The first event of the day was a press conference featuring Sabatina James, an aposstate from Islam who now, at the age of 30, has dedicated her life to protect Islamic women and help them to gain independence in parts of the world generally patriachial to the extreme. Predictably, Islamists in several countries disagree intensely with her activities, creating a constant need for bodyguards and police protection.
At the press conference, Sabatina spoke passionately about the situation for Christians in Pakistan, Syria and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the representative of the Austrian government Reinhold Lopatka, had no help to offer, sticking instead with the official “We do not discriminate” line. Sabatina took that in strides, explaining later that she has learned not to expect anything useful from politicians or political parties.
The main event was a march starting at 17:15 going through the heart of Vienna to the Stephansdom cathedral. Here a mass is held dedicated to the protection of persecuted Christians world wide. Around 500 participated this year, wearing torches, banners and signs showing the countries represented. The lead banner read:
Persecution of Christians rises, Europe remains silent
Killings – Rapes – Churches on fire – Forced Islamisation
Stop the persecution of Christians!
Platform for Solidarity with Persecuted Christians
This banner was a hint at the unhappy situation that European countries and in particular the European Union seems more interested in ‘dialogue’ about not offending Islamic dogma than in protecting Christians, who suffer problems much more severe than that.
In Islamic countries, who are finding themselves under increasing pressure after the “Arab Spring”, the wars in Iraq and Syria, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and other recent events have left ancient Christian communities at severe physical risk in many countries.
A leaflet distributed by the Platform for Solidarity with Persecuted Christians raised these demands:
Egypt: An end to the almost daily abductions of Coptic girls, who are being forced to Islam, prostitution or involuntary marriage. That the police no longer turns a blind eye to this, but instead make sure that Christians can live in safety.
Pakistan: Abolishment of the blasphemy law (capital punishment for insulting the ‘prophet’ Muhammad).
Nigeria: An end to the Sharia practices (chopping off hands for simple theft, stoning for extra-martial relations), protection against the Islamist terrorism of Boko Haram.
Syria: Stopping the practice of driving Christians from their apartments, businesses and churches, dialogue instead of terror.
Full equal rights and faith freedom for Christians, also in Europe, where discrimination against Christians is on the rise, as also pointed out recently by the OSCE.
Rights for Christians to construct churches and publicly express their Christian faith.
An unconditionally political effort for human rights by our governments and EU.
The speech held by Elmar Kuhn of CSI during the march emphasized the importance of the universal human rights, and the responsibility of politicians, EU commissioners and others to raise this issue towards partners of coorperation and recepients of development aid. It is highly unfortunate that democracies and the European Union, based as they are on human rights, are not using these opportunities to help and protect Christians elsewhere.
Amusingly, someone shouted “Right wing extremists!” at some point during the march, which made some participants look around with a puzzled “Where?” expression in their faces.
At the Stephansdom, which was brightly illuminated for Christmas, people put out the torches and went in for a special mass and prayer for the protection of Christians around the world. A dozen representantives of the various organisations headed the event, the main banners placed prominently inside the church.
Chorespikopos Emanuel Aydin of the Syrian ortodox church held the main speech in the cathedral. Speaking from a framework between the Prophet Habakuk and Revelation, Aydin pulled no punches explaining the dire situation of Christians in the Middle East today, nor did he miss the opportunity to call upon Western politicians to act for their protection.
A great calamity rules today in the world. Many love darkness more than the light. Many prefer evil over good. We experience this in particular as persecuted and threatened oriental Christians. But this matter concerns every Christian.
The prophet Habakuk expressed our sentiment: “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?“
The persecution of Christians has grown to extreme extent. In the East, Christians are literally being slaughtered. The West seems hardly interested in this. The West impairs itself by the abolishment of faith.
This is our experience as oriental Christians: Murderers and blackmailers face no resistance, appear to be always successful, and frequently enjoy the support of Western politicians.
It is simply abhorrent what is being done to Christians in Iraq and Syria. This is not simply a war. Unarmed Chrsitians are shot in the streets, Christian children are abducted, and the corpses are thrown on the doorsteps. A bishop from Mosul was killed and thrown on a garbage heap.
Whence this hatred? Christians trigger – as already Jesus Christ himself – a bad conscience, and in particular the monks. They show how to live, in peace, united under the biddings of God, in chastity and mutual support. Many percieve this to be an insult against them and their conduct in life.
Whoever acts in truth comes to light, says Christ. This is what matters. We wish no evil for anyone. We only warn that evil does not by itself condemn itself. For us Christians the pending Christmas is the sign that God is close to us. We believe in His support and His guidance in spite of all problems.
After common prayers for the protection and safety of Christians around the world, the demonstration was over – a display of sincerity and dignity in an increasingly unsafe world.
For security reasons, Sabatina James had not participated in the march, but she attended the mass with sincere interest, taking the opportunity to talk to the heads of the Church afterwards.
Finally, she lit a candle for the security of Christians everywhere. It will be interesting to watch if the politicians will pick up the mantle and challenge the Middle East over human rights, also for non-Muslims.
More than 20 organisations are supporting “Plattform Solidarität mit verfolgten Christen”. At their web sites, more information about the very real problem of ‘Christianophobia’ can be found. In no particular order:
EuropeNews, By Henrik R. Clausen
- Christian Solidarity International,
- Aktion für Vervolgte Christen,
- Evangelische Allianz,
- Mittelschüler Kartell Verband,
- Pro Oriente,
- Kirchen in Not,
- Open Doors,
- China Zentrum,
- Wiener Akademikerbund