Posts Tagged ‘Martyrdom’

Blood and Seed

Friday, December 1st, 2017

One June 3, 2007, a Chaldean Catholic priest, Fr. Ragheed Aziz Ganni, had just finished celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at his parish Church of the Holy Spirit in Mosul, Iraq. There had long been trouble in the city, with violence directed against Christians, including a bomb detonated at the Church a week before.

As Fr. Ganni left the church with three subdeacons, Basman Daoud, Ghasan Bidawid and Waheed Isho’a, they were confronted by Islamic militant gunman.

The men demanded to know why he hadn’t closed the church as they had ordered. Fr. Ganni responded “How can I close the house of God?”

The gunmen then opened fire, murdering Fr. Ganni and his three friends.

The story of Fr. Ganni, a true martyr of the faith, is only one of hundreds of thousands of stories about the suffering of Christians in the Middle East at the hands of Islamic extremists. Particularly since the so-called Islamic State began its rampage in 2013, Christians in the region have been murdered or forced from their homes under threat of death, their homes have been stolen or destroyed in combat, and their churches desecrated. Our State Department has rightly called it a “genocide”. Sadly, the United Nations still hasn’t done so, and there has been much criticism of their relief efforts.

We Americans are scandalously ill-informed about the Christian churches of the Middle East and how they have been persecuted. This is why the Bishops of the United States set aside this week as a Week of Awareness and Education in solidarity with persecuted Christians.

In addition to our Roman Catholic Church, there are six other Eastern Rite Churches in the Middle East that are in communion with us — Maronites, Melkites, Armenians, Chaldeans, Coptics, and Syrians. In the region there are also Eastern Orthodox Churches, Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, and various Protestant communities.

In the West, we easily forget that these are the most ancient Christian communities in the world, dating back to Pentecost. We read in the Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul’s letters about the founding of some of these Churches. Our Christian brethren can trace their roots back to the earliest centuries of the Church, and many of them still celebrate the Eucharist in the ancient languages and rites — including the Aramaic language, which Our Lord and the Blessed Mother spoke every day.

There is an old saying from the early centuries of the Church, that the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians. There have been many seeds planted in the bloody soil of the Middle East. Faced with brutal persecution, hundreds of thousands of Middle East Christians have migrated either to refugee camps, nearby cities, or abroad.  According to some sources, the population decline has been precipitous. There were nearly 1.5 million Christians in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003, and this number has dropped to as few as 250,000 today. Sharp drops in Christian population have occurred in Syria and Egypt as well. Some of these historic Churches are in danger of extinction in their ancestral homelands.

But many Christians want to return to their homes and rebuild their lives. I recently had the honor of meeting Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda, the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, Iraq. Christians have been there since as early as the first century, and the city is home to a wide variety of religious believers, including Sunni, Sufi and Shia Muslims and Yezidis. It has been on or near the front lines of battle for several years now, and many thousands of its Christian and Yezidi inhabitants have fled. Many of them wound up in nearby Mosul, a strategically important city that was captured by Islamic State and was the site of brutal combat as Iraqi forces liberated it last year. But the Christians who then sought to return to their homes and churches found them to have been destroyed.

Archbishop Warda has been one of the leading advocates for peace and he has been laboring mightily to help his people return to their homes. He is a leader of an ecumenical coalition, the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, that is seeking to rebuild the region. He gave his testimony at a UN conference this week, emphasizing the importance of the continued Christian presence for stability in the region. There has been a great deal of support from the international community, particularly from the Knights of Columbus. Archbishop Warda is grateful for the financial help, and recognizes that much more is needed.

But when asked what more the Church in America can do, the Archbishop asked for prayers, first and foremost. But he then asked for greater awareness in America about the Churches in the Middle East. Knowing more about our suffering brethren can only increase our sense of solidarity and empathy for them, and can encourage them that they will not be alone and forgotten once the world’s attention turns elsewhere.

There are a number of great organizations that are helping the Christians in the Middle East on the ground, like the Catholic Near East Welfare AssociationAid to the Church in Need, and the Knights of Columbus. The USCCB has a huge amount of information on the situation there, and we should all make use of that to better educate ourselves.

