By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published January 6, 2011
Frequently, matters come to my attention through my unexpected contact with our folks that linger with me for a very long time.
Recently one of those types of issues was presented to me in the form of a comment from a lady outside of our Cathedral, and it touched me deeply. She lamented the lack of serious public attention to the violence that Catholics in many different places have recently endured throughout the world.
At first blush, her obvious distress might have seemed to me like a personal criticism, but after a few moments, she disclosed that she was simply voicing a concern that many other people have, and although she was speaking directly to the Archbishop, she was really challenging all of us to take these matters much more seriously.
She, unquestionably, was right. The intervening weeks since I heard her comment have only given greater truth to her concern. In the past few weeks Catholics have been attacked in churches in Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, Egypt and the Philippines. The widespread violence against Christian communities actually caused some congregations to suspend their Christmas ceremonies, which are so universally important to believers everywhere.
While some limited news coverage calls attention to this sad state of affairs, for the most part this type of violence never receives the reporting attention that other matters do. The Holy Father repeatedly has spoken out regarding this violence. Our own bishops’ conference (the USCCB) has condemned this bloodshed, and some international media outlets have broadcast this tragedy. For the most part, however, the attacks on Christians as they are at prayer have received scant media attention.
No church, synagogue, mosque or temple anywhere should be a place where violence threatens worshipers. People engaged in the honor and praise of God ought not to have to fear that they themselves will become victims of violence.
Houses of worship have now joined a growing inventory of places where those who engage in brutality and terror strike out indiscriminately and with unimaginable fury. Airplanes, subways, trains, post offices and other public locations have long been identified as potential targets for acts of violence—now religious houses have joined that shocking list.
Frequently the violence that occurs in places of worship is directly related to political conflicts. Just as often it can be the result of religious hostilities that have long simmered just beneath the surface. Occasionally it is the act of a frustrated or even demented personality who simply finds that people in prayer are an easy target. Whatever the reason for these senseless acts of brutality, they must be ended. Religious houses of prayer cannot be places of violence or danger for any religious community.
But what can any of us do—living in North Georgia so far removed from such brutality?
First and foremost we must fervently pray for an end to such violence. We must lift our voices in supplication that God’s grace will triumph and such violence will cease. Then we must also become more informed and not ignore this growing tendency to use public houses of worship for acts of human annihilation. Our lack of awareness and inattention to these matters only allows the tragedy to continue.
We must also join with those who raise their voices in opposition to these episodes—whether we join with the people of our own faith who protest this activity or we unite with ecumenical and international groups who campaign against the violence that takes place in public houses of worship. Whenever a proposed formal response to these events comes before our own elected public officials, we should be quick to support the efforts of our government to condemn and respond to those who are responsible for these tragedies.
There is always the danger that we might view these episodes as too far removed from our own lives, somehow too complicated to address or simply someone else’s problem. Those attitudes allow this carnage to go unnoticed, and the lives of Christians are endangered because no one seems to care. I think that was the point that the unnamed lady wanted me to recognize and that I now urge us all to consider and to take to prayer.