Peace in the darkness

This editorial is being written on Tuesday, in the wake to the killings of the Russian ambassador to Turkey and of the people at the Christmas market in Berlin the day before, plus the deaths of the innocent people outside of an old crusader castle in Jordan on Sunday, and of at least 52 soldiers waiting to be paid in Yemen on the same day. One can go to to read the whole list of people killed by terrorists this month. 

We would like to write, “God willing, more will not be killed between when this is written and when you read it.” Of course, God is not willing these massacres, although some of the killers invoke God right before breaking the Fifth Commandment. Some of the killers also claim to be doing so in response to the murders committed by others (the off-duty Turkish policeman who killed the ambassador said, “Do not forget Aleppo, do not forget Syria”). 

What the devil would like in response to these murders is more revenge killings, more hatred, more turning away from religion by people who say that this is “par for the course” of believers. 

Secularists bring up our own Christian history of the use of violence, for which various popes have begged pardon from God, when faced by these recent incidents by Islamic extremists. Our response, to these extremists and to the secularists who wish to tie us to them, should come out of our love for God, not out of defensiveness. Father Landry, on the facing page, reminds us that we celebrate the deaths of many martyrs during these days of Christmas, beginning with St. Stephen on Monday. He prayed for his enemies, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).

It is worth reading and meditating on Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin in Acts 7. He criticizes his listeners for their idolatry and lack of obedience to God. The fighters of ISIS also criticize idolatry by ancient pagans (which is why they destroy ruins from the times of the Greek, Roman and Persian empires), by Christians (claiming our crucifixes and statues are idols), and by other Moslems (most of the people ISIS has killed have been fellow Moslems, whom ISIS judge to be deficient in their faith).

However, while Stephen spoke forcefully so as to move hearts to conversion (such as Saul’s, who did convert on the road to Damascus), ISIS only offers “convert or die” to the people subject to it. Meanwhile, other evils are perpetrated in the same neighborhood as various governments (Syria, Iran, Russia, Turkey, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, to name a few) kill innocent people in heinous ways, so as keep hold onto the idol of power.

Almost two weeks ago, on the Third Sunday of Advent, Coptic Orthodox Christians were killed in a bombing in the Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo, while in Nigeria scores of Evangelical Christians died due to the faulty construction of their church. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement, “We are reminded that even the shadow of violence and terrorism cannot obscure the light of our coming Savior. St. Mark himself was no stranger to the persecution of Christians. Those who gathered to worship the Lord at his cathedral this morning in Cairo are family to us. We draw near to our Coptic brothers and sisters in prayer, sorrow and comfort. The lives lost strengthen the faith of Christians everywhere and offer a testament to the great privilege of worshiping God in peace. This weekend has witnessed the darkness of violence reach into many places, including Turkey, Somalia and the church building collapse in Nigeria. But the light still shines! Today let us offer a special prayer for all those facing persecution.”

What the Texan cardinal said then is still needed today (and every day). We need to pray for our fellow Christians facing persecution, as well as for all people (for the protection of the innocent and for the conversion of those who wish to do them harm). 

Another temptation in this time period is to say “what a shame” about the violence in these lands, while condemning innocent people to have to live there. We have seen the same reaction to violence in Latin America — we note how terrible it is to live in lands controlled by gangs which rival ISIS in their brutality, while saying that people should be thrown back there. It is a difficult situation and one that does not have an easy answer. The United States cannot take in every person in the world fleeing violence, but we are called upon by God to open our hearts to see what we can do, either to end the violence there, to welcome some people here, or to find a safe place in a third land.

In his message for the coming World Day of Migrants and Refugees on Jan. 15, 2017, Pope Francis wrote, “It is absolutely necessary, therefore, to deal with the causes which trigger migrations in the countries of origin. This requires, as a first step, the commitment of the whole international community to eliminate the conflicts and violence that force people to flee.”

To build a better world, we have to begin literally at home. Pope Francis, in his message for the World Day of Peace on this coming New Year’s Day, noted, “The family is the indispensable crucible in which spouses, parents and children, brothers and sisters, learn to communicate and to show generous concern for one another, and in which frictions and even conflicts have to be resolved not by force but by dialogue, respect, concern for the good of the other, mercy and forgiveness.” We are going to be in that “crucible” this weekend. May Christ help us celebrate His birthday together, at home and at church, in such as manner that we allow His love to shine. “From within families, the joy of love spills out into the world and radiates to the whole of society. St. Therese of Lisieux invites us to practice the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship.”

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