CNA Guest Columnist

By Cassandra Hackstock

Abuse, terminal illness, the death of a child, emotional torment: each an astounding difficulty in its own right. But did you know that the Martin family – the parents and siblings of St. Therese of Lisiuex – experienced all of these things?  

The Martins are an exceptional model for family life today. They include Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Sister Francoise-Therese (Leonie Martin), and three devout religious sisters – Marie, Pauline, and Celine, who may also one day advance along the path of canonization. 

But while their faith in God was strong, they experienced an incredible amount of pain, struggle, and hardship mentally and physically. In this crucible of suffering, their acceptance of God's will led them to heroic virtue and saintly lives. Their example is an exemplary one to those who suffer, as can be seen from a closer look into their struggles.

Louis and Zelie Martin had nine children, including the five daughters mentioned above, but tragically lost four of their children. Three passed away as infants, and one, named Helene, suddenly, at age five. 

“I didn't expect such a sudden end, nor did my husband. When he came home and saw his poor little daughter dead, he began to sob, crying, 'My little Helene! My little Helene!' Then, together, we offered her to God,” Zelie wrote in a letter, according to the National Catholic Register.  

Christ was the center of their family life, and they doted on their living children, yet suffered horribly from the loss of their other little ones. How many people long to have a child but cannot, or suffer from repeated miscarriages, or even the death of their children? Burying one's heart in the suffering Christ, as the Martin family did, and offering pain to Him who suffered for humanity, can be redemptive, sanctifying one's own life and the lives of others.

Zelie contracted breast cancer, and died of it after a twelve year struggle. Her death broke her husband's and daughters' hearts, and changed the family forever. Zelie bore the physical scourge of cancer, but also suffered greatly knowing full well how much sorrow it would cause her family to lose her. She kept true to her faith in God's will, and died a saint for Him.

Marie and Pauline mothered the younger girls for a time, but then entered the cloistered convent of Carmel in Lisieux. The family experienced more loss, offering their daughters and sisters to God, but losing them from their daily lives.

Leonie Martin, declared a Servant of God in 2015, had intense trials throughout her life. She is described as having a difficult temperament, and not being as naturally talented as the rest of the family. This caused a great deal of grief to her parents and siblings. Leonie was also abused by a servant, both physically and emotionally, without her mother's knowledge. She entered several convents numerous times, but was rejected again and again. Despite her supposed lack of giftedness and the trauma that she suffered, she never gave up. She kept trying until she was accepted among the Visitation nuns, and kept pursuing Jesus until death. For survivors of abuse and trauma, and the lifelong struggle to overcome obstacles, Leonie is an incredible patron – she knows exactly how hard that battle is.

St. Therese knew trauma, too. Her mother could not nurse her, so Therese went to live with a wet nurse. She did get to see her mother from time to time, but became confused by the constant meetings and partings. As she grew, she had very sensitive feelings and was easily hurt. Her mother died when she was four, and this further disrupted her emotional balance. Although she lived a very virtuous life, she was emotionally hurt and traumatized. 

When she was thirteen, she describes in her writings a “conversion” that took place within her soul. According to Joseph F. Schmidt, FSC, this may have been an emotional healing that freed her from co-dependence and the trauma of loss, and freed her to live totally for Christ. He writes in his book Walking the Little Way of Therese of Lisieux, “Only the inner strength of union with God would allow her to bear in peace the distressing, lingering primary feelings of having been abandoned, of separation and loss that were at the core of her excessive neediness and sensitivity.” Christ did heal her and she was able to rely only on Him, instead of on the good opinion and approval of her family. After entering Carmel, she contracted tuberculosis and suffered horribly until her death at age 24. Her “Little Way,” of growing in holiness through offering every pain or sacrifice to God, and remaining as humble as a child, caused her to be named as a Doctor of the Church.

Celine was the last sister to enter the convent. She remained at home to take care of her father until his death. She worried for a time about the nature of her vocation, since she felt a call to Carmel, but was proposed to by a good man. She wrote, “My sisters never had to choose formally between the two lives; doubtless, God wanted them for himself, and he does not want me…my anguish kept mounting and mounting.” 

