One Christian died for their faith every six minutes in 2016.90,000 Christians were killed for their faith
That is the shocking new figure about to be published in the latest statistics on Christian martyrs.Massimo Introvigne , director of CESNUR, the Centre for Studies on New Religions, revealed the findings in an interview with Vatican Radio to mark St Stephen's Day, which follows Christmas and commemorates the first Christian martyr.He said about 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith, that is one every six minutes in 2016.
In addition, there are between 500 million and 600 million Christians who cannot freely profess their Christian faith.
Pope Francis has repeatedly stated that there are more Christian martyrs in today's world even than in the early days of the Christian church during the persecutions of the Roman empire.
The figures will be published in the latest statistics from the Center for Study of Global Christianity.
They actually represent a slight decline on the figure of 105,000 deaths two years ago.
Of the 90,000 deaths, 70 per cent, or 63,000, were killed in tribal conflicts in Africa.
The centre, based in the United States, has included these figures in the statistics because they believe that many of these Christians were slain after they refused for reasons of conscience to take up arms.
Many of the Christian deaths in 2016 were in tribal conflicts in Africa. Earlier this year, the UK's Baroness Cox narrowly escaped an ambush when visiting a village in Nigeria destroyed by the militant Islamist Fulani herdsmen
The other 30 percent, or 27,000, were Christians who in terrorist attacks, in the destruction of Christian villages and in government persecution, such as in North Korea.
Introvigne said that combining statistics from at least three different US research centres as well as his own, CESNUR, which is based in Italy, and comparing statistics from 102 countries, led him to the estimate of between 500 and 600 million Christians who can not practice their own faith in complete freedom.
"Without wishing to forget or belittle the suffering of members of other religions, Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world," he said.
He agreed that some people might dispute the figures and argue instead that there were just a few thousand or even a few hundred Christians who died for their faith in 2016.
Introvigne said: "When the discrepancies are so large, it is clear that you are counting different things."
If the statistics were just those who had been given a straightforward choice - "Either deny your faith or perish" - the martyrs would number a few hundred.
If they included also those murdered for certain practices to do with their Christian faith, the numbers rise to several thousand.
"But if you talk to people who are killed in a broad sense because they are Christians, then we get to 90,000, or one death every six minutes," he said.
He revealed there were specific cases of Christian martyrs murdered by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, including some that the Catholic Church is considering for beatification.
"There are Christians who have consciously chosen to remain in these areas and to continue, as they could, to bear witness to their faith.
"Speaking of the Islamic state, we must not forget that the Islamic state also kills many Muslims and that in 2016, according to our estimates, the number of Christians killed for their faith and the number of Muslims killed for their faith, outside Africa and particularly in Asia, is a very similar number.
"Muslims generally are killed by other Muslims: Shia Muslims are killed by Sunni Muslims and this is the most frequent case.
"Sometimes Sunni Muslims are killed by Shiite Muslims, Muslims who do not agree with a certain declination of Islam are killed by extremist Muslims, as in the case of the Islamic State."
He warned of growing intolerance across all countries, which he described as the "antechamber of discrimination" which then in turn is the "antechamber of persecution".
And then he praised the "calm, noble, often exemplary attitude of Christian minorities subjected to all sorts of harassment and who only in rare cases respond to violence with violence.
"In most cases they peacefully demonstrated their faith, very often their persecutors, forgiving and praying for them."