October 27, 2013

Persecution of Christians. Whether by the laws of governments, or the bullying voices of the media, or the bloody attacks by both governments and other religions, the persecution of Christianity is growing throughout the world.

Most frightening is the dramatic increase in violent persecution. Three weeks ago Taliban suicide bombers killed 85 worshippers at All Saints’ church in Pakistan. Two months ago Islamists attacked 63 churches in Egypt. Last month Syrian Christians begged President Obama not to bomb President Assad, because he is their only protection from the Islamist rebels. I could go on and on.

Yet the media and our government has been mostly silent. But what would we expect, when they too have joined in the persecution?

The media mocks us and calls us bigots and haters, simply because we reject the immorality they embrace. And our government continues to try to marginalize faithful Christians, especially Catholics. The most high profile of these attempts is the HHS mandate related to Obamacare, which (in spite of ongoing lawsuits brought by over 78 businesses, charities, universities and Catholic Dioceses) now requires most Catholic employers to provide insurance for their employees that pays for abortion inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization.

Sadly, last month the Little Sisters of the Poor had to join in those lawsuits or face millions of dollars in penalties. As one sister said: “We cannot violate our vows.” Think of that: those beautiful little nuns, who visit us every year around Christmas radiating the very love of Christ through their work with the poor… Our government says they aren’t really part of the Catholic Church, so they have to violate their Catholic morals in order to continue to work with the poor.

But the persecution doesn’t stop there. For most of the last year Virginians have witnessed a very disconcerting race for governor. On one side, we find a Catholic who, although not perfect, is strongly faithful to the Church’s teaching on the most important moral issues of our time: abortion, traditional marriage and religious liberty. And on the other side we find his opponent, a “Catholic” who is strongly opposed to those key teachings.

For months the faithful Catholic has been attacked viciously and incessantly by his opponent for supposedly being “anti-women” and “anti-gay.”

He’s repeatedly attacked for being “anti-woman” simply because he’s against abortion. In particular, they attack him because he supports new restrictions on abortion clinics. But who is anti-woman: the faithful pro-life Catholic who also wants to protect women from unsafe and unsanitary clinics, or his pro-abortion opponent who doesn’t seem to care?

And they attack him because he supposedly tried to take away women’s contraception. What he actually did was support a law that would define tiny babies as “persons” from the moment of conception. That has nothing to do with contraception, which by definition takes place prior to the moment of conception.

But the most despicable attack is the lie his opponent keeps repeating, supposedly quoting him saying “gay people are soulless.” As the Washington Post (who endorsed his opponent) reported last week: “What [he] actually said… was, “When you look at the homosexual agenda, I cannot support something that I believe brings nothing but self-destruction, not only physically but of their soul.” That’s not a bigot who hates homosexuals. That’s a Catholic who is concerned for homosexuals because he believes their behavior hurts them.

Some say they’re just attacking his political positions, not persecuting him for his Catholicism. But that ignores the context; the Catholic Church stands as the major stumbling block to those advancing the secular pro-abortion/pro-gay agenda. So they systematically attack the Church and all faithful Catholics, through the media, regulation and political campaigns. In the end they effectively say that all faithful Catholics are disqualified from holding public office because they are bigots and haters. And that, is, by definition, religious persecution.

But it shouldn’t be this way—not in America. After all, Article VII, Section 3, of our Constitution provides: “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” And the 1st Amendment to that Constitution guarantees that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

And it especially shouldn’t be this way in Virginia, which planted the seed of American religious liberty, when, in 1779, Thomas Jefferson introduced the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. “…[A]ll men” it said, “shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities….” Because to do so would “be an infringement of [a] natural right.”

Religious persecution of Christians abounds in today’s world. And no one seems to care.

But we care, don’t we? Because WE ARE Christians: and when they persecute our brothers and sisters in Christ they persecute us. As Pope Francis asked, just a few weeks ago: “Am I indifferent to that, or does it affect me like it’s a member of the family? … Does it touch my heart, or doesn’t it really affect me….?”

Do we not care about the Christians in Syria, Egypt, Africa, China, North Korea or Vietnam? Are they too different or too far away for us to care about them? What about our fellow countrymen? Are the Little Sisters of the Poor too insignificant or is the faithful Catholic politician too damaged by false accusations for us to care about?

Who will defend persecuted Christians if Christians won’t—if we won’t? So we must. But what can we do?

First we remember that the Lord is all-powerful, “the maker of heaven and earth,” so that “nothing is impossible for God.” And second, we must not cease to call on that power in constant prayer.

Third, we must take action. In particular we must no longer be silent when our brothers and sisters are persecuted. We must speak out in our homes, jobs and schools, with our family and friends, and with our government officials.

And finally, we must participate in the political process. In particular, faithful Christians must run for public office, and when they do the rest of us must support them, to the extent possible, with our prayers, time, voices, money and with our votes!

Above our altar hangs a Crucifix, representing the very first persecution of Christianity. But the Cross was also Christ’s perfect prayer to His Father. So let us join our prayers to the prayer of our Crucified Lord, made present today in the Eucharist, begging His Father to give us the love to care for and the courage to defend our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ, whether they live across the globe or in our own beloved Virginia.

Quick Request: We are in dire need for additional Eucharistic Adorers for the 11am-12pm and 12-1pm hours on Fridays. “Could you not watch one hour with me?”

