Houses of worship attacked with deadly frequency in 2019
Associated PressOn Dec. 1, a band of assailants opened fire on worshippers at a small-town Protestant church in Burkina Faso, an impoverished West African country where the Christian minority is increasingly a target of attacks. The victims included the pastor and several teenage boys; regional authorities attributed the attack to "unidentified armed men" who, according to witnesses, got away on motorcycles.
The slaughter merited brief reports by international news outlets, then quickly faded from the spotlight - not surprising in a year where attacks on places of worship occurred with relentless frequency. Hundreds of worshippers and many clergy were killed at churches, mosques, synagogues and temples.
A two-week span in January illustrated the scope of this somber phenomenon. In Thailand, a group of separatist insurgents attacked a Buddhist temple, killing the abbot and one of his fellow monks. In the Philippines, two suicide attackers detonated bombs during a Mass in a Roman Catholic cathedral on the largely Muslim island of Jolo, killing 23 and wounding about 100. Three days later, an attacker hurled a grenade into a mosque in a nearby city, killing two Muslim religion teachers.
On March 15, a gunman allegedly fueled by anti-Muslim hatred attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 people. The man arrested for the killings had earlier published a manifesto espousing a white supremacist philosophy and detailing his plans to attack the mosques.
At a national remembrance service two weeks later, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealanders had learned the stories of those impacted by the attacks - many of them recently arrived immigrants.
"They were stories of those who were born here, grew up here, or who had made New Zealand their home. Who had sought refuge or sought a better life for themselves or their families," she said. "They will remain with us forever. They are us."
On Easter Sunday - April 21 - bombs shattered the celebratory services at two Catholic churches and a Protestant church in Sri Lanka.
Other targets, in coordinated suicide attacks by local militants, included three luxury hotels. But Christian worshippers at the three churches - including dozens of children - accounted for a large majority of the roughly 260 people killed.
The victims at St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo included 11-month-old Avon Gomez, his two older brothers and his parents.
The day's biggest death toll - more than 100 - was at St. Sebastian's, a Catholic church in the seaside town of Negombo. It's known as "Little Rome" due to its abundance of churches and its role as the hub of Sri Lanka's small Catholic community.
The attacks surprised many in the predominantly Buddhist country, where the Christian community totals about 7% of the population and has long avoided involvement in bitter ethnic and religious divides.