ROME — When his remarks to a group of Jesuit-led media editors in May were published on June 14, Pope Francis handed journalists some catchy headlines. He acknowledged that Russia could have been “provoked” by NATO to invade neighboring Ukraine, said World War III had already been declared and called President Vladimir Putin’s soldiers “cruel”.
He also spoke about things that have been overlooked by reporters in favor of more “urgent” matters, including his lament that the war in Ukraine is getting more attention “because it is closer to us and affects more our sensitivity”.
In explaining his belief that World War III is already underway, he made a point of naming other countries in conflict.
“Think of parts of Africa, northern Nigeria, northern Congo, where a war is going on and no one cares. Think of Rwanda 25 years ago. Think Myanmar and the Rohingya. The world is at war. »
Indeed, Catholics are suffering in places that don’t grab the same headlines as Ukraine. Why did Pope Francis name these three?
The country visited by Pope Francis in 2017 has long been plagued by political unrest and the situation has deteriorated rapidly since 2015, following the military crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim population, which forced tens of thousands of people to exile.
During his visit, Pope Francis was asked why he had not listened to the advice of Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, who asked him to refer to the Rohingya crisis and the military’s general human rights violations, without using the “R” word. The reasons for the call of the prelate were multiple, including the christian survival community which, as a minority, has also been threatened for a long time.
The pope finally used the word Rohingya in Bangladesh and told reporters that while he hadn’t used it in Myanmar, ‘everyone knew’ what he was referring to when he urged authorities to respect life human.
The situation of Christians in the country has deteriorated a lot since then. Myanmar’s military junta is accused of targeting churches and church-run institutions in recent months. Dozens of churches in Kayah and Chin states have been destroyed in airstrikes and artillery fire while thousands of people, including Christians, have been displaced, some fleeing to neighboring India. At least 450 homes have been burned down by junta troops in two historic Catholic villages in recent weeks.
The destruction recently prompted the bishops of Myanmar to issue a new statement demanding respect for human life and the sanctity of places of worship, hospitals and schools in the conflict-torn Southeast Asian country.
More than 1,900 people, including more than 100 children, have been killed and another 14,000 detained since the February 2021 military coup.
Although several governments, including the Biden administration, have recognized that the attacks on the Rohingya constitute genocide, the international community has remained largely silent about the military’s continued human rights abuses.
Africa’s most populous nation is home to the world’s sixth-largest Christian population: nearly half of its 190 million people identify as followers of Christ.
And yet, Nigeria is in turmoil, with violence stemming from sectarian differences and poverty, among other causes. For a decade, the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram has terrorized the northern region of the country, targeting Christians.
Now the evidence shows that the group associated with this Bishop Matthew Man-oso Ndagoso of Kaduna branded as “bandits” to spread fear throughout the northwest region. This ‘old craft for some bad men’, he said in late May, has been devolved, with bandits replacing ‘bows and arrows’ with the semi-automatic weapons that arrived after Muammar Gaddafi fell in Libya in 2011 “When he was knocked down, guns were everywhere. With US$200, you could get an AK-47.
Although religious violence against Christians has been mostly contained in the northern region, there has been a growing wave of attacks – particularly in the form of kidnappings – against them in other parts of the country. The targets are usually priests or pastors, as the mafia organizations behind these crimes believe they are more likely to get ransoms for them.
A terrible sign that the danger is spreading came at Pentecost. At least 40 people were killed – and a priest and several worshipers kidnapped – when gunmen opened fire and detonated explosives during mass on Sunday June 5 in the town of Owo. The fact that the massacre took place in southwestern Nigeria – far from the more dangerous north – suggests that anti-Christian violence may be entering a new stage in the country.
Far from being a numerically marginal Church, that of Nigeria is becoming a martyr Church.
Pope Francis was due to travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in early July, but the trip was postponed due to complications in his right knee. Doctors advise surgery, but so far he has refused.
Although most of the preparation for the trip has focused on South Sudan and the pope’s efforts to forge peace there, the DRC has 5.6 million internally displaced people, the most in Africa. , according to United Nations figures. Clashes between the country’s army and the M23 rebel group have displaced nearly 2 million people in North Kivu.
The cancellation does not mean that Pope Francis is forgetting the country anytime soon. An increase in violence over the past month has prompted the UN to plead for “urgent action” in the country. On July 3, the day he was to celebrate Sunday Mass in Kinshasa, Pope Francis will instead welcome the Congolese community in Italy for one in Saint-Pierre.
Although anti-Christian persecution in the Congo is even less publicized than in Myanmar and Nigeria, this country is far from being free from religious violence. There are sporadically – almost monthly — epidemics against Christians in the ongoing conflict in Kivu.