Most Australians have no idea how many Christians were killed for their faith in the twentieth century and are still being killed today.
Todd Johnson, an expert with World Christian Database, has estimated that there were 100,000 new Christian martyrs each year between 2000 and 2010, many from the Sudan and Congo. An Italian sociologist has claimed that a Christian is killed every five minutes Johnson also estimates that forty-five million Christians perished in the twentieth century, most of them under the Nazis and the Soviet communists.
A special commission established as part of the Catholic Church's preparations for the Great Jubilee of 2000 arrived at a lower estimate. It concluded that there were about twenty-seven million Christian martyrs in the twentieth century, making up "two thirds of the entire martyrology of the first two millennia". It seems clear that more Christians were killed for their faith in the twentieth century "than in the previous nineteen centuries combined".
Today the situation is not improving. Last week, in response to the military crackdown in Egypt supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood targeted Coptic Christians, destroying at least 47 churches and attacking Coptic schools, hospitals, monasteries and businesses. Coptic families have been attacked and His Holiness Pope Tawadros II has been unable to leave his home or to celebrate Mass in his Cathedral because of death threats. Perhaps 1000 people have died.
This is just the latest episode in the persecution of Christians in Egypt that predated the fall of the Mubarak regime. This persecution has escalated dramatically since then, and has pursued Coptic communities even outside Egypt. In January 2011, sixty Coptic churches around the world received threats of terror attacks, including four Coptic churches in Sydney. While the Coptic community in Sydney was not attacked, the increased security required cut short the community's celebration of the Orthodox Christmas.
Of course it is not just Christians who suffer religious persecution. The US State Department's International Religious Freedom Report for 2012 denounced eight nations because of their record of "particularly severe violations of religious freedom": Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. In several countries on this list Muslim communities (including minority Muslim groups within Muslim majority countries) are among those being persecuted. In Nigeria, Muslims as well as Christians are being killed by the Muslim extremist group Boko Haram. Elsewhere, there is still anti-Semitism.
All people of good will, with or without faith, should reject this violence.
Cardinal George Pell is the archbisnop of Syndney.