Evangelicals, Catholics United by Christian Persecution, Pope Francis Says

Pope Francis(Photo: Reuters/Arben Celi)Pope Francis blesses a child during his visit to Albania, in Tirana, September 21, 2014. Pope Francis is on a one-day trip to Albania, his first to a European country, to pay tribute to followers of all religions who suffered some of the worst persecution in the 20th century, and to hold up the impoverished nation as a model of inter-religious harmony.

The global persecution of Christians is uniting denominations, including Evangelicals and Roman Catholics, Pope Francis said in a message earlier this week.

"In various parts of the world, the witness to Christ, even to the shedding of blood, has become a shared experience of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Protestants, Evangelicals and Pentecostals, which is deeper and stronger than the differences which still separate our churches and ecclesial communities," Francis said in a message to Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

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Participants at the Global Christian Forum, which was held this week in Albania, reflected on the discrimination, persecution and martyrdom that believers around the world face, especially with the rise of the Islamic State terror group in Iraq and Syria.

Francis insisted that the communion of martyrs "is the greatest sign of our journeying together," expressing hopes that the meeting will highlight the stories of Christians around the world who face injustice and violence.

"Let us see this profound truth as a call to persevere on our ecumenical journey toward full and visible communion, growing more and more in love and mutual understanding," the pope said.

This past Sunday Christians around the world joined together for the International Day of Prayer, praying for both the victims of violence and the perpetrators of terrorism.

Persecution watchdog Open Doors, which hosted a webcast on stories of persecution this past Friday, noted that violence against Christians has increased in 2015, focusing on the crisis in the Middle East; in Nigeria; in North Korea, and other places.

One Kenyan woman featured in the webcast recalled the attacks by Islamic radicals at a college in Garissa back in April, where close to 150 Christian students were killed.

The woman said that her husband was killed in a separate attack by extremists, and she had to find a way to forgive the attackers.

"But one thing I had to allow myself to do, I had to allow God to deal with me in pain. The thing that I felt reaching out to me was love. And love these people who had done this. I tried very hard to think about this in my mind, but my heart was leading totally toward love," she said.

Pope Francis has said that groups like IS and Boko Haram, who are targeting Christians, do not know God.

Back in May, Francis quoted from John 16:2-3 where Jesus says: "The hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God. They will do this because they have not known either the Father or Me."

The pontiff encouraged Christians to take Jesus' words to heart.

"But do not be scandalized," he added. "The Holy Spirit will guide us and help us understand."

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