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

October 13, 2013

Religious Persecution. Over the last few years I have often written and preached about the rise of religious persecution, at home and abroad. And I hope you have noticed the weekly short news article in this bulletin under the caption ìChurch Persecuted.î But somehow none of this seems to be enough. As Pope Francis said recently: ìSo many Christians in the world are sufferingÖ.Am I indifferent to that, or does it affect me like itís a member of the family?… Does it touch my heart, or doesnít it really affect me, so many brothers and sisters in the family are giving their lives for Jesus Christ?î
On September 27, 2013, Kirsten Powers published an excellent article on this subject in The Daily Beast. Powers and I disagree on many things, but agree on this issue. This is not a democrat or republican issue, nor a conservative or liberal issue. It is not even merely a Christian issue. Rather it is an issue that all people of goodwill and common sense should oppose from the rooftops. I publish her article in total.

A Global Slaughter of Christians, but Americaís Churches Stay Silent by Kirsten Powers

Christians in the Middle East and Africa are being slaughtered, tortured, raped, kidnapped, beheaded, and forced to flee the birthplace of Christianity. One would think this horror might be consuming the pulpits and pews of American churches. Not so. The silence has been nearly deafening.

As Egyptís Copts have battled the worst attacks on the Christian minority since the 14th century, the bad news for Christians in the region keeps coming. On Sunday, Taliban suicide bombers killed at least 85 worshippers at All Saintsí church, which has stood since 1883 in the city of Peshawar, Pakistan. Christians were also the target of Islamic fanatics in the attack on a shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya, this week that killed more than 70 people. The Associated Press reported that the Somali Islamic militant group al-Shabab ìconfirmed witness accounts that gunmen separated Muslims from other people and let the Muslims go free.î The captives were asked questions about Islam. If they couldnít answer, they were shot.

In Syria, Christians are under attack by Islamist rebels and fear extinction if Bashar al-Assad falls. This month, rebels overran the historic Christian town of Maalula, where many of its inhabitants speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. The AFP reported that a resident of Maalula called her fiancÈís cell and was told by member of the Free Syrian Army that they gave him a chance to convert to Islam and he refused. So they slit his throat.

Nina Shea, an international human-rights lawyer and expert on religious persecution, testified in 2011 before Congress regarding the fate of Iraqi Christians, two-thirds of whom have vanished from the country. They have either been murdered or fled in fear for their lives. Said Shea: ì[I]n August 2004 Ö five churches were bombed in Baghdad and Mosul. On a single day in July 2009, seven churches were bombed in Baghdad Ö The archbishop of Mosul, was kidnapped and killed in early 2008. A bus convoy of Christian students were violently assaulted. Christians Ö have been raped, tortured, kidnapped, beheaded, and evicted from their homes Öî

Lela Gilbert is the author of Saturday People, Sunday People, which details the expulsion of 850,000 Jews who fled or were forced to leave Muslim countries in the mid-20th century. The title of her book comes from an Islamist slogan, ìFirst the Saturday People, then the Sunday People,î which means ìfirst we kill the Jews, then we kill the Christians.î Gilbert wrote recently that her Jewish friends and neighbors in Israel ìare shocked but not entirely surprisedî by the attacks on Christians in the Middle East. ìThey are rather puzzled, however, by what appears to be a lack of anxiety, action, or advocacy on the part of Western Christians.î

As they should be. It is inexplicable. American Christians are quite able to organize around issues that concern them. Yet religious persecution appears not to have grabbed their attention, despite worldwide media coverage of the atrocities against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.

Itís no surprise that Jews seem to understand the gravity of the situation the best. In December 2011, Britainís chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, addressed Parliament saying, ìI have followed the fate of Christians in the Middle East for years, appalled at what is happening, surprised and distressed Ö that it is not more widely known.î ìIt was Martin Luther King who said, ëIn the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.í That is why I felt I could not be silent today.î

Wolf has complained loudly of the State Departmentís lack of attention to religious persecution, but is anybody listening?

Yet so many Western Christians are silent. In January, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) penned a letter to 300 Catholic and Protestant leaders complaining about their lack of engagement. ìCan you, as a leader in the church, help?î he wrote. ìAre you pained by these accounts of persecution? Will you use your sphere of influence to raise the profile of this issueóbe it through a sermon, writing or media interview?î

There have been far too few takers.

Wolf and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) sponsored legislation last year to create a special envoy at the State Department to advocate for religious minorities in the Middle East and South-Central Asia. It passed in the House overwhelmingly, but died in the Senate. Imagine the difference an outcry from constituents might have made. The legislation was reintroduced in January and again passed the House easily. It now sits in the Senate. According to the office of Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), the sponsor of the bill there, there is no date set for it to be taken up.

Wolf has complained loudly of the State Departmentís lack of attention to religious persecution, but is anybody listening? When American leaders meet with the Saudi government, where is the public outcry demanding they confront the Saudis for fomenting hatred of Christians, Jews, and even Muslim minorities through their propagandistic tracts and textbooks? In the debate on Syria, why has the fate of Christians and other religious minorities been almost completely ignored?

In his letter challenging U.S. religious leaders, Wolf quoted Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed for his efforts in the Nazi resistance: ìSilence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

That pretty well sums it up.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles