We live in a scary world. Try as we may to deny it, flipping on any news channel will confirm this. It seems every day is met with a new act of violence, and that there is more evil occurring in the world than there is good.
Now is perhaps a more crucial time than ever to pray for peace in the world. Jan. 1 brings with it not only the New Year and the Solemnity of the Mother of God, but also the World Day of Peace. Pope Francis declared the theme for the 2016 World Day of Peace as “Overcome indifference and win peace.” In his message regarding the World day of Peace, he spoke of the many conflicts occurring around the world as a third world war sorts.
“Sadly, war and terrorism, accompanied by kidnapping, ethnic or religious persecution and the misuse of power, marked the past year from start to finish. In many parts of the world, these have become so common as to constitute a real ‘third world war fought piecemeal’,” he said.
Tying in with the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Holy Father encouraged Christians to “have a humble and compassionate heart, one capable of proclaiming and witnessing to mercy,” and spoke of building a culture of solidarity and mercy to overcome indifference in the world.
These indifferences are many and varied. The following are brief updates on some of the atrocities and tragedies occurring around the world.
The Middle East and ISIS
There’s really no easy way to thoroughly explain the root of the conflicts happening in the Middle East, but it helps to focus on a few key elements.
First and foremost, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, more commonly known as ISIS, is reaping terror not only in the Middle East but all over the world to exert their power and achieve their ends. These ends are many and varied, but in simple terms, their most important short-term political goal is making Iraq and Syria a unified Sunni Islamic state, thus destroying the democratic process and creating tumultuous political imbalance.
The end goal, however, is to establish a global caliphate; an Islamic world government run by a caliph, or a political and religious successor to the prophet Muhammad. In this case, the caliph would be Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS.
From a purely religious standpoint, ISIS is literally seeking to bring about the apocalypse; in fact, they view themselves as key instigators of it. In What ISIS Really Wants, a comprehensive piece published by The Atlantic detailing the motives of ISIS, author Graeme Wood writes, “We can gather that [ISIS] rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide…and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.”
To do this, they are systematically wiping out Christians and all others who don’t subscribe to their extremist beliefs in Syria and the surrounding regions, causing a massive displacement of citizens. As a result, refugees are fleeing to nearby nations such as Lebanon and Turkey, and even as far as London and the U.S. to escape the violence.
It is a dire situation that demands worldwide cooperation and unification, not only to defeat ISIS, but to provide refuge to those who seek it.
ISIS has been responsible for two terror attacks in Paris in 2015: one at the headquarters of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7, and another at several locations in the city of Paris on Nov. 13. Collectively, 141 people were killed, and hundreds more were injured.
The Nov. 13 attacks on Paris were carried out in retaliation to French airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq. The president of France, Francois Hollande, called the attacks by ISIS an “act of war” against the country of France.
Of the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris, Pope Francis expressed his “deep sorrow for the terrorist attacks which…covered France in blood.”
“Such barbarity leaves us shocked and makes us wonder how the human heart can conceive such horrible events, which have shaken not only France but the entire world,” he said.
The Jan. 7 attack on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters was carried out in response to the magazine’s history of lampooning the prophet Muhammad, who is a central figure in the religion of Islam.
Pope Francis denounced the attacks, saying “one cannot offend, make war, kill in the name of one’s own religion,” and that “religious fundamentalism…eliminates God himself, turning him into a mere ideological pretext.”
However, he also expressed his opposition to insulting the faith of others as Charlie Hebdo does and said such acts cannot be done without expecting some sort of retaliation.
“It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others,” he said.
Clarifying the Pope’s comments, the Vatican press office later said that “the Pope’s expression is in no way intended to be interpreted as justification for the violence and terror that took place in Paris last week.”
“Violence begets violence. Pope Francis has not advocated violence with his words,” they said.
Northern Africa and Boko Haram
Though not as widely publicized as ISIS, Boko Haram is just as dangerous, if not more so, than their Middle Eastern counterpart.
Also called the Islamic State’s West’s Africa Province (ISWAP), Boko Haram is working to achieve the same ends as ISIS. Both groups are equally extreme and deadly in their ideologies, but when speaking of pure death tolls caused by each group, Boko Haram is actually deadlier than ISIS. A recent piece published by The Independent in the U.K. states that Boko Haram was responsible for 6,644 deaths in 2014, as compared with 6,073 carried out by ISIS the same year.
Boko Haram is based in Nigeria, where they carry out most of their attacks, primarily in the northeast regions. Their targets are mainly those who do not agree with their ideology, whether they be Christians, police, politicians or even those adhering to different Muslim traditions. They currently operate under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau, who was appointed leader of Boko Haram after the groups founder, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed in 2009.
In March, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to Islamic State in the Middle East, making them a part of the greater ISIS caliphate.
A news report by BBC said that “northern Nigeria has a history of spawning militant Islamist groups, but Boko Haram has outlived them and has proved to be far more lethal and resilient.” The CIA estimates their fighting force at around 9,000 men, and they’ve gained significant amounts of weapons and money through their raids on military bases and banks, the report said.
In “The Church’s Enemy Number One: Boko Haram,” an article appearing in issue 78 of the Christian culture periodical Relevant Magazine, the atrocities Boko Haram commits against Christians in particular are detailed, including assimilating captured Christians into a fundamentalist Muslim lifestyle and attacking Christians in surprise massacres at night. In April 2014, Boko Haram committed one of their most heinous acts to date when they kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria. The girls remain imprisoned by the terror group to this day.
Western Africa and Ebola
Ebola broke out in West Africa in 2014. According to a report by the BBC, the most likely patient zero for the disease was a toddler in a small village in Guinea. The child played in a hollow tree which was later discovered to host a species of bat known to carry the Ebola virus. Ebola is spread through bodily fluids, and it is most likely the child encountered bat feces in the tree.
There have been several Ebola outbreaks since the discovery of the disease in 1976. However up until 2014, the largest outbreak was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Around 300 people were infected and only 20 survived. The latest outbreak killed over 11,000 people and left around 1,700 survivors, which raises important questions about what the lingering effects of Ebola are.
According to Doctors Without Borders, 75 percent of Ebola survivors describe debilitating side effects even months after the disease is gone. Patients suffer from eye problems, extreme fatigue and joint pain. Scientists have found the Ebola virus in the eyes, breastmilk and possibly the semen of those declared cured from the disease. However, the lack of new infections indicates that these individuals are likely not very contagious to others, although new mothers who survived have been warned away from breastfeeding, if possible.
The biggest problem facing those who have recovered from Ebola is stigmatization. They often struggle to find jobs, and are ostracized due to lingering fear over the disease. Unfortunately, now that the epidemic has slowed, funds to help survivors and study the long-term effects of Ebola have become less popular.