Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

I am writing this blog from Albania, a country which was ruled by one of the harshest Communist regimes anywhere, the country which prided itself to be the first to define itself as an atheist state in its constitution.  In 1967 it issued a decree closing down all places of worship, of whatever religion, and prohibiting all religious practices, even in private.

Earlier this year 38 martyrs of this era were beatified; the last one to suffer martyrdom was killed in 1974 because he baptised a newborn. The Catholics were those who suffered most, but all believers,  whether Muslim or Christian Orthodox, suffered persecution.

Persecution in our times

For most of us, persecution is something that belongs to the past, we associate it mostly with the Roman Empire. Yet, according to Vatican journalist John Allen in his book The Global War on Christians, ours is the time when persecution is claiming more victims than ever. The biggest number of victims of religious persecution in the world today are Christians. Allen quotes reliable sources that estimate that as many as 100,000 Christians are killed each year because of their religion.

Let us think of the Christians in the Middle East, the place where Christianity was born: they were around 20% of the population a century ago, now they are down to no more than 3-4%.

Soft persecution

Then there is another, more subtle kind of persecution, that which takes place in liberal countries, and which includes no shedding of blood, no imprisonment.  It takes the form of a strong prejudice against any type of religious belief, so that believers often end up considered as less equal than others, and suffer for their faith. In practice to be a believer is looked at as being linked to something no longer relevant, and all believers are by definition intolerant.

In more countries, new laws that purport to ensure there is no discrimination end up discriminating against people who hold religious beliefs, especially as regards employment laws in institutions having an ethos based on religious faith.

It is good to remember those who are still persecuted for the sake of righteousness in our own times. When it is our turn to suffer for our beliefs, let us remember those who suffer much more than us, and consider ourselves blessed for sharing the same fate as Jesus himself.

Today’s audiovisual shows Pope Francis’ prayer intentions for last month, March 2017, – Help persecuted Christians:

Read more about the Albanian martyrs here.

And below, you may view a short video about the martyrs of Albania.