Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ January Prayer Intention for all those suffering from religious discrimination and persecution.
In ancient Roman culture, Jānus was a god of doorways, beginnings, and the rising and setting of the sun. His image features two faces with one looking forward and one turned to the back. We celebrate New Year’s Eve standing in that doorway and, like Janus, look back and forward in one moment. Pope Francis offers a prayer intention that helps us to consider our forward glance with an eye for true human fraternity. His intention reads, “for all those suffering from religious discrimination and persecution; may their own rights and dignity be recognized, which originate from being brothers and sisters in the human family”. So, how will this prayer impact us in this month of beginnings?
Of course, Pope Francis includes people everywhere in his call to prayer, but perhaps we think that this is not an intention that particularly applies to us in the United States. It may be good to consider this presumption. Does religious discrimination and persecution exist within the borders of our country? A recent article in America magazine points out: The advertisement for a student-loan company features a picture of a nun in a veil with the legend “If you’re a nun, then you’re probably not a student.” One can readily venture into novelty stores and buy a “Boxing Nun” hand puppet. Since last fall nine Catholic churches in Brooklyn, NY, have been vandalized; statues have been decapitated and defaced. During one Holy Week the New Yorker displays a picture of the crucifixion on its cover; but in place of the corpus, appears the Easter Bunny. This is just an excerpt from their list of examples of anti-Catholicism. So, it would appear that we, as Americans are not immune.
The history of prejudice against the Church begins at our very roots with the arrival of our predominantly Protestant forebears who had little use for the Papists. Their view of our Faith continues through generations and is shown in many ways at various times. In the 50’s and 60’s it was more publicly expressed in the contentious presidential candidacies of Al Smith and John F. Kennedy. Furthermore, discrimination against Catholics is not just a historical happening. It continues on because it is based on some non-negotiables. Our Church was not founded on nor does it run according to the principles of democracy. We are to be a community who shares not only faith, but our coats, our food, our shelter, our security with those in need. We are not merely a thinking people, but we are a people of prayer, of reverence for texts and rites that don’t bow before logic.
“Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”
Though religious discrimination and persecution are surely felt in more potent form in other parts of the world, there are Catholics right here in the United States who suffer because of their unbending faith and courageous faithfulness to the Church. Taking their part in the national arena are members of The Catholic League. This organization is, as their website states, “the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organization. Founded in 1973 by the late Father Virgil C. Blum, S.J., the Catholic League defends the right of Catholics – lay and clergy alike – to participate in American public life without defamation or discrimination.” They also note, “While it is true that Catholics as individuals have made progress in securing their rights, the degree of hostility exhibited against the Catholic Church is appalling. Quite simply, Catholic bashing has become a staple of American society.”
Seeing that this issue chosen by our Holy Father is a reality here, close to home, let us pray that the justice of Jesus may reign and that Catholics here in the United States will be gifted with heroism, will be icons of faithfulness and will be recognized by the love they share during this new year and beyond. We can make our own the words of G.K Chesteron, “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”