The Church is a Church of martyrs — always and everywhere, in every time and in every place.
As Pope Francis said this past weekend, “the ancient history of martyrdom joins the memory of the new martyrs” being killed today.
“All of these are the living blood of the Church,” he said.
The pope spoke these words at a unique evening prayer service in which he remembered the witness of the “new martyrs” — Christians killed by the Nazis, the communists and under various dictatorships in the last century and those being killed by religious terrorist regimes today.
Among those remembered were the nearly 50 Coptic Christians murdered by Islamic suicide-terrorists in separate attacks at two churches in Egypt. The Christians — including mothers and children — were killed while worshipping on Palm Sunday.
This coming weekend, the pope will travel to Cairo, where he will be not far from the site of one of the Palm Sunday attacks. His visit will highlight the ongoing violence against Christians — not only in Egypt but throughout the Middle East.
Worldwide, it is estimated that one Christian is killed for his or her faith every hour, every day. It is worth rereading that sentence again, slowly.
More than 200 million Christians live in daily risk of persecution, according to a growing body of reports in recent years by authorities ranging from the U.S. State Department and the European Union to nongovernmental agencies such as the Pew Research Center.
That daily experience of being Christian for many people includes being tortured and killed, having your schools and churches destroyed, your homes seized.
The persecution is so bad that the Christian population of Iraq — one of the world’s oldest Christian communities — now numbers barely 250,000. Christians in Syria number less than 500,000.
Pope Francis has called the Islamic campaign against Christianity in the Middle East a form “genocide” — and the U.S. government has agreed.
In fact, it has been more than a year since our government made a formal declaration that the Islamic State is committing “genocide” against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. Both houses of Congress last year also passed measures condemning this genocide.
But it has been all words — with no action.
Since these declarations, Christians, Yazidis and other persecuted groups have received no protection, no assistance — from either our government or the United Nations. Tens of thousands are living as almost permanent refugees in camps in Iraq and elsewhere.
The lack of action — the lack of concern and indifference in the media and even in our churches — is unconscionable. We should not accept a world in which some can murder in the name of God and others can be murdered for the simple fact of believing in Jesus Christ.
At the bare minimum, our government should come together to provide targeted relief to those suffering at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Right now there is bipartisan legislation that would begin to do this. The “Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act” (H.R. 390) would provide vital assistance to genocide survivors and would create a system for investigating and prosecuting those who commit these atrocities.
I urge everyone in the Catholic community to ask your representatives in Congress to support this measure. It is the least that we can do.
For every “new martyr” that we hear about, there are many more that we will never know.
Pope Francis told a moving story this weekend about one — a Catholic woman married to a Muslim man. The pope met the woman’s husband in a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece. The man told him that when terrorists invaded their home they saw the woman wearing a crucifix and demanded she throw it away. When she refused, they killed her.
This is the terrible reality of anti-Christian persecution in our world today.
In the prayer service last weekend, Pope Francis said: “What does the Church need today? Martyrs, witnesses, this means, everyday saints, those who lead ordinary lives, carried forward with consistency.”
We need to be those witnesses, those everyday saints. And we need to seek new ways to help Christians in the Middle East — to end the violence and begin the process of healing and reconciliation.
Pray for me this week and I will pray for you. And let us continue to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters. Let us ask God to give them the courage and the strength to persevere in their witness to Jesus. And let us pray for the Church’s enemies, that God will convert their hearts and turn them from terror and murder.
And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to watch over Pope Francis on his pastoral journey to Egypt this weekend, that he may bear witness that love and mercy, not hatred and violence, are the true face of God and the true hope for humanity.