International (MNN) — While World Peace Day is still a few days away, Pope Benedict XVI declared in his annual World Peace Day message that Christians are the world's most persecuted religious group. He said religious intolerance and violence is an insult to God, human dignity, and is a threat to world security.
An organization that focused on the persecuted church around the world is Open Doors. Spokesman for the ministry's USA office, Jerry Dykstra, says he agrees with the Pope's assessment. "The marginalization of Christians overall, especially in the Middle East, has increased over the past six months."
Dykstra says, "Anything coming out of the Vatican is automatically heard around the world. So I think that will affect some of these nations, or at least we pray that it will. We know that the United Nations is taking up this whole issue of the marginalization of Christians in Iraq right now."
In many areas, people are turning to Christ in large numbers. Dykstra says that could be the reason for the oppression. He says Iran is just one example. "There's tremendous growth in Christianity, mainly from satellite radio and TV. So when there's growth in Christianity, the leaders obviously become concerned and then they crack down on cell groups, and that raises even more persecution."
The UN High Commission for Refugees said about 1,000 families have left Baghdad and Mosul province since an attack on a church left 68 people dead. The Commission said the flight of Christians to other parts of Iraq and abroad has become "a slow but steady exodus."
Dykstra says Open Doors is helping Iraqi Christians. "[Open Doors is] helping children and parents cope with the violence. And we have a trauma team there that's working with them."
Funding is needed to help provide more counseling for those who have been through so much. Pray that God will soften the hearts of those who attack Christians and that they will turn to Christ.