A car exploded last November in front of a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt, as worshipers emerge from a New Year's Mass, killing more than 20 people and prompting a clash with Muslims at a nearby mosque
A staggering 100,000 Christians are killed annually because of their faith, according to the Vatican -- and several human rights groups claim such anti-Christian violence is on the rise in countries like Pakistan, Nigeria and Egypt.
"Credible research has reached the shocking conclusion that an estimate of more than 100,000 Christians are violently killed because of some relation to their faith every year," Vatican spokesman Monsieur Silvano Maria Tomassi said Tuesday in a radio address to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
"Other Christians and other believers are subjected to forced displacement, to the destruction of their places of worship, to rape and to the abduction of their leaders, as it recently happened in the case of Bishops Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji, in Aleppo [Syria]," Tomassi said.
While several human rights groups could not comment specifically on the Vatican's number, organizations, like Persecution.Org, said the persecutions of Christians have been on the rise in places like Africa and the Middle East over the last decade.
"Two-hundred million Christians currently live under persecution. It’s absolutely on the rise," Jeff King, the group's president, told FoxNews.com.
"It’s easing in the old Communist world and it's rising in the Islamic world," King said, noting in particular countries like Egypt, Pakistan and Nigeria. King said that the first major killing spree in recent years happened between 1998 and 2003, when he claims 10,000 Christians were murdered in Indonesia alone during those years.
Last March, a Nigerian Christian leader was killed when suspected Muslim militants burst into his home and shot him. Two members of Islamic militant group Boko Haram shot Faye Pama Mysa, a Pentecostal pastor and secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria, in his home Wednesday, according to multiple reports. The killing happened just after President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency because of ongoing attacks in Africa's most populous nation.
King spoke of another example in which young Christian girls were forced into sex slavery in Bangladesh. More than 140 children were rescued from Islamic training centers over the last year -- with the majority of girls being targeted because of their religion, according to King.
John Eibner, CEO of Christian Solidarity International, has raised grave concerns over what he calls "religious cleansing" in Syria.
"Religious minorities are under constant threat in Syria," Eibner told FoxNews.com. "If things continue as they have been for the past two years in Syria, with an increase in religious cleansing, it's reasonable to think that there will be no more Christian communities or other religious minorities in the near future."
"Anti-Christian violence is on the increase throughout the world, especially throughout North Africa and the Middle East," he added. "It's hard for me to say with precision what the numbers are, but without doubt anti-Christian violence is on the increase."
Dinah Pokempner, general counsel for Human Rights Watch, was not able to independently verify the Vatican's figure, but said, "I think there’s little doubt that every week, every day, someone in the world is being persecuted – even to the point of losing their life – based on their religion."
"Persecution is a daily event on the basis of religion," Pokempner said. "This persecution affects Christians just as it does Muslims, Jews, Bahá'ís and people of other faiths."
A spokesman with the Vatican could not be immediately reached for comment.
Jane Zimmerman, the U.S. State Department's Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, said in a statement that: "While I’m unfamiliar with the methodology that was used to reach that number, we have certainly followed numerous cases in recent years in which Christians and others of many faiths have been attacked or killed on account of their religious beliefs."
"Whatever the numbers, no one should die for professing or practicing their faith, whatever that faith is," Zimmerman told FoxNews.com. "The United States firmly supports the freedom to profess and practice one’s faith, to believe or not to believe, and to change one’s beliefs. As Secretary Kerry said on May 20, religious freedom 'is a birthright of every human being.'"
Cristina Corbin is a Fox News reporter based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CristinaCorbin.