The persecution of Christians is at its highest point in three decades, according to the latest report from advocacy group Open Doors.

The World Watch List, released by Open Doors on Jan. 18, reported that, overall, the number of Christians facing persecution worldwide remained steady in 2022 at approximately 360 million.

In a list of the 50 countries with the most persecution, North Korea returned to the first spot in 2022. The year prior, Afghanistan had landed in the top ranking following the Taliban’s takeover of the country’s government.

Afghanistan ranks ninth in the latest list because the country’s Christians have either been killed, fled, or are in strict hiding, according to Open Doors’ Italian director Cristian Nani.

The few Christians who remain in Afghanistan are living like the early Church, Nani said at a Jan. 18 presentation of the World Watch List at Italy’s Chamber of Deputies. “They live the faith in secret because it’s the only way to live it in safety.”

Nani explained that today there is an increasing phenomenon of a “refugee” church, due to the number of Christians fleeing persecution.

The other countries classified as having “extreme” levels of Christian persecution this year are Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, and India.

In sub-Saharan Africa, anti-Christian violence has reached “unprecedented intensity,” the report said.

Nigeria continues to be the epicenter of massacres with 5,014 Christians killed in 2022, nearly 90% of the total number of Christians killed worldwide — 5,621.

Almost 90% of kidnappings carried out against Christians in 2022 also took place in Nigeria, where Nani said there is a kidnapping “business” taking place.

He said an all-too-common scenario is the kidnapping of a Christian man’s wife and daughters, who will frequently endure sexual violence and sex trafficking before they are released for a ransom.

In addition to its Watch List, Nani said Open Doors is working to find “radical solutions” to persecution and to help persecuted Christians find healing and forgiveness, and to “break the circle of violence.”

Andrea Benzo, special envoy for the protection of religious freedom in Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called Christian persecution not just a lack of freedom of worship but a failure of society.

He noted the popularity of the subject of “rights” in Italy and other Western countries while the human right to religious liberty is ignored.

The World Watch List also underlined continuing Christian persecution in China, which is No. 16 on the list.

China, it said, “is forging an international alliance to redefine human rights,” while more countries adopt “the Chinese model of centralized control of the freedom of religion.”

A member of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, Andrea Delmastro Della Vedove, said Italy needs to have the courage to propose the principles of religious liberty in countries where it is not properly respected.

He said the Italian government should put pressure on the international community to promote religious pluralism.

Delmastro is the president of an inter-parliamentary group for the protection of the religious freedom of Christians formed in 2019 by the right-wing party Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), part of the coalition now in power in Italy.

He asked people to consider what lands on the front pages of newspapers and asked: “What could our abandoned brothers and sisters in the Middle East and China think about that?”

Pope Francis asked for prayers for persecuted Christians after his weekly public audience on Jan. 18. He said he is praying for Father Isaac Achi, a Catholic priest who died after bandits set fire to his parish rectory in northern Nigeria on Sunday.