On 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. For example:
- 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. Then came the worst: On March 15, a gunman allegedly fueled by anti-Muslim hatred attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 people.
- 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.
- Six days after Easter, more than 9,400 miles from Sri Lanka, a gunman opened fire inside a synagogue in Poway, Calif., as worshippers celebrated the last day of Passover. A 60-year-old woman was killed; an 8-year-old girl and two men, including the Chabad of Poway’s rabbi, were wounded. The attack occurred exactly six months after 11 people were killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue in the deadliest assault on Jews in US history.
- An additional anti-Semitic bloodbath was narrowly averted in October when an armed assailant tried to blast his way into a synagogue in Halle, Germany, where scores of worshippers were attending services on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism. Unable to break through a locked door, the gunman went on a rampage in nearby streets, killing two people and wounding two others.
- One common element of all the attacks: Dismay that many people of faith now have reason for apprehension as they gather for worship. "No one should have to fear going to their place of worship,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom after the Poway attack. "No one should be targeted for practicing the tenets of their faith."
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