Pope Francis 'Deeply Concerned' About Christian Persecution, Says Stronger Than 1st Century Church

In an interview with Spanish-language magazine "La Vanguardia," Pope Francis said he is "deeply concerned" about the persecution of Christians today, which is "stronger than in the first centuries of the Church." He also discussed fundamentalism and anti-Semitism.

"The persecuted Christians are a concern that touches me very deeply as a pastor," Francis told the magazine, according to Catholic News Agency.

The people said while he knows a lot about persecution, "it doesn't seem prudent to talk about them here so I don't offend anyone."

However, Francis said he knows that "in some places it is prohibited to have a Bible or teach the catechism or wear a cross."

"What I would like to be clear on is one thing, I am convinced that the persecution against Christians today is stronger than in the first centuries of the Church," the pontiff added. "Today there are more Christian martyrs than in that period. And, it's not because of fantasy, it's because of the numbers."

In the current issue of The Weekly Standard magazine, Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, identifies three reasons why the contemporary persecution of Christians demands attention. "It is occurring on a massive scale, it is underreported, and in many parts of the world it is rapidly growing," he writes.

According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Christians are being persecuted in more places today than any other religious group. It shows that between 2006 and 2012, they were targeted for harassment in 151 countries.

Asked about violence in the name of God in the Middle East, Francis called the phenomenon "a contradiction."

"Violence in the name of God does not correspond with our time," he said. "It's something ancient. With historical perspective, one has to say that Christians, at times, have practiced it. When I think of the Thirty Years War, there was violence in the name of God. Today it is unimaginable, right? We arrive, sometimes, by way of religion to very serious, very grave contradictions. Fundamentalism, for example. The three religions, we have our fundamentalist groups, small in relation to all the rest."

Francis made his first visit as pope to the Holy Land last month. While the official purpose of the visit was to improve ties with the Orthodox Church, the pope was believed to have four goals, including to bring about peace in the Middle East.

The pope added that a fundamentalist group is violent "although it may not kill anyone, although it may not strike anyone." And this is because "the mental structure of fundamentalists is violence in the name of God."

Francis was reminded that he once said that "within every Christian there is a Jew."

"You cannot live your Christianity, you cannot be a real Christian, if you do not recognize your Jewish roots," the pope responded. "I don't speak of Jewish in the sense of the Semitic race but rather in the religious sense," he explained. "I think that inter-religious dialogue needs to deepen in this, in Christianity's Jewish root and in the Christian flowering of Judaism. I understand it is a challenge, a hot potato, but it can be done as brothers. I pray every day the divine office every day with the Psalms of David. We do the 150 psalms in one week. My prayer is Jewish and I have the Eucharist, which is Christian."

The pontiff also said he cannot explain why anti-Semitism happens. "But I think it is very linked, in general, and without it being a fixed rule, to the right wing. Anti-Semitism usually nests better in right-wing political tendencies that in the left, right? And it still continues. We even have those who deny the holocaust, which is crazy."

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