christians are massacred, it only matters marginally that I might know the place or the people involved. The dominant reality is that they were killed for doing what I and my parishioners were doing on Easter Sunday morning, what we have a duty and right to do, to worship God in peace. Every year our fellow Christians are in mortal danger for doing that.

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