Archbishop of Canterbury's Easter message pays tribute to persecuted Christians


The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope will today issue a powerful call today on behalf of all Christians persecuted by Islamic militants worldwide.

Pope Francis warns in his Easter homily of the difficulty of maintaining the Christians presence in lands where most Christians used to live.

Archbishop Justin Welby says issues such as sexuality which have torn churches apart internally, along with politics and gender, are "irrelevant".

He uses his Easter sermon today to remember the hundreds of thousands of Christians being martyred in Africa and the Middle East.

The Coptic Christians murdered in Libya last month died proclaiming that "Jesus Christ is Lord," he says today at Canterbury Cathedral.

"In every town and village in this country, in almost every country round the world, churches stand as mute confession of the resurrection," he says.

Cathedrals and churches make great statements, but without words.

"Witnesses are those people who know Christ; lay or ordained, old or young, gender, politics, sexuality or whatever irrelevant - all are equally witnesses."

The Archbishop says that to witness is to be a martyr.

"I am told by the Coptic Bishop in England that the Coptic Christians murdered in Libya last month died proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord. They are martyrs, a word that means both one that dies for their faith and one that witnesses to faith. There have been so many martyrs in the last year.

"On Maundy Thursday, three days ago around 150 Kenyans were killed because of being Christian. They are witnesses, unwilling, unjustly, wickedly, and they are martyrs in both senses of the word.

"Christians must resist without violence the persecution they suffer and support persecuted communities, with love and goodness and generosity."

The Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols told the Easter vigil at Westminster Cathedral: "As the sun rises each day, so the Son of God rises in our hearts, and by his light, we live that day and see everything around it."

Life for Christians in most of the 50 countries on the Open Doors world watch list is getting more difficult, the charity says.

In Syria along, four in ten Christians have fled the country. Nigeria, Iraq and Sudan are among the countries where thousands are suffering still, while in North Korea, which heads the persecution list, tens of thousands have been banished, arrested, tortured and killed and where the kidnapping and arrest of South Korean missionary Kim Jeong-Wook saw dozens more, presumed to be Christians, also rounded up, tortured and murdered.

In Pakistan Christians are socially excluded, living in fear of trumped-up blasphemy charges. Open doors says persecution is increasing most rapidly in Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa where even Christian-majority states are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination and violence. Kenya, the scene of the terrible mass university shootings, was the highest riser on the latest watch list, up to 19th from 43. Open Doors says Islamic extremism is "the most significant engine of persecution".