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Church Under Fire – The Persecution Report

By Matthew Handley

Ann Arbor, Michigan, 7 June 2021 / 1:50 pm

Catholic church in Burma fired upon by military forces on feast of Corpus Christi
Mary Queen of Peace Catholic Church was hit by artillery fire on 6 June, the feast of Corpus Christi. (Photo: LiCAS News)

As the Catholic Church celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi on Sunday, our brothers and sisters in Burma underwent more suffering as military forces in the Kayah state fired upon Mary Queen of Peace Catholic Church.  Burma’s military has been continuing its offensive in the eastern part of that state.  Fortunately there were no casualties or injuries, however the church itself is severely damaged. 

This is the sixth time within two weeks that Catholic churches have been targets by Burma’s military.  Last month, four people were killed when the Burmese military shelled Sacred Heart Church, also in Kayah state.  One question that comes to my mind is are these churches being target because they are Catholic?  Christians only make up about six percent of the population in the majority Buddhist country.  

I believe it is a possibility given the vocalness of Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon and Pope Francis following the military coup d’état on 1 February.  Additionally, the image of a Catholic nun kneeling in front of soldiers, pleading with them not to shoot during the protests has gone viral across the world. That is not a good image for a military dictatorship. Many have drawn a parallel between this image and the image of a man standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square. It is an appropriate parallel. Both individuals in each image have a sense of mission and are ready to give their lives for it. In the case of the image below, Sister Ann Roza Nu Tawng is showing the world that the Catholic Church is there and ready to defend the dignity of all people.

Sister Ann Roza Nu Tawng pleads with police not to harm protesters in the city of Myitkyina in Myanmar. (Photo: Myitkyina News Journal / AFP)

Catholic couple acquitted of blasphemy in Pakistan

On Thursday of last week, Shaguftah Kusar and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel were acquitted of blasphemy charges in Pakistan.  They had been convicted of sending a religiously offensive text message in English to a local Muslim cleric.  The penalty for blasphemy in Pakistan is death and Shagufta and Shafqat sat on death row for seven years. 

Shafqat Emmanuel (left) and Shaguftah Kusar (right) in a Pakistani prison.

Stories of supposed blasphemy in Pakistan are not uncommon, but what makes Shaguftah and Shafqat’s story unique is that it was proven the SIM card that the text message was sent on was not theirs and (the most outrageous part of the case) they are illiterate in English.  They cannot read or write in English, yet they were convicted of sending a text message in that language.  This case demonstrates a major problem in Pakistan: blasphemy charges and anti-conversion laws are designed to target and persecution Christians.  Unfortunately, as one priest said recently, it is almost impossible to change these laws.  So, until they are, be sure to pray for Shaguftah and Shafqat and all other Christians living in Pakistan. 

Priest released from captivity in Nigeria

Last month, Fr. Joe Keke and Fr. Alphonsus Bello were kidnapped when St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Parish in the Sokoto Diocese was attacked by Islamic extremists.  Sadly, Fr. Bello was killed in the attack and was laid to rest last week.  On the same day of his funeral, the seventy-five year-old Fr. Keke was released from his kidnappers.

Fr. Joe Keke (third from left) among diocesan officials after his release from captivity. (Photo: ACI Africa)

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Matthew Kukah said, “It is one of the most painful experiences, talking and pleading with hardened criminals and murderers who, in a more civilized environment, should be locked away for life, but before whose mercy you stand.” 

The Church in Nigeria has been under more attacks in recent months.  Political unrest has given a rise in kidnapping, rape, and pillaging cases by Islamic extremist groups, many with ties to Boko Harum.  The Catholic bishops of the country have called on the government to take “a new approach” to the rise in violence.

Be sure to check out the Persecution Report throughout the week as we post daily updates about our Christian brothers and sisters around the world.  Also, if you like our content, please be sure to share it with your friends so we can spread awareness about the truth of Christian persecution across the globe.  Of course, please also keep them in your prayers.

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