USCCB also has a beautiful prayer for our persecuted brethren:

O God of all the nations,
the One God who is and was
and always will be,
in your providence
you willed that your Church
be united to the suffering of your Son.
Look with mercy on your servants
who are persecuted for their faith in you.
Grant them perseverance and courage
to be worthy imitators of Christ.
Bring your wisdom upon leaders of nations
to work for peace among all peoples.
May your Spirit open conversion
for those who contradict your will,
that we may live in harmony.
Give us the grace to be united
in truth and freedom,
and to always seek your will in our lives.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us.

And perhaps we could add a prayer to Fr. Ganni, who died as a courageous witness to his Faith, and ask for his intercession for peace in his homeland and for all persecuted Christians around the world.

A Holy Warrior for Our Time

Friday, May 26th, 2017

May 30th is the anniversary of the martyrdom of my favorite saint — she called herself Jeanne the Maid (“Jehanne la Pucelle”), but we know her better as Joan of Arc. She was a beautiful person, simple, humble, devout and strong. She rose from total obscurity in the backwater farm country of France, and accomplished one of the most remarkable feats in human history.  Hers is such an amazing story that it sounds like fiction — an ignorant seventeen-year-old girl, with no military experience whatsoever, leading the army of a defeated and demoralized nation to impossible victories, restoring the true king to the throne, only to end in tragedy.

But her military accomplishments aren’t the most important thing about her, even though they remain astonishing and unmatched in history. Her entire mission was not intended to glorify herself, but was carried out in humble obedience to the will of God, communicated to her through visions of Sts. Michael, Catherine, and Margaret. She never wanted anything more than to return to her home, yet she obeyed God and set aside her own desires, in order to bring peace and justice to her homeland.

The price she paid for this devotion was appalling.  After all her triumphs, she was betrayed by the same king whom she raised to the throne, abandoned by her comrades in arms, persecuted by hard-hearted enemies, tortured and condemned by corrupt Churchmen, and cruelly put to death in one of the most painful ways imaginable.

Jeanne’s beauty of soul and her sterling faith shone through it all, even in battle and even in the darkest days of her cruelly unfair trial.  Here is what she said at the trial, when asked about who carried her standard (i.e., her flag): “It was I who carried the aforementioned sign when I charged the enemy. I did so to avoid killing any one. I have never killed a man.”  She wept over the loss of life in battle, strove to minimize it, insisted on sparing prisoners, and comforted dying enemy soldiers.  At her trial, Joan offered a statement that sums up her character, and could have been her battle cry:  “I came from God. There is nothing more for me to do here! Send me back to God, from Whom I came!”

Jeanne rejected worldly honors, and refused to accept titles for herself.  Serving God was the entire purpose of her mission and her life, not personal glory.   As a sign of this, she wore only one piece of jewelry, a simple gold ring, a gift from her mother, with the plain engraving “+Jhesus+Maria+”. I wear a similar ring every day in her honor. As she was suffering at the stake, she had a cross before her eyes and she died with the name of Jesus on her lips. Those who witnessed her death finally understood that they had condemned a saint.

She is, in my opinion, the most outstanding example of a brave and Christian warrior, whose love of God inspired all that she did, whose nobility of character inspired deep love and devotion among the hardened soldiers who followed her, and whose courage under persecution is a shining beacon of purity and virtue. Her life continues to inspire biographers to this day, and even the cynical Mark Twain, who wrote a beautiful novelization of her life, considered her to be the most remarkable person who ever lived.

Back in 2011, Pope Benedict presented a series of reflections on the great female saints, at his regular Wednesday address.  One of those he spoke about was Jeanne, and he said this: “Her holiness is a beautiful example for lay people engaged in politics, especially in the most difficult situations. Faith is the light that guides every decision”.

She is a saint for the ages, and she is particularly important for this age.  The Church and people of faith need holy warriors now more than ever, people who are willing to stand for the truth, for God’s will, and for the welfare of their homeland.  I pray to Jeanne every day, and in times of trial I feel the strength of Jeanne’s patronage.  If I ever make it to heaven, she will be one of the first saints I seek out and thank for her help.