Bishop Richard G. Lennon
saturday november 22 2014
Middle East Christians need our prayers as they cling to their faith
Just a few months ago, Iraqi Christians who had co-existed with their Muslim neighbors for centuries were warned abruptly by Islamic extremists that they must convert to Islam or face dire consequences.
Many people opted to flee the territory occupied by their ancestors for 2,000 years – nearly as long as Christianity has existed. Those who stayed were warned they could face high taxes, the loss of their possessions, persecution or death.
The extremists are making good on their promises. In recent weeks, thousands of Christians were displaced from their homes. Often they fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Many are barely eking out an existence in overcrowded camps with little or no food and minimal shelter with winter approaching.
Islamic extremists known as ISIS or ISIL, boast about killing Westerners, including American journalist James Foley, a Marquette University alumnus. In addition, there are untold numbers of people who have simply disappeared. Many were imprisoned, tortured and murdered by their captors. News reports from the region said women and girls, including children, have been sold into slavery. Families are being ripped apart. Churches are being desecrated
Christians are losing their freedom, possessions and the right to practice their religion all because they refuse to denounce their religion. Yet, despite the persecution, they cling even tighter to their faith. The situation is eerily similar to what happened during World War II when the Nazis annihilated an estimated 6 million Jews during the Holocaust.
Because these things are happening so far away, many of us may not spend much time thinking about or praying for the victims of this persecution. We’re comfortable in our warm homes, with plenty to eat. We can go to Mass on Sunday and worship freely. These threats seem to have little effect on us.
But are we listening to the Lord? Could we -- should we -- be doing more for our brothers and sisters living in these volatile areas?
Their only sin is their desire to maintain their religion – the faith they, their family and friends have practiced for generations. They are willing to coexist with Muslims, but the extremists made it clear that is no longer an option.
As they struggle to survive, we should look deeply into our hearts and search for ways to ease their suffering. We Catholics are charged with helping the poor and oppressed – both materially and spiritually.
As for the material part of the equation, many churches and schools are taking special collections to help those who were forced from their homes. Hopefully, these badly needed funds will help improve their living conditions.
On the spiritual side, Advent is approaching. As we prepare for Christmas, we should ask God for His divine assistance and mercy for those who are being persecuted. Receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, recitation of the rosary, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, prayer and meditation are some of the ways we can provide spiritual support to those who are suffering and ensure our own spiritual fitness.
One resident of our diocese was so moved by the horrors facing Christians in Syria, Iraq and other far away lands that she wrote to me suggesting that a special time be designated to pray for these souls. She suggested Thursday evenings, in remembrance of the Lord’s agony in the garden, or perhaps a holy hour after the last Mass on Sunday,
“This would also be a blessing for the faithful of this diocese. There is nothing we can do to better express our love for God than to place our trust in Him with true charity for the weakest . . . especially if it’s directed through the Blessed Mother,” she wrote.
Let us keep our brothers and sisters in Iraq, Syria and other war-torn countries in our hearts and prayers.
She makes some excellent points and raises awareness of a very serious situation that needs our prayers.