TORONTO – Religious persecution, whether by mob violence, popular prejudice or state-imposed restrictions on religious practice, is significant in 163 countries, with Christianity being the number one target.
Those facts come from the Pew Research Centre's Forum on Religion and Public Life.
The world's 2.2 billion Christians face significant state or popular persecution in 130 countries, says the Pew Forum.
Meanwhile, Aid to the Church in Need estimates 150,000 Christians are killed annually because of their faith.
At the same time violence against Jews, who represent less than one per cent of the world's population, is on the rise. Muslims in China, Russia and in many majority Muslim countries face either constant state harassment or inter-communal violence.
Not much of this makes the news. Vision TV is trying to cut a hole in the wall of silence with a series of Monday night broadcasts throughout May and June. The broadcaster is calling the series The War on Faith, Religious Persecution Around the World.
Toronto's Cardinal Thomas Collins, former newspaper baron Conrad Black, documentary filmmaker Martin Himel, Toronto Rabbi Yossi Saperman, Imam Shabir Ally and Hindu Pandit Roopnauth Sharma gathered at Vision's studios April 26 for an hour-long panel discussion about why religious persecution is on the rise and why it gets so little attention. The discussion will be broadcast on Vision May 13 at 10 p.m. Eastern and 8 p.m. Mountain.
"It staggers me it's not getting more attention," panel host Libby Znaimer told The Catholic Register.
Black called media indifference to religious conflict and persecution shameful.
The problem is that newsrooms at major media outlets are controlled by people who "are not religiously minded," Black said. "They don't notice."
Collins called the absence of media awareness "absolutely shocking. "
Christians in the West have been put in a delicate position by the violent disintegration of societies in the Middle East, said Collins.
As Christians have found themselves suddenly unwelcome in Iraq, Egypt and now Syria, parishes and dioceses have been moved to rescue refugees who simply cannot return home.
The problem with bringing Christian refugees from the Middle East to Canada is that it aids the extremist militias whose aim is to rid the region of all Christians.
"If we are completely successful and bring them all to Canada, well there goes Christianity in the Middle East," Collins said.
Violent fundamentalism puts ordinary Muslims in a bind, said Ally. If Muslims turn on the fundamentalists, in effect excommunicating them, they only create another division among Muslims.
In Islam, the unity of all Muslims is one of the highest ideals. The solution has to be greater religious literacy and more serious reading of the Quran, he said. "Human intellect has to apply Scripture to our circumstances."
Reading the Quran in its historical context should become a minimum standard, not just for Imams but for all Muslims, said Ally.