Why is there so much violence against Christians in some parts of the world? Might it be merely for ideological motives? Or is it that the voice of Christians must be silenced because it goes against the tide of the direction in which humanity seems to be drifting? Or might Christians be a defenceless community, which is therefore easy to attack without incurring many risks, to be put on the world scene of terrorism for political ends? In a word, how up to date is the theme “Blessed are the Peacemakers”, which the Pope has proposed for the celebration of the World Day of Peace in 2013?
These questions are regularly asked when the world news – the most recent was on Monday evening, 6 August, and refers to about 15 deaths caused by the umpteenth attack on a Christian church in Nigeria – lengthens the list of people who died because of their faith and shows the pressing timeliness of the Pope’s continuous appeals for peace. We sought some answers in our conversation with Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
The world’s Christians are increasingly the object of violence, if not actually persecution. Is it possible that behind these episodes there are solely religious motives or should the motive be sought in the fact that in some countries Christians are defenceless targets, hence more easily reached and slaughter becomes a means of pressure for other purposes?
There is a grain of truth in this. In a great many situations Christians are the object of violence, which is sometimes physical but sometimes also psychological. The aim is without any doubt what Christians represent – a belief, a viewpoint from which they look at what is happening in the world, a lifestyle that has an identity of its own. Our denigrators say that we belong, to a certain extent, to the Middle Ages, to the past, even though they have nothing to prove this. Are Christians a tangible target because they are defenceless and consequently easy to attack? It is hard to answer this. It is certainly true that in very many parts of the world, especially in Africa, our churches are not built in the most densely populated places. Rather, they are built by preference in places closest to the missions, to the houses of priests, and in order to reach them Christians have to make a brief journey, as it were, a short pilgrimage. Muslim mosques, on the contrary, always stand in the busiest places in the midst of their faithful. In this sense, therefore, we are probably more defenceless. But I would say that having to defend ourselves is not part of our nature. We do not think we should do so because of our religion. We believe in a God who has no need to be defended. He only needs to be loved, known and witnessed to. Our belonging to the Church is not nourished by thoughts on how to defend ourselves or on how to impose our worship. We only think of bearing witness to God. Others may have a viewpoint that is somewhat different from our own. They think that religion is something that must be defended, that theirs is a god to be defended. No, this is really not the way to conceive of our faith and our mission.