Charity backs Baroness Warsi's warning of Christian exodus

A woman lights a candle among pictures of slain Iraqi Christians at Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, December 31, 2010.AP

Warnings from Baroness Warsi that Christianity could be wiped out in the Middle East were endorsed by the UK head of a leading Catholic charity.

Neville Kyrke-Smith, the national director of Aid to the Church in Need, praised the UK government minister for highlighting the persecution of Christians in her speech at Georgetown University, Washington, USA today (15th November) and backed her conclusions.

Baroness Warsi said: "A mass exodus is taking place, on a biblical scale. In some places, there is a real danger that Christianity will become extinct."

Drawing attention to the falling numbers of Christians in the region, she said that in Iraq the number of Christians had fallen from 1.2 million in 1990 to 200,000 today.

Mr Neville Kyrke-Smith said: "Baroness Warsi's analysis that Christian numbers are dwindling to unprecedentedly low levels in many countries – particularly the Middle East – echoes one of the key findings of Aid to the Church in Need's Persecuted and Forgotten? report issued last month.

"In some places, it is possible that there will be no Christian presence left within my lifetime."

The charity's Persecuted and Forgotten? report raised serious questions about the long-term survival of Christianity in the Middle East.

According to the report's authors: "All faith communities have suffered, but Christian groups have proved more vulnerable than most and have been disproportionately affected by violence and turmoil.

"Already decimated in Iraq, the Christian presence in Egypt and Syria is now in peril, representing an assault on some of the last remaining influential Church communities in the region."

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Baroness Warsi said: "I am concerned the birthplace of Christianity, the parts of the world where Christianity first spread, is now seeing large sections of the Christian community leaving and those that are remaining feeling persecuted.

"Tragically, what's happening is they are being seen as newcomers, being portrayed as an 'other' within that society, even though they have existed there for many, many centuries."

Stating that Christian face "discrimination, ostracism, torture, even murder, simply for the faith they follow", Baroness Warsi also drew attention to the situation of other religious minorities facing persecution, such as the Baha'is in Iran, Rohingya Muslims in Burma.

Mr Kyrke-Smith said: "Aid to the Church in Need would strongly agree with Baroness Warsi's comments that violence against Christians by militant groups is now a 'global crisis' presenting one of the biggest challenges in the world today.

"In numerous places where Christians are in the minority, they – along with other religious minorities – are facing violence and other forms of persecution from extremists who are trying to force them into submission or wipe them out."

He concluded by thanking the FCO minister for raising awareness of religious freedom violations and the problems faced by many Christians.

Mr Neville Kyrke-Smith said: "Aid to the Church in Need praises Baroness Warsi for giving these important issues the attention they deserve."