Facts About Persecuted Christians
As Catholics and other Christians throughout the United States observe the Week of Awareness for Persecuted Christians co-sponsored by the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Knights of Columbus, here are some facts on Christians in the Middle East and the Order’s work in bringing aid to them.
- For the first thousand years after Christ, Christianity was primarily a Middle Eastern religion. Until around 1000 AD, there were more Christians in the Middle East than in Europe.
- Christians living in the Middle East have survived severe persecution, most recently with ISIS’ campaign of genocide.
- From 1910 to 2010, the percentage of the population of the Middle East made up of Christians declined from 14 percent to 4 percent. This was prior to ISIS’ genocide.
- The number of Christians in Iraq has declined by as much as 90 percent over the last several years, from 1.5 million before 2003, to about 200,000 today. The number of Christians in Syria has declined by as much as 70 percent.
- ISIS has executed thousands of Christians by barbaric methods, including crucifixion and beheading, and an ISIS affiliated group recently declared that Christians are their “favorite prey.”
- ISIS has engaged in mass deportations of Christians from their ancestral homelands.
- In 2015, Christians were targeted in more countries (128) than any other religious group according to a 2017 Pew Research Center study.
- Both Iraq and Syria ranked in the top ten countries for extent and degree of persecution of Christians according to the 2017 World Watch List published by Open Doors USA.
- Christian women have been kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery.
- Mass graves of Christians have been documented in Syria by Aid to the Church in Need.
- Despite their own plight, Christians in the region regularly help non-Christians in need, including Yazidis and Shabak.
Knights of Columbus Support for Persecuted Christians in the Middle East
- Since 2014, the Knights of Columbus Christian Refugee Relief Fund has committed more than $17 million to aid persecuted Christians in Iraq, Syria and the surrounding region.
- In 2016, the Knights of Columbus led a major advocacy and publicity campaign in support of the U.S. congressional and state department declarations of genocide, producing a nearly-300 page report on ISIS’ genocide against Christians and gathering 140,000 signatures for a petition calling for the declaration of the genocide.
- The Knights of Columbus has also advocated for U.S. government relief funds to be directed to those communities targeted for genocide by ISIS.
- Among the projects to which K of C funding has been committed are:
- Resettlement of the town of Karamles in Nineveh (Iraq)
- General relief in Syria
- New housing units in Iraq
- Assistance for Christians targeted by ISIS in Egypt
- Assistance for Christian refugee programs in Lebanon and Jordan
- Food programs in Iraq
- Rental assistance for displaced Christians in Iraq
- Support for catechetical and educational programs for displaced families
- K of C support for persecuted religious minorities in the Middle East is consistent with the Order’s tradition of standing for religious liberty and diversity since its founding more than a century ago.
- The K of C was a vocal opponent of the Ku Klux Klan’s bigotry and led an international effort on behalf of Catholics being persecuted in Mexico in the 1920s.
- Learn more about the Knights of Columbus’ efforts to help genocide victims by visiting ChristiansAtRisk.org.