Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ March Prayer Intention for Christian Communities, especially those who are persecuted.
Lent offers us a chance to remember how privileged we are to openly renew the traditions of our faith. Not all Christians in the world will be able to proclaim this holy season, to gather to pray the Stations of the Cross or to have special Lenten services. It is easy for us to overlook the reality of persecution in our modern world. Pope Francis calls us to pray, “that Christian communities, especially those who are persecuted, feel that they are close to Christ and have their rights respected.”
He doesn’t ask that they necessarily be delivered from this injustice, but that they identify their suffering with that of Jesus and that perhaps their Christian approach to persecution will bring about a greater respect. Before we can truly pray about this intention, perhaps we need to be more informed about it. We have only to look at the mainstream news sources to find information.
The persecution and genocide of Christians across the world is worse today “than at any time in history,” and Western governments are failing to stop it, a report from a Catholic organization said.
A study by Aid to the Church in Need said the treatment of Christians has worsened substantially in the past two years compared with the two years prior, and has grown more violent than any other period in modern times.
“Not only are Christians more persecuted than any other faith group, but ever-increasing numbers are experiencing the very worst forms of persecution,” the report said.
The research showed that Christians suffered crimes against humanity, and some were hanged or crucified. The report found that Saudi Arabia was the only country where the situation for Christians did not get worse, and that was only because the situation couldn’t get any worse than it already was. It detailed attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt and monasteries burned in Syria. In Africa, the report focused on countries like Sudan, where the government ordered that churches be destroyed, and Nigeria, where there has been a surge in attacks on Christians. In Eritrea, hundreds of Christians have been rounded up and imprisoned over the past year because of their faith. The report also documented numerous case studies in which Christians in countries such as India and Nigeria were murdered or beaten for practicing their faith.
Gaudete et Exsultate takes note of Pope Francis’ esteem for those persecuted. He writes, “Saint John Paul II reminded us that ‘the witness to Christ borne even to the shedding of blood has become a common inheritance of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants.’” He goes on to say, “The martyrs are a heritage which speaks more powerfully than all the causes of division.”
We can join in the faithfulness of those persecuted who live the Christian challenge to practice meekness. The document tells us, “We live in a world that from the beginning has been a place of conflict, disputes and enmity on all sides, where we constantly pigeonhole others on the basis of their ideas, their customs and even their way of speaking or dressing. Ultimately it is the reign of pride and vanity, where each person thinks he or she has the right to dominate others. Jesus proposes a different way of doing things: the way of meekness. Even when we defend our faith and convictions, we are to do so with meekness. Our enemies too are to be treated with meekness. The meek shall inherit the earth, for they will see God’s promises accomplished in their lives.
When we feel “persecuted” by the words, actions, or judgements of others, let us count ourselves among the company of the meek. Let us offer our little daily persecutions that those who are violently persecuted in the world may have the strength to be meek.