She also suffered terribly from the decline of her father into an illness that may have been cerebral arteriosclerosis, according to the biography of Celine by Stephane-Joseph Piat, O.F.M. Her father was at one time put into a mental hospital. Celine was at his side through it all, and her unceasing faith did lead her to the Carmelite convent after his death. She is a model for those who question their vocations, who don't understand God’s plan for their lives, and also for caregivers who witness intense pain of their loved ones.

Louis, as already mentioned, lost his wife to breast cancer. Then he began to lose his daughters one by one to the cloister of Carmel. While he was thankful for their religious vocations, he had to give his family to God as a sacrifice. He accepted God's will even as it broke his heart to lose his wife and daughters. As his health declined, he suffered many mental and physical difficulties. Yet he persisted in holiness, offered all to God, and was canonized together with his wife on Oct. 18, 2015.

Despite the litany of struggles and losses they endured, the Martins were a joyful and happy family. They accepted the pain as God's will, and this acceptance allowed God to work in their hearts to purify them and make them saintly. Not only will they provide help and intercession from heaven, their story can bring relief and acceptance to those in the world who are hurt, grieving, and traumatized. St. Therese herself said that she would spend her heaven doing good on earth, and let fall a shower of roses from heaven to help those who suffer and yet cling to God. Humanity is blessed by the wondrous writings and example of this saintly family.

Posted: March 22, 2017, 6:00 am
By Andrew Walther

When I visited Erbil, Iraq, in December with a congressional delegation determined to find out why Christians had often been excluded from U.S. aid programs, Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud of Mosul told us that Americans generally care more about endangered frogs than about endangered Christian communities.

He has a point.

Christians have lived in the region for almost 2,000 years. Many still speak the language of Jesus. But although they, and other minority communities, are now seriously endangered, some Americans seem more worried that they might get priority than that they might disappear completely.

The Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh – and its antecedents – imposed a strict religious test and then targeted minority religious communities for elimination. At best, these communities fled, but lost everything in the process.

Those who are outraged that we might now prioritize them are forgetting America’s proud tradition of prioritizing genocide survivors, and the dark moments when we ignored them.

After horrifically refusing admission to Jewish refugees on the S.S. St. Louis in 1939, the United States later changed course and numerically prioritized displaced European Jews. They had suffered a uniquely horrible targeting – even if there were more German, French and Italian refugees, who were also displaced and suffering.

During and after World War I as well, the U.S. government worked with Near Eastern Relief to aid Armenian and other Christian communities targeted for genocide by the Ottoman Empire. The American people solidly supported the effort.

It is not un-American to prioritize those who have been targeted for genocide because of their faith. It has been seen as quintessentially American for a century.

And religious persecution has long been a key qualifier for refugee status under our immigration laws.

When the Lautenberg amendment was renewed with bipartisan support in 2015, no one was outraged. It prioritizes for asylum those who are Christian, Jewish and Baha’i, as well as other religious minorities from Iran.

Notably, the Obama administration’s official policy was also to prioritize Christian and other religious minority refugees from Syria. Knox Thames, the Obama administration’s State Department special advisor for religious minorities, wrote in October 2015:

“Due to the unique needs of vulnerable religious minority communities, the State Department has prioritized the resettlement of Syrian Christian refugees and other religious minorities fleeing the conflict.”

The policy failed to deliver. Only about half of one percent of Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. in fiscal year 2016 were Christian – though they make up 10 percent of the Syrian population. Yazidis and Shia Muslims were also profoundly underrepresented. Again, there was no uproar over the stated policy, and little coverage of its failure.

So the outrage is new, but policies claiming to prioritize Christians – and other minorities – are not.

What is deeply troubling is how often U.S. government aid overlooked the needs of these minority groups since 2014.

Last year, our government – for only the second time in history – formally declared an ongoing situation was a genocide. Secretary of State John Kerry explained that this genocide was one of religious persecution, saying: “The fact is that Daesh kills Christians because they are Christians; Yezidis because they are Yezidis; Shia because they are Shia.” Those words should have triggered America’s duty to help these targeted groups.

Instead, Christians – and other small communities targeted by ISIS’ genocidal campaign – have often been last in line, not first, to get U.S. government assistance.

While the U.S. government and the United Nations have spent heavily on humanitarian relief in the wake of ISIS, the largest community of displaced Christians – in Erbil – has received no money from our government or from the UN, according to Archbishop Bashar Warda, who is caring for tens of thousands of those displaced there.

It is the same story for many Yazidis.

