DYING FOR THEIR FAITH: Number of Christian martyrs doubled in 2013
More than 2,000 martyr killings reported by agency
The cost of belief more than doubled in the recently concluded year of 2013. The non-denominational group Open Doors reported 2,123 "martyr" killings in 2013, in contrast to 1,201 the year before in 2012. The group, which supports persecuted Christians worldwide, says there were 1,213 such deaths in Syria - alone, in 2013.
Nigeria follows Syria in the number of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs. Christian churches are routinely bombed and terrorized by members of the Boko Haram sect.
"This is a very minimal count based on what has been reported in the media and we can confirm," Frans Veerman, head of research for Open Doors said. Other estimates by other Christian groups put the annual figure as high as 8,000.
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North Korea is at the top of its list of 50 most dangerous countries for Christians, a position it has held since the annual survey began 12 years ago. Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan were the next four in line.
There is also increasing violence against Christians in Africa. Radical Muslims were the main source of persecution in 36 countries on its list. "Islamist extremism is the worst persecutor of the worldwide church," said the report.
According to a survey by the U.S.-based Pew Forum, Christianity is the largest and most widely spread faith in the world, with 2.2 billion followers, or 32 percent of the world population. Th3e Christian faith faces restrictions and hostility in 111 countries, ahead of the 90 countries limiting or harassing the second-largest faith, Islam, another Pew survey has reported.
"In Syria, another war is thriving in the shadow of the civil war -- the war against the church," Michel Varton, head of Open Doors France told journalists. Failing states with civil wars or persistent internal tensions were often the most dangerous for Christians.
Ten percent of Syrians are Christians. Many have become targets for Islamist rebels who see them as supporters of President Bashar al-Assad.
Nine of the 10 countries listed as dangerous for Christians are Muslim-majority states. Saudi Arabia is an exception, but ranked sixth because of its total ban on practicing faiths other than Islam.
The number of deaths related to Christian persecution Nigeria followed Syria with 612 cases from last year after 791 in 2012. Pakistan was third with 88, up from 15 in 2012. Egypt ranked fourth with 83 deaths after 19 the previous year.
The report spoke of "horrific violence often directed at Christians" in the Central African Republic but said only nine deaths were confirmed last year because "most analysts still fail to recognize the religious dimension of the conflict."
While the report held no number for killings in North Korea, Christians there faced "the highest imaginable pressure" and some 50,000 to 70,000 lived in political prison camps.
"The God-like worship of the rulers leaves no room for any other religion," it said.
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Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2014
Respect for Women: That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
Vocations: That many young people may accept the Lordís invitation to consecrate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel.
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