The atmosphere in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square turned from celebratory to somber as Pope Francis devoted his address Monday to the bleak subject that has occupied most of his recent remarks.
“Our brothers and our sisters … are persecuted, exiled, slain, beheaded, solely for being Christian,” he said, his expression tense, his cadence slow but deliberate.
Speaking from a window of the Apostolic Palace, the pope said that there have been more “martyrs” for Christianity in recent years than in the early centuries of the faith.
“I hope that the international community doesn’t stand mute and inert before such unacceptable crimes, which constitute a worrisome erosion of the most elementary human rights. I truly hope that the international community doesn’t look the other way.”
The persecution of Christians is a theme that ran through most of the pope’s speeches this weekend. At a Good Friday procession, he decried the world’s “complicit silence” while members of his faith are killed. On Sunday, he devoted his Easter address to a grim accounting of global conflicts where Christians and others have been killed. His speech referenced the attack on Garissa University College in eastern Kenya last week, in which al-Shabab militants killed at least 148 people, reportedly singling out non-Muslims. It also referred to “absurd bloodshed” and “barbarous acts of violence” in Libya, where 21 Egyptian Christians were beheaded by the Islamic State in February.
“May the international community not stand by before the immense humanitarian tragedy unfolding in these countries and the drama of the numerous refugees,” he said of the conflict in Iraq and Syria.
Has the world really “looked the other way” while Christians are killed?
David Curry, president of the nonprofit Open Doors USA, which advocates for persecuted Christians worldwide, believes so.
“We see a continued pattern in many of these regions of violence and persecution against Christians,” he said in a phone interview. “But the West and Western governments, including the U.S., when they conflict-map these issues, they refuse to address the fact that Christians are being targeted.”