In Iraq last spring, I met Yazidi families living next to an open sewer in Ozal City. Except for “two kilograms of lamb” in 2014, they had received nothing from the U.S. government, and nothing from the UN. Only Iraqi Christians – themselves overlooked by these entities – had helped them.

Far from receiving priority, communities most at risk of disappearing have received nothing at all from our government.

The reason U.S. and UN officials gave in Iraq this past May for overlooking these groups was that their aid prioritized only individual needs. If someone was hungry, they got aid, but the fact that a group could disappear entirely was never even considered.

“Helping everyone” typically means aid is sent to major refugee camps, resulting in the de facto exclusion of minority communities, since they have been targeted by extremists within these camps, and thus avoid them. It effectively means many religious minorities receive no help.

That American government aid to these groups is long overdue has – until now – been a subject of bipartisan agreement, not controversy.

The fact is that America’s lack of response to religious minorities has allowed ISIS’ program of eliminating these people from the region to continue.

While ISIS may applaud American inaction toward these communities over the past two years, neither the religious minorities in the Middle East, nor the judgment of history will do the same.

Giving preference does not mean helping only genocide survivors. But not giving them preference likely means they will soon be beyond help.

They could soon be completely eradicated.

Will anyone be outraged then?

This article was first posted February 17, 2017 on Morning Consultant. 

Posted: February 20, 2017, 7:00 am
By Caitlin Marchand

When it was announced that the Vatican would open a commission into the question of women deacons, my initial response was unenthusiastic. I agree with Dawn Eden Goldstein’s critique of the problematic motivations behind the push when she wrote in the New York Times that some believe “the clerical office means power rather than service”. As a woman, I feel as disenfranchised by a male priesthood and holy orders as men are by being unable to bear children. That is to say, both sexes hold crucial roles in the most important work of bringing souls to Christ, and we fulfill these roles to know, love and serve God — not to wield influence.

Still, I was interested to read of the argument from the existence of deaconesses in the early Church. I admit I was unaware of this historical position, and given the wildly different interpretations of its significance I wanted to know more. New Advent provides a short but chewy article on deaconesses here. While the entire article is interesting, I will note three significant points. First, deaconesses were women consecrated to serve the needs of their fellow women in areas inappropriate to men. Second, they were not exclusively virgins but also widows, so we know some had experience as mothers and wives. Third, deaconesses did hold a formal position recognized by the Church, although distinct from Holy Orders. After learning more about the unique function of deaconesses, I found that the question of whether women can or should fulfill roles already held by men gave way to the more interesting question of whether there is a need currently unmet in the Church that would be best fulfilled by women. I believe the answer is certainly yes.

In the early Church, the duties of deaconesses were particularly focused on service to other women.  The most commonly cited case is the anointing of female catechumens in an age of nude baptism. Sister Sara Butler examines the question in some detail in her 2015 essay “Women as Deaconesses,” for the Josephinium Diaconal Review. Sister Butler notes the clear distinction between the diaconal grade of Holy Orders which can be held only by men, and the separate order and mission held by women. While of a different kind, she provides several examples that show deaconesses were still carrying out important and varied work. 

“Extended the church’s ministry to sick and homebound women and prepared their bodies for burial when they died. She assisted with the catechetical instruction of women catechumens and their subsequent formation in the Christian life, and mediated between the women and the bishop.” [Women as Deaconesses]

In our day and age, few areas of conflict between the Church and the World are more obvious than women’s issues. The burden of the challenging demands of Catholic morality fall squarely on the shoulders of the Church’s female members, who must stand strong in the face of a world that does not share this morality. Here again women could serve women in a particular way most suitably carried out by members of the same sex.

Many Catholic women face ignorance, ridicule, and even chastisement from their acquaintances and doctors, because of their use of Natural Family Planning. Women must often educate themselves with little outside aid on the practical applications of NFP even in the simplest of circumstances. Yet beyond the practical, the prudential application of NFP presents another challenge. The Church requires just cause for avoiding pregnancy, but determining the gravity of myriad personal situations is daunting. NFP is only one area where women face big decisions without much help. The treatments for many significant women’s health issues may involve hysterectomy, or other procedures that render one infertile. These can be entirely licit, however, decision-making about such treatments is often far from black and white.

Infertility is another area where medical concerns intersect with moral ones, and where intimate information must be exchanged to receive thorough advice. In all these situations