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Endangered souls

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The brutal murder of four Americans serving our diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya -- one of them a Catholic family man from Winchester -- caused sorrow and outrage through the nation. And, appropriately so. We are offended, too, because this was a planned insult to a great and generous nation. But what about those who are living daily under the threat of violent death to themselves and their loved ones?

Last year over 150,000 Christians were martyred for their faith. 150,000! Headlines such as these -- drawn from just two months, May and June 2012 -- have shown up in the back pages of our newspapers:

-- "Convert from Islam in Sudan Losses Wife, Children"

-- "Police in Pakistan Decline to Prosecute Rape/Beating Suspects"

-- "Egyptian Judge Frees Attackers Who Knifed Christian"

-- "Blast Wreaks Bloodshed on Two Churches in Bauchi, Nigeria"

-- 'Pakistani Muslims Rape Girl, Beat Relatives for Prosecuting"

Behinds these headlines are heart wrenching stories of human depravity: huge congregations of Nigerian Catholics gathered for Christmas Mass, having their church set aflame by mobs and hundreds perishing; of an 11 year-old Christian girl being set upon, raped, stabbed to death and her body mutilated; of entire families being slaughtered for the crime of being Christians.

While we American Christians are preoccupied by the immediate news cycle with its talk of elections, recessions, droughts and European bonds, millions of Christians from Morocco in North African to Pakistan in Southern Asia have a different preoccupation. For them, their daily reality is the threat to life and limb, a terrifying reality with little hope in sight.

Why the silence about this ongoing holocaust? We were outraged a decade ago by the incidents of ethnic cleansing. What about the religious cleansing of 150,000 souls in 2011? While we historically have and should continue to be concerned for the rights of all people, special attention should be paid to the plight of our Christian brothers and sisters, huddling in fear behind their doors. Outrage may get us started, but something more is needed.

First, we should keep these endangered people daily in our prayers.

Second, we should pressure our government in turn to pressure the governments of countries that are closing their eyes to these atrocities against Christians. Independent of outright military action, there is much we can do economically and morally to persuade these pragmatic governments to restrain their citizens from this barbarism.

Third, we should offer asylum to those most endangered. This is, of course, a huge task and one requiring immense generosity of spirit. It would have significant, short term economic repercussions, but in recent years we have witnessed the Germany Republic open its arms and its wallets to the basket case that was communist East Germany. In the view of many, it has made the new Germany a stronger and better nation.

As a nation, America has had a history of taking in the refugees of famines and wars. During the 19th century our country took in millions and millions of people from Ireland and Germany, and during the beginning of the 20th century millions of Italians came to this country to start a new life. One of the benefits of opening our doors to Christians from the Mideast is that many come with skills. The realization of the economic consequences of a major Christian exodus from this region will surely help government leaders comes to their senses and work to suppress their persecutions.

Nor is the idea of immigration legislation specially crafted to help a particular group unknown in our country. In 1982, Sen. Edward Kennedy sponsored an amnesty bill that allowed between 25,000 and 30,000 illegal Irish immigrants to remain in the country. Similar generosity to those Christians living under the threat of persecution does not seem too much to ask for from our government. We should be ready to help it reach out to these endangered souls.

Kevin and Marilyn Ryan, editors of "Why I'm Still a Catholic," worship at St. Lawrence Church in Brookline.

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