As Christians are killed and forcibly dragged off from Mosul to India, their homes and personal items are often lost as well. Families may only be left with only a photograph or wedding ring to remember their loved ones, and sometimes even less.
As a token remedy, a new exhibit by “Aid to the Church in Need” collects and displays “everyday objects that offer mute witnesses to the thousands of lives lost by Christians” for their faith. It runs in the Italian city of Rimini during an annual forum on almost everything, from August 19-25.
This can be called an art exhibit regardless of aesthetics. British artist Tracey Emin shared her unmade bed with the world in 1998 and this “installation” launched her into super artstar orbit. Her offerings included filthy underwear, used condoms and other realistic touches which led to the most prestigious prizes in the UK. Heaps of abused and dead Christians aren’t considered nearly so compelling in the art world, so they aren’t expecting a Turner Prize. But this exhibit is one of the few efforts to commemorate 21st century religious genocide in a tangible way.
“A swing, a teddy bear, a carousel, a menu, university desks and a restaurant table are among the ordinary objects that have become mute witnesses to the thousands of lives cut too short. …”
Curators featured attacks in different parts of the world by Islamic extremists. Bombing victims from a 2016 Easter celebration in Lahore, Pakistan represented the many attacks on churches and Christians. More than 400 were killed or injured. The Catholic church labels murders like these as odium fide, or hatred solely because of our faith. There are so many types of hate, they need several Latin phrases to classify the genocide. Some victims are anonymous martyrs such as Chioma Dike’s family, killed in a 2011 Christmas service in Nigeria. Dike lost her husband and three children in the explosion and the remaining two are permanently injured.
In Kenya in 2015, 148 Christian students were killed by Islamic militants. One of them was Mary Muchiri Shee, a beautiful young student and human rights promoter who was killed because she couldn’t recite the Quran. Shee was crowned Miss Garissa University College in 2015, but didn’t even live out the year. In a tragic twist of irony, Mary not only saved others, but was writing an unfinished thesis on peace at the time: “Interfaith Dialogue: A bridge between Islam and Christianity,” which speaks volumes after her unjust death. It is one of the objects displayed.
Curators tried to project the scope of the problem in this exhibit and guides are available to ask questions in person. There are also eyewitnesses from Christian persecution in Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Central African Republic and Colombia (which was the most dangerous country for priests until ISIS gave it a run).
A young student from Aleppo, Syria spoke at the recent World Youth Day (WYD) held in Poland this year. “As you may know, our city has been destroyed, ruined, and broken. The meaning in our lives has been canceled. We are the forgotten city.” Youth there heard that “200 million people around the world today are being persecuted, killed, forced out of their homes and countries, or imprisoned for their faith.” With Christians murdered in more ways and in greater numbers than any other group of persons, why is there no specific hate-crime designation for this? Why is there so little attention?
Sponsors “Aid to the Church in Need” responded to this human-rights disaster by distributing 52 million copies of illustrated Bibles in nations where Christians are persecuted. Working with the arts, they also created musical shows about these tragedies for World Youth Day just a few weeks back. These ran repeatedly in Poland, where even Pope Francis may have seen it while he was there.
Locals from Rimini began this “Meeting for the Friendship Amongst Peoples” in 1980 as a place for peace, socialization and friendship in a yearly event. Sounds wonderful, but the world has transitioned so horribly since then, including Italy. Their response was to welcome everyone, including Islamic scholars and artists. In typical Western optimism, the worse it gets, the more Muslims are included and their advice sought. Tone is polite and even academic at times, so they don’t just blurt out, “Why are you killing us and will you ever stop?”
Oddly, I couldn’t even find this exhibit listed on their impressive 14-page schedule. Yet it was publicized far in advance. The words “martyr,” “victim” or “genocide” didn’t appear once among their 80 possibilities and exhibit appeared to be hidden. It’s as if the Church and the West connected to it are ashamed to admit our victimization, the way a woman is after a violent, gang rape.
Yet other offerings were boldly outlined, such as: “Nashville & Backbones,” “Which Islam is in Europe?,” “Future of the Italian Constitution” and “Social Agriculture.” Even Italian President Sergio Mattarella showed up to get things rolling in Rimini. Organizers of the exhibit hope their pictures and witnesses will compel visitors to “reflect upon that which thousands of Christians all over the world are experiencing today.”
If they can find it.
Incidentally Info-Central or “Google” adds to the persecution of Christians in their own way. I entered “India low caste Christians martyred” as a search term and the first entry was a 2001 essay by Francois Gautier denying persecution and asking instead if “Hinduism” would “survive the present Christian offensive”! So the last 15 years of increasing abuse, including entire villages annihilated, is denied by disinformation. Someone had to really search for this old, biased piece by an obscure writer. This is why any attempts at keeping records, memorializing or creating art to honor Christian martyrs is vital.
Creating a “Tunnel of Memories” as part of the exhibit in Rimini, sponsors used portraits of a few contemporary Christian martyrs. Some of the faces are recognizable globally, such as French priest Father Jacques Hamel whose throat was cut in a Rouen cathedral just this month. They note that others are being forgotten, even ones who showed in the press. There are so many victims. Conservative estimates are that a Christian is killed “for motives related to the faith” every hour somewhere across the world.
At the end of this exhibition a note reads, “This can happen to anyone, anyplace, all because of their faith.” However at this point it is only happening to Christians, with a few exceptions. Some of them are in Italy. The theme of this Christian-sponsored conference which focuses greatly on Islamic immigration this year is, “You are a good for me.”