Greg Erlandson

Greg Erlandson

What does persecution look like?

In Terry Gilliam’s 1985 dystopian film “Brazil,” there is a scene where diners at a restaurant casually continue eating their meals while a terrorist bomb explodes nearby, taking out another table of diners.

The scene has often come back to me as I look at what our society increasingly accepts as normal. Oh, acts of terror that are sufficiently filmed — thank God for security cameras — do attract attention, but that attention wanes, and we move on.

How many people died in San Bernardino, California? In Nice, France? In Oklahoma City? Remember when we could remember?

This past month the world was treated to two horrible terrorist events. (Actually, many more than two, but only two really made it onto the 7 o’clock news.)


In one, a suicide bomber apparently allied with the Islamic State group blew himself up at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, killing 22 people and wounding 59 more. It was a hideous event in which the few cellphone videos recording the panic were played over and over again for several nights.

A few days later, Islamic State group terrorists stopped a busload of Christian pilgrims in Egypt on their way to a monastery. The terrorists identified the pilgrims as Christian (since they would not recite Islam’s act of faith — “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammed is the messenger of Allah”) and slaughtered 29 of them, wounding 25 more.

The news coverage of this massacre was much less intense, in part because there was no good video of it taking place. The number of fatalities was higher than at the Ariana concert — and the intent was most clearly to kill Christians — but its impact quickly faded. There will not be any celebrity-studded rock concert to commemorate these victims or help their families.

It is not enough, however, to point our fingers at others. To the extent that we — you and me, God-fearing Christians who profess to love one another — simply chalk up that slaughter in Egypt as one more of a jumble of Middle Eastern bloodbaths and turn away, then we are like those celluloid diners in the restaurant, continuing our conversation while the table next to us explodes.

For while the killing at the Manchester concert was truly an act of random terror, the killing in Egypt was coldblooded and targeted. Those 29 victims are martyrs killed for their faith.

And what happened in Egypt in May was not an isolated incident. There have been four attacks against Christians since December in which more than 100 people have died.


One monitoring organization, Open Doors, estimates that worldwide 322 Christians are killed and 214 churches or Christian properties destroyed every month.

Pope Francis is not exaggerating when he says that more Christians are being martyred today than during the persecutions of the early Christians. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read about the martyrdom of Stephen. Today we are surrounded by hundreds, thousands, of his fellows, yet it seems hardly to stir the soul.

If we are to be moved by these horrors, however, let it not be to hatred or desire for revenge. Rather, let us be moved by the example of those who — like their predecessors — refused to renounce their faith even when facing death and by the bravery of those Christians — priests and people — who remain in their homelands, steadfast in the face of such danger.

As one Chaldean bishop says, “I am doing my duty as a witness — praying, attending to the Eucharist, showing the presence of the Lord and serving him with joy.”

May we all pray to be as brave and as loving.


Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at