Martyrdom and witness

This past Sunday and Monday Christians in Indonesia, Catholics and Protestants, were the victims of suicide bombing attacks.

On Mother’s Day, a husband, wife and their four children killed themselves so that they could kill Christians in the city of Surabaya. They first attacked St. Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in between Masses. The remaining members of the family attacked the Surabaya Pentecostal Church and the Diponegoro Indonesian Christian Church, in attacks which were separated by five minutes.

Bombs were also left at St. Jacob’s Church and Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, but they failed to explode. Later Sunday there was an explosion at an apartment building in the neighboring city of Sidoarjo and further attacks occurred on Monday.

Of the 25 dead, 13 of them were perpetrators (obviously, more than that family of five were involved). The Indonesian police said that they are looking for a “fourth family” suspected in preparing another massacre. Dozens of people were injured. 

The president of the Indonesian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Jakarta, said that “planning and implementing a suicide attack by taking their children with them is a new [form] of violence.” The archbishop said that the two daughters in the family, aged nine and 12, were not aware of what they were doing, when they joined their mother in bombing the third church.

Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. Until recently, the followers of Islam in that land were of a more moderate variety, but radicals from the Middle East have worked to spread violent jihad amongst them. 

Father Siprianus Hormat, executive secretary of the Indonesian bishops’ conference, said that the Catholic bishops there “are involved in interreligious dialogue, and in these hours common initiatives are being carried out, between Christian and Muslim leaders, to stigmatize violence, hatred, and terrorism. Society must remain united and reject these evil forces.”

Despite the tension and fear caused by the assaults, Indonesia’s bishops expressed “full confidence in the president, in public institutions and in the whole society, in order to stop extremism, which wants to poison society.”

Meanwhile, back at the Vatican, Pope Francis prayed for the victims after having prayed the Regina Coeli with the pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. 

 “I am particularly close to the dear people of Indonesia, in a special way to the Christian communities of the city of Surabaya who have been strongly hit by the serious attack against places of worship.”  The pope asked the people in the square to pray for “the God of peace to stop these violent acts, and that in the heart of all may be found space not for hatred or violence, but for reconciliation and fraternity.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Islamic State (ISIS) took responsibility for the attacks, calling them “three martyrdom operations.” Of course, from our perspective, these supposed martyrs were really murderers, while the people they killed, Catholics and Protestants, were martyrs for Christ.

Many Muslims in Indonesia had long spoken against anti-Christian violence. Christianity Today, in a May 18, 2016 article entitled “The World’s Biggest Muslim Organization Wants to Protect Christians,” described meetings in Marrakesh, Morocco and Jakarta, Indonesia in which Islamic leaders denounced violence. The article quoted Yahya Cholis Staquf of Nadhlatul Ulama (the organization behind the Jakarta meeting): “The first thing that must be done in order to overcome radicalism and terrorism is to be honest. There may be elements from Islam that are used as a basis or justification for hardline groups to carry out their actions.”

According to the Huffington Post, NU made a documentary called “The Divine Grace of Islam Nusantara,” in which Indonesian Islamic scholars “systematically criticize and denounce the Islamic State’s interpretations of the Quran and Hadith.” We should pray for these folks, too, since doing so probably targets them for death, too.

Last week at the St. Pius X medal ceremony in Fall River, Andrew Carusi, the medalist from Our Lady of Fatima Parish in New Bedford, noted that “the life of a teen-ager is full of risks. With freedoms, comes risk. It is very hard to keep a moral lifestyle. It might seem like the cool thing to do or the thing that helps you fit in with others” to not live according to Christian morality. These are the little, daily martyrdoms that Christ asks of us here in the U.S., while Christians in other lands witness to Him with the shedding of their blood.

Carusi reminded his fellow teens (and everyone in attendance at the cathedral that evening) that we are called to “bring the light of God to the everyday lives of others, “so that they can see God’s grace. Who knows, by doing the right decision, we might be helping a teen to look toward God and see His grace.”

Early in the evening, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V. preached that the recipients of the St. Pius X medal “have an even greater responsibility now, to be a disciple of Jesus and to help others find Him.”

The bishop noted, “Our words and actions show forth what we believe and who we are.”

We should all ask ourselves — do our words and actions truly witness to Christ? Do we truly die to ourselves, to our selfishness, so as to proclaim that He truly is the most important thing, the most important relationship in our lives? 

This weekend we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the Apostles at Pentecost. May we be open to the Spirit, so as to truly walk in the freedom of the children of God, spreading the message of His Kingdom.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts