THE PRESIDENT OF MASLIBRES. ORG CLOSES THE III INTERNATIONAL “WE ARE ALL NAZARENES” CONFERENCE
-During the two-day event 14 people from Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia who had suffered at the hands of violent jihadists because of their faith, made their voices heard.
-Ignacio Arsuaga, president of MasLibres.org: “ I am convinced that if we are able to overcome the indifference in our hearts, we will stop the genocide against Christians, stop the persecution and win the battle of religious freedom and human rights in the world.”
MADRID, 20 DE OCTUBRE DE 2018.- Christians who suffer persecution by islamists have called for the intervention of the UN at the #WeAreN2018 Conference to stop violence against believers. This was the common demand expressed in the majority of the testimonies given during the symposium.
A video of speeches, presentations and contributions during the #WeAreN2018 Conference can be viewed here.
The last day of the III International ‘We are all Nazarenes Conference’ #WeAreN2018 was Saturday. Attendees heard the testimony of Father Gabriele Firas, who is being persecuted after having converted to becoming the first Iraqi priest of the Syrian-Catholic rite.
The priest spoke about the situation of Christians in Iraq, especially that of young people and adolescents. He affirmed that “it is a challenge” to be a Christian in the Middle East. ‘If I don’t go into exile, who can guarantee a future for me in Iraq?’ That’s what young Christians are asking themselves,” Father Firas said on the last day of the #WeAreN2018 Conference.
“There is no lack of economic resources, but a lack of vision for the future”, he warned. “We need a future far from extremism and violence in order to create a new society. We need to build bridges, not walls. A youth tends to look towards extremism in the midst of great problems, especially that of not finding work. We can help them find a way out if we offer them a future”, Father Gabriele concluded.
Before Father Firas’ testimony, a screening of the documentary “21 martyrs” took place telling the story of Coptic Christians who were decapitated on a beach in Libya. The documentary was put together by MasLibres.org and CitizenGO with exclusive statements from the families of those who had been so brutally assassinated.
He became a slave for his jailers
Afterwards it was Petr Jasek’s turn, the Czech Christian aid worker, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Sudan, accused of spying by the islamist authorities. Jasek told of his over 400 days in five different Sudanese prisons, where he was questioned and tortured, not only by jailers, but also by his prison mates.
“They knew that I was a Christian. They started calling me a swine. They made me into their slave; I had to wash their clothes, their underpants, the bathroom … and since I didn’t respond to their insults, they started to kick me. Their hatred towards me grew stronger and the fact that I wouldn’t act out against them caused them to hate me even more,” he said.
“On some occasions they would try to smother me by wrapping a towel around my head and pouring water on me. The jailers said and did nothing for fear of these ISIS prisoners,” he explained. “However knowing how much others had suffered and even been mutilated, helped prepare me for persecution. And on some occasions, for some strange reason I was able to endure the beatings and even relax while I was being tortured. I found out later, after having been liberated, that family and friends had been praying for me in those moments,” he said.
Living under the blasphemy law
After Jasek’s speech, the Pakistani refugee and resident of Spain, Aslam M. spoke about what life is like for Christians in Pakistan under the blasphemy law.
“I had to leave my country because of death threats. They had beaten my wife and tried to burn down our house. This was in 1999. I had my own company and lived well. But when I protested against the blasphemy laws, the problems started,“ he explained.
And he concluded: “After they tried to burn down our house, I went to the police who refused to register my complaint because I had protested against Pakistani laws.They told me it would be better if I left my country,” he said. “I could leave because I had the money to do so, but the majority of Christians in Pakistan cannot do this and they have to live under the pressure of the country’s Muslim majority.”
Another speaker at the III International “We are all Nazarenes” Congress was Samir Khalil Samir, expert on the Middle East, Arab-Christian culture, theology, islam, the integration of Muslims in Europe and Christian-Muslim relations.
Khalil focused on the importance of knowing the origins of Islam and the Koran, as well as the difference between the pacifist verses and those promoting war, which in his opinion leads to the problems seen today. “Every good Muslim has to decide which verses they want to apply to their lives; if they want to live peacefully they choose verses about peace and if they want war, as is the case with Boko Haram, they speak of the verses promoting war.”
Khalil explained that the problem with Islam is ambiguity which results from Muhammad’s own life and above all the way the Koran is constructed, written by people after his death.
Helping persecuted Christians
Following this, the attendees heard the testimony of Father Antonio Aurelio Fernández, who heads up the project Trinitarian International Solidarity, helping millions of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
Contrary to what Samir Khalil explained, the priest stressed that the difference between Christianity and Islam is that the Christianity looks at people as people, without regard for their tribe, race, country while Islam doesn’t.
Father Aurelio also said that “in this globalised world we are responsible for religious persecution”. He added: “As Christians we believe that God is love, not a tyrant who created people who live well and others who are ruined. No, he created everyone equal and if some are ruined, it is because they have been robbed.”
