SASKATOON — An annual information and fundraising evening in support of persecuted Christians was held April 30 in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
The event included prayer, entertainment by classical guitarist Zeljko Bilandzic, an Indian buffet, and information about the situation facing persecuted Christians in Pakistan and some 60 other countries around the world.
“Again this year the funds that we raise will go toward sponsoring refugees who are living in areas of the world where Christians are being heavily persecuted right now,” said Myron Rogal, co-ordinator of the diocesan office of Justice and Peace and a member of the local committee that organizes the event.
Donations generated through the event provide seed money for parishes sponsoring refugees from vulnerable areas of the world, said Rogal. “Last year we had four small church groups apply for that funding.
The persecution of Christians is a multi-faceted problem that requires action on many fronts, Rogal said, noting that the sponsorship of refugees is only one part of “a very complicated solution.”
He called on those present to do what they can to raise awareness about the persecution of Christians — for instance, by visiting their members of Parliament and having a conversation; by sharing information with family members, in the workplace or community; and raising the issue with other charitable organizations they may be involved in.
“Often people have not heard about the persecution of Christians and of churches. Bring it up at an AGM, or with discussions in your volunteer groups.”
Rogal also stressed the power of prayer, and of growing in the understanding of faith — one’s own Christian faith as well as learning about other world religions.
He noted that the local awareness committee that organizes the annual fundraising dinner works with other Christian groups in the community to hold an information evening about the issue of persecuted Christians every fall.
Committee member Nadeem Imtiaz Bhatti described the persecution happening in Pakistan, where blasphemy laws have been abused to imprison the innocent, to attack and kill Christians, and to burn communities and churches.
He described the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother imprisoned in 2009 and still behind bars, who faces a death sentence, accused of blasphemy, and of the assassination of his own close relative, Shahbaz Bhatti, a minister in the government working to help religious minorities.
Bhatti described how thousands of Christians have fled Pakistan, and are struggling to survive as refugees in countries like Sri Lanka and Thailand.
“There is so much unrest in the world. Genocide of Christians is going on right now,” he said. “Fanatics believe that by killing human beings, including innocent children, in the name of religion, this will lead them to heaven.”
The attack on a Coptic Christian church in Egypt on Palm Sunday is another example of the dangers Christians around the world face for practising their faith, he noted. “We Canadians take for granted freedom to worship and so many choices of life that are not common in so many other countries,” Bhatti said.
“We need to support those facing big challenges in their lives. We need to stand with our brothers and sisters. We need to extend our prayer support as well as our financial support to help them.”
Rev. Greg Smith-Windsor, associate pastor at St. Augustine Parish in Humboldt, also spoke at the dinner. “The strife of persecuted Christians is something that we can often forget. It doesn’t get much coverage,” he said. “Our faith began and is rooted in the cross of Our Lord. It began with persecution, suffering and death. When we look at the early church, 29 out of the first 30 popes were martyred.”
The persecution of Christians happens around the world every day, and too often we think of them as mere statistics. “These are families, husbands, wives, children, with whom we are united in baptism,” Smith-Windsor said. “We are called to care for them and to pray for them and to love them and to fight for them very deeply.”