The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Church Under Attack

Sometimes the contrast is difficult to bear. Here I am, a deacon assigned to a large, growing parish in a beautiful, Florida retirement community where my biggest concerns are centered on effecting a reasonable balance between my "retirement time" and the time I devote to the various ministries in which I'm active. And if I'm not careful and lose my sense of spiritual direction, I can develop an almost self-righteous attitude toward it all -- "Yes, I do so much for the parish and for those in need." -- when, in reality, I do nothing, nothing at all. The Church does opus Dei, the work of God, and indeed it can do absolutely nothing, at any rate, nothing good, without the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. And although I realize God has commissioned us to preach His Word to all people, even to fairly affluent retirees in sunny Florida, I cannot ignore the contrast between my ministry and that of others throughout our bent world.

This was brought home to me the other day when I opened a fund-raising letter from Aid to the Church in Need. Every week I probably receive three or four such letters from various charities and ministries asking for financial support. I've come to accept that my name and address are on every Church-related mailing list, guaranteeing that my mailbox will never be empty. Although I cannot help them all and still pay the bills, I respond to some of these pleas with a small donation. But the contents of this particular plea caught my attention. For those of you who aren't familiar with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), it's a Catholic charity guided and blessed by Pope Francis and his predecessors. Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI strongly supported ACN, calling it "a gift of Providence for our time." ACN's mission is simple: "to help suffering and persecuted faithful worldwide" by strengthening the Church and keeping the Faith alive wherever it is threatened. As you might imagine, in recent years the challenge of accomplishing this mission has increased dramatically.

Iraqi Christian Refugees
Coptic Church Set Afire in Egypt

I've written about the global persecution of Christians on many occasions, but I don't believe I've ever discussed ACN and its work. Formed in 1947, ACN was "born out of the ashes of World War II" to assist those who found themselves homeless and dispossessed. My family spent a year in Germany only a few years after the war and I recall seeing refugee camps in which "displaced persons" or "DPs", as they were then called, were forced to live. Many of these were Jewish survivors of the holocaust, others who had been interred by the Nazis in labor, POW or concentration camps, and refugees who had fled to the West in advance of the Soviet Army. Despite my young age -- at the time I was only a seven-year-old -- the sight of one of these sprawling camps remains a most vivid memory. See photos below...
DP Camp in Germany - late 40s, early 50s
Residents of a DP Camp near Hamburg pose for a photo

One of the more shameful episodes of our history involved the forced repatriation of too many of these refugees who were subsequently imprisoned or even executed by the Communist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. At this same time, the 1950s, ACN was working behind the scenes in Eastern Europe, particularly in Hungary and Poland, assisting the persecuted Church. ACN later expanded its reach to assist the Church in Latin America, Africa and Asia. From its beginning ACN was committed to accomplishing its mission in a spirit of reconciliation as it helped the Church wherever the need was greatest.

After reading ACN's fundraising letter I visited the charity's website where one encounters current reports of remarkable faith in the face of the most horrendous persecution. As you might expect most of these reports originate in the Middle East and Africa where Islamist jihadists are attempting to destroy the Church through violence, intimidation and other forms of persecution. The secular media has seemingly made a conscious effort to avoid reporting on the worldwide persecution of Christians, so it's only through the work of ACN and similar organizations that we learn of this growing threat to eliminate Christianity from regions where it has been a real presence since the time of the Apostles. Visit ACN's website to see for yourself what is happening to the Church in some of these nations.

Living as we do in relative peace and security, it's hard not to ask oneself, "Would I be as courageous as these Christians who, though confronted by violent persecution and the threat of martyrdom, have kept the faith?" After all, how many of us actually defend our faith and the Church when confronted by someone who attacks either with mere words? Why risk a quarrel and the possibility of hurt feelings when we're just talking about a matter of opinion? Yes, when it's under attack the Truth becomes just a matter of opinion and we remain silent.

The reality, of course, is that as Christians we must defend the Truth. And we should do so openly, prayerfully, and with love. As Blessed John Henry Newman said, "It is as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing."

Pope Benedict with the Patriarch
I hope all who read this will consider supporting Aid to the Church in Need. You can do so via the secure donation page of their website: Donate. And if you can't afford a financial donation, please donate your time each day by praying for the Church persecuted. 

The Patriarch of the Catholic Chaldean Church in Iraq, Louis Raphael I Sako, has written a prayer which he asks all Christians to pray daily -- imagine the effect it would have:

O Lord, the plight of Iraq and Syria is deep and the suffering of the Christians is heavy and frightening. We ask you, Lord, to give us peace and stability to live with each other without fear, anxiety, with dignity and joy. Glory to You, forever. Amen.
Pope Francis with the Chaldean Patriarch
Such a simple prayer, but truly a Christian prayer. The attitude of the Patriarch is mirrored by Bishop Ambroise Ouédraogo in the African nation of Niger. After Muslims rioted and destroyed Christian churches, the Muslim community was amazed that Niger’s Catholic bishops immediately proclaimed forgiveness of the perpetrators. In the bishop's words, "They set fire to our churches, but our hearts are still ablaze with love for them. Christian or Muslim—God wishes good fortune for all people.” How many of us could be so forgiving?

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