For Catholics and other Christians in the Middle East, the atrocity at Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray is far from unimaginable

An 85-year-old priest has had his throat cut by an Islamic fanatic while saying Mass in a church in Normandy. For people in the West, this is a scene of almost unimaginable horror. Catholics in particular will be revolted and profoundly disturbed by a bloody killing perpetrated during the act of holy sacrifice around which our faith is built.

Catholics in the West, that is. For Catholics and other Christians in the Middle East, the atrocity at Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray is far from unimaginable. They have been living with this sort of terror for years, while Western politicians and the liberal commentariat looked away.

If I were to mention the Baghdad church massacre of October 31, 2010, how many of them would know what I was talking about? Come to that, how many Catholics are familiar with the details?

On that Sunday evening, Mass in the Syrian Catholic church of Our Lady of Salvation was cut short by Islamist gunmen who took the congregation hostage, screaming: “All of you are infidels… we will go to paradise if we kill you and you will go to hell.”

One priest, Fr Thaer Abdal, was shot dead at the altar. In total, 58 innocent people were murdered. Their killers were members of an Iraqi faction of Al-Qaeda that had declared war on churches, “dirty dens of idolatry”, and in particular “the hallucinating tyrant of the Vatican”.

The Baghdad massacre was one of countless atrocities that have reduced ancient Christian communities in the Middle East to shrivelled and terrified ghettoes or underground churches.

They know – even if Western public opinion does not – that Christianity in itself is among the most hated of all the targets of Islamic terrorist groups. For jihadis, the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus is an affront that justifies the brutality of the Dark Ages.

The slitting of a priest’s throat in the sanctuary of a church – how hollow that word “sanctuary” now sounds in the context – brings those Dark Ages to rural France.

According to the Archbishop of Rouen the dead priest was 84 years old. This is not as surprising as it sounds, given the decayed state of the Church in France, which forces many clergy to extend their ministry into their ninth decade.

The poor priest had spent a very long life serving his Lord; now it has ended in death for Him. This may seem an inappropriate thing to say, but I wonder if the blood of a martyr spilt on an altar so close to home will finally awake Christendom from its torpor.