When Christian leaders, handcuffed and chained, appeared before Cold War courts in Eastern Europe – we were often reminded that they were experiencing exactly the same fate as Jesus Christ himself on the first Good Friday: suffering persecution, because they refused to back off from proclaiming the message they were sent to preach.

In recent decades, we knew that persecution was still going on – but farther away (and so ‘under the radar’). However, now in the last couple of years, the persecution of Christians – particularly in the Middle East – has flared up massively.

The bishops of those Christian communities have openly declared that they have been abandoned by The West. Pope Francis has told the European Parliament that today Christians are being subjected to “barbaric acts of violence”: killed, beheaded, crucified, burned alive – if not evicted from their homes and lands or sold as slaves.

Speaking out about the issue by this stage, you have most of the main candidates in the American Presidential race – they are demanding that the effort to exterminate middle-eastern Christians be named for what it is: ‘genocide’. Most outspoken is Hilary Clinton – who has become convinced that the violence is “deliberately aimed at destroying not only the lives, but wiping out the existence, of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East”.

On a charge of genocide, perpetrators can be brought before the international court of justice. The United Nations defines as genocide: actions against a group of people “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.

Echoing the words of the Pope, one commentator (Breda O’Brien) asks, “How else would you classify:- the expulsion from places they have inhabited for centuries – the forced conversion, rape and enslavement of women and children – torture, beheadings and massacres of Christians … except as genocide?”

Public figures who’re speaking out

From Britain’s Parliament, 75 MPs have joined the campaign to have this persecution categorized as genocide. In a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, they write: Having been once been “U.S. Secretary Of State, Hilary Clinton knows the Middle East well – and her backing for our position sends a very clear signal to the United Nations that it should determine that genocide is indeed being perpetrated”.

As we know, Jesus was arrested, scourged and humiliated in the 24 hours leading up to his crucifixion on the first Good Friday. During the present weeks of Lent – while we meditate on the events of the first Holy week and Easter Sunday – we should make ourselves ready to speak out in the cause of those Christians of today who’re prepared to die rather than be ‘converted away’ from the following of Jesus.

From America’s capital, Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl asks: “Why so muted a response? … Where are the voices of congresses and parliaments around the world? Where are the voices on campuses? Where are the voices of community leaders? Where are the voices of talk-show hosts?

Why a hesitancy to call the situation by its proper name – genocide?”

The full reality of the situation was brought home to an audience in Dublin recently by a man so familiar with the Middle east that he is known as the ‘Vicar of Baghdad’ – Church of England Canon Andrew White: “Up to two years ago”, he recalled, “the region of Nineveh [around the Iraqi city of Mosul] was all Christian; now there isn’t one Christian left. They were massacred and their businesses were destroyed”. Canon White appealed to Ireland’s people to include persecuted Christians among the refugees we take in.

Are only some protests “fashionable”?

In America in actual Government circles, the attitude is puzzling. The Obama administration limits itself to levelling the charge of genocide in the Middle East against the persecution of the Yazidis.

One is prompted to ask: Is there such a thing as a ‘more deserving minority’ – or even a ‘fashionable minority’?

One is also prompted to ask – echoing the words of Cardinal Wuerl – “Where are now all those liberal voices who were so loud in condemning the alleged failure of church figures to speak out against World War II persecution of the Jewish people?”

I know that one should never try to ‘rate’ the horror of one tragedy against the horror of another; and I know that the full facts are not available – but a claim justifying silence in one situation can certainly appear more sustainable than the same claim in another situation…

During the Nazi era, the Pope was aware that already a public protest against persecution of Jews in Holland had only resulted in immediate retaliation against the Jewish persons there. So it can be argued that this led him to desist from protest…By contrast, in today’s Middle Eastern situation there is far more room for manoeuvre: for bringing pressure to bear on persecutors.