By MSGR. RICHARD LOPEZ, Commentary | Published June 13, 2023
There is a tragic anecdote from Nazi Germany about a church near a railroad crossing. On Sundays, if a train carrying Jews and others to the death camps stopped, cries and moans could be heard through the open windows of the church. As a solution, the pastor ordered the organ to be played more loudly.
I fear that ignorance and indifference have made us deaf to the cries of persecuted Christians throughout the world. Today 312 million Christians are suffering high or extreme levels of persecution, according to the World Watch List of Open Doors and other reports.
Violence has spiked. In 1993, Christians suffered high levels of persecution in 40 countries; today it has almost doubled to 76 nations. In the past year, 5,621 Christians were murdered, 4,542 were arrested for their faith, and 2,110 churches were attacked or destroyed. A nun kidnapped and tortured for four years in Mali testified that the persecution is motivated by hatred for Christians. Some of the worst persecution is in Communist nations, such as North Korea, China, Cuba and Nicaragua.
Putting a human face on terror is Sister Marie-Sylvie Vakatsuraki, a physician in Congo. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a jihadist group, has been spreading murder and mayhem there. Sister Marie-Sylvie alerted other nuns and priests that murderers were approaching, while she refused to abandon a patient in the hospital. They were both burned alive.
In Mozambique, thousands of Christians, including children, have been murdered, often beheaded. Some 800,000 people have lost everything, because they were burned out of their villages by Al-Shabaab, another terrorist crowd. In a recent raid on a medical mission, terrorists burned the hospital and the convent and looted the buildings. They murdered an 84-year-old religious sister, who had nursed the poor children of that region for 60 years.
In Eritrea, the tyrannical government closed Catholic hospitals and schools, depriving thousands of medical aid and education. In Pakistan, Christian and Hindu girls are routinely kidnapped, raped and forced into marriage and conversion, lost forever to their families. The ancient Christian communities of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are on the verge of extinction. Christian refugees are tortured in Iraq and Syria. Genuine candidates for asylum in the United States languish in camps.
Notice how these events are rarely written about or preached about from the pulpit. Are we deaf to the cries of these martyrs?
Nigeria is a killing field. In the past 20 years, 60,000 Christians have been murdered in this African nation, 17,500 churches have been attacked or destroyed, 2,000 Christian schools have been destroyed, with millions displaced.
Amnesty International has accused the Nigerian government of being complicit and indifferent to this genocide. The present American administration has refused to put Nigeria back on the list of offenders of religious liberties, which has put more people in jeopardy.
In 2011 Boko Haram, another Islamic State group, raided a Christmas Mass that Nigerian Father Isaac Achi was celebrating, murdering 44 people around the altar. Later, Father Achi was abducted, but escaped. In January of this year, terrorists surrounded his rectory. Father Achi and his young assistant gave absolution to one another, then Father Achi told the young priest to flee. The young priest was shot in the back but survived. Father Achi was trapped in the rectory by the terrorists and burned to death.
Still, Sunday Mass attendance in Nigeria is 94%. One Nigerian bishop asked sorrowfully about how many corpses it would take for the world to notice.
Scripture urges us to hear the cries of our brothers and sisters around the world. In Galatians 6: 10, we read: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”
Here are ways to help the household of faith:
Check out the Aid to the Church in Need website (churchinneed.org). Scroll to its compelling video, “Persecution Outlook Around the World.” Also, visit the sites of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (cnewa.org) and Mesopotamia Relief Foundation (mesopotamiarelief.org).
Attend the Aug. 12 Day of Recollection for men at the Purification Heritage Center in Sharon. The theme is “The Persecuted Church: What They Teach and What They Need.” For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 706-417-8305.
Msgr. Lopez is chaplain of the Purification Heritage Center in Sharon.