Monday, January 03, 2011

A charism of martyrdom.

This new year begins with tragedy in Egypt, where a New Year's Day bombing killed 21 people and wounded 43 others at a Coptic church in Alexandria. Egyptian investigating authorities quickly blamed the attack on "foreign forces," but many Egyptian Christians are expressing anger over the government's failure to respond effectively to violence and discrimination against the Christian minority. For some sensible commentary on the attack and its implications, read this analysis by Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir (himself an Egyptian Christian) posted today on the AsiaNews website.

I have often written here about the persecution and violence suffered by the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East, partly in hopes of raising awareness about an issue that has not received enough attention in the West. Some might contest the truth of the preceding statement, noting that the news media have helped to raise public awareness of events like the New Year's Day church bombing in Egypt. In response, I can merely say that the attention given to the suffering of Christians in the Middle East has not been enough to bring about real change - there needs to a mobilization of outrage for things to really get better, and so far that hasn't happened.

I hope that serious believers who happen to read this blog are praying about these events, but some sort of concrete action is also needed. In other words, if you care about Christians in the Middle East you should tell your friends, contact elected officials, and support groups like the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Aid to the Church in Need. In short, try to do whatever you can to help.

Rounding out this post, I would like to share some recent comments from Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako, whose remarks about Iraq's "Christmas of mourning" featured in another recent post. Speaking at the end of a year in which the situation of Iraqi Christians seemed to grow ever worse, Archbishop Sako had this to say about the charism and vocation of the Church in a time of a great suffering:
For us Christians of Iraq, martyrdom is the charism of our Church, in its 2000 year history. As a minority, we are constantly faced with difficulties and sacrifices, but we are aware that bearing witness to Christ can mean martyrdom. In the Arabic language they have the same root: Shahid wa shahiid!

. . .

Here in Iraq we understand that faith is not an ideological or theological speculation, but a mystical reality. Faith is a personal encounter with someone who knows us, loves us and to whom we give ourselves totally. For faith, one must always be willing to go beyond, even to sacrifice. Martyrdom is an expression of loyalty to that love. On 31 October, Fr Wassim, the young priest from the Syriac Catholic cathedral turned to the terrorists and cried: Kill me and free the faithful. He knew what he was saying, this was his commitment of love for Christ and for his flock.

Christians around the world . . . can renew their faith and their commitment to being in contact with Iraq's persecuted Christians. At the same time, the friendship, solidarity and support of our brothers and sisters of the West gives us the courage to resist and remain in our land and in our churches, continuing our presence and Christian witness. Knowing that you stand by us urges us to cultivate a common life, in peace and harmony with our Muslim brothers.
Though Archbishop Sako speaks most concretely about the Church in Iraq, his words could be applied just as well to Christians in Egypt and throughout the Middle East. The call to solidarity in Archbishop Sako's words to Christians living in the West is an urgent one, and my hope is that all who read his words here will prayerfully consider how they might best respond. AMDG.


At 1/04/2011 11:30 PM, Blogger Tyrell said...

I realize this isn't exactly relevant to the piece you wrote, but since I deactivated my Facebook account, I wanted to share this link with you; it contains some wonderful pictures of the Armenian Church in Isfahan.

At 1/05/2011 10:20 AM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

Thanks for that, Tyrell - I came across that link earlier on the Western Confucian blog and was thinking of posting something about it, and thanks to your comment I think I will do so.


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