Hope in the Lord — Pray for those persecuted

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

My statement as USCCB president about religious persecution was supported by the U.S. Bishops at the November meeting:

“Lord Jesus Christ.”

These three whispered words rose above the sound of the surf to overcome death, as 21 Coptic Christians – brothers as dear to us as our own family — knelt in the sand before the executioner’s sword. The body and blood of Christ were offered on the Mediterranean shore that all too recent February day. Our body and blood were offered, for as St. Paul teaches us, we are one body in Christ and “if one suffers, all the parts suffer with it” (1 Cor 12:26).

The words of our Lord Jesus Christ are alive and with us now. “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you as well” (Jn 15:20). Places of worship that have stood for centuries in the very cradle of Christianity are being destroyed. Families are fleeing from beheadings, sexual slavery, and even crucifixion. In places such as Mosul, Christmas bells that have heralded the birth of our Savior uninterrupted for nearly two thousand years have fallen silent as our brothers and sisters in the faith have been scattered. It is nothing short of genocide.

This Sunday, more than 20 million Catholics will attend Mass throughout the United States, kneeling in preparation to receive Holy Communion. In the week ahead, they will read the Bible, teach their children to pray, and practice Christian virtue in the workplace. We will do so, largely without fear of being targeted for simply worshipping God. This Sunday, when we kneel, let us draw near to all those dying in the name of our faith. Let us then rise, renewed in our solidarity with the suffering of people of all faiths.

We will soon begin to celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy announced by Pope Francis. During this special year, the Holy Father encourages us to rediscover the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, including feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, comforting the afflicted, and praying for the living and the dead (Misericordiae Vultus 15). How might we accompany our suffering fellow Christians and all people of good will?

1. Pray — Surrounded by death, the loving embrace of Jesus is often the modern martyr’s only comfort. Let us pray that their faith will sustain them as it inspires us to turn ever more fervently to Christ in our own lives.

2. Witness — Our hearts never grow indifferent to the continuing stories of families forced from their homes, separated from those they love, and facing an unknown future. We cannot be hesitant to speak their name, make their cause our own, and ensure they are never forgotten by the powerful in a position to protect them.

3. Give — Last September, Catholic parishes in the United States gave generously to a special collection supporting our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. We can continue our generosity through organizations like Catholic Relief Services or the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

As Pope Francis reminds us, “authentic religion is a source of peace and not of violence.” Ever confident in Christ’s abundant grace, we look with hope to the day when people of every faith live in harmony with their neighbor.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

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