The priest insisted on the importance of freedom “as Christian concept”, which is the basis of democracy. “In Islam there is no concept of freedom, equality or democracy. The West needs to defend this concept, but without imposing it,” he said.
Tortured and violated by Boko Haram
On Saturday Rebecca Bitrus told her tragic story of when at only 26 years of age, she was kidnapped, tortured and raped by Boko Haram terrorists. “I was happy living with my husband and my two children. We had enough to eat and drink. Everything changed on 21. August 2014 when Boko Haram showed up at my wedding. My husband and I decided to flee separately, so they wouldn’t kidnap us together and because they were capturing and killing everyone in their path. Boko Haram managed to get hold of me and my children and said that as of this moment I would no longer be a Christian, but a Muslim,” she explained.
The terrorists took Rebecca to a forest where she saw the Chibok girls who had been kidnapped on 14. April 2014. “These young girls were being submitted to much torture. They were treated like slaves because the majority of them wer Christians.” she said.
She experienced the same horror. “They mistreated us and forced us to marry Boko Haram fighters. I refused because I was already married. So they took my youngest son and threw him into the river. I jumped in after him hoping that I could save us both, but my son drowned. That same day they raped me and I became pregnant. I gave birth to a child of a Boko Haram fighter”, she explained with emotion.
The terrorists’ violence against the young woman did not stop. They wanted her to sacrifice herself. “When I found out that they wanted me to strap on a suicide bomb, I refused. I was raised in a Christian home and my parents taught me to value the lives of human beings,”she said.
Rebecca managed to escape from the terrorist, but wasn’t sure if she wanted to take her son, the result of rape, with her. “I was happy to be able to escape, but felt pain at the thought of taking my son with me. My older son said that he had already lost his younger brother and he didn’t want to be alone. When I was reunited with my husband, he took the little one in as his own child and said that he is a child of God,” she explained. And she added: “My son is now three years old. We are very happy. I cannot thank God enough.”
No light and hands that are tied
Father Tom Uzhunnalil and Father George Muttathuparambil shared their experience as missionaries in Yemen, where they served at the Mission of the Sisters of Mercy.
The Salesian missionary originally from India, was held captive in Yemen by Islamist terrorists for 18 months and was liberated a year ago. He said this about his captivity: “I heard shots from the main entrance but I wasn’t afraid, because I was used to bombings. I walked out and saw a man with a face mask holding a gun. They then took me to a car and, knowing that I was a Christian, they put me in the trunk of the car. They took me to a house where they blindfolded me and tied up my hands for months,” he said.
Throughout a year he was moved from one place to the next. He never knew where he was, but his prayers kept him alive. “From the beginning I spoke to the Lord. The strength of the assassinated sisters and the prayers of the people kept me going,”he explained.
He added: “The kidnappers never mistreated me. They found out that I was diabetic and tried get medication for me, but it was impossible. I know they never did me any harm, but spending so much time without seeing anyone was unbearable. I never thought that they were going to kill me, but if they were going to, then it was Jesus who had decided it was time. All I wanted was that it would happen quickly.”
After having been liberated, Father Tom met with Pope Benedict XVI. “It was very emotional. I was crying and thanking him for all the help he had given me. The Holy Father helped me get up and kissed my hand twice. He was a loving father. I don’t have words to describe it,” he remembered.
Father George summed up how he experienced the kidnapping of Father Tom from a parish 180 km away. explained how Sister Sally, a survivor of the attack, had to bury four sisters who had been gunned down in only two hours, in a ditch with the help of local Yemeni. He showed photos of the assassinated sisters.
The president of MasLibres.org, Ignacio Arsuaga, closed the III International “We are all Nazarenes” Conference (#WeAreN2018) thanking everyone for their testimony. “These have been two intense days, we have heard from victims of very direct and real persecution, from those who suffer discrimination, hate and violence on a daily basis because of their Christian beliefs,” he said.
To conclude, Arsuaga affirmed: “I am convinced, that if we all unite and overcome indifference in our hearts, we can put a stop to the genocide against Christians, stop persecution and win the battle for religious freedom and human rights in the world.“
A congress to lift the voices of the persecuted
On the last day of the III International “We are all Nazarenes” Conference (#WeAreN2018) there was a screening of the documentary 21 martyrs’, filmed on the beaches of Libya. This film which was produced by MasLibres.org and CitizenGO, tells the story of 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded by Islamic State on the Libyan coast. The execution was first discovered through a video on 15. February 2015.
After the conference held in 2015 (Madrid) and 2016 (at the UN headquarters in New York), this year’s congress is specifically dedicated to the children who suffer because of their faith and there will be harrowing testimonies as well as a screening of the film “This is how persecuted Christians live” and the documentary “21 martyrs”.
The III International Conference“We all are Nazarenes” (#WeAreN2018) is organized by the foundation CitizenGO and the foundation MasLibres.org, established in Spain in 2011 with the aim to defend religious freedom.
Information about the III International Conference “We all are Nazarenes” can be found here.
Images of the last day of the #WeAreN2018 Conference can be viewed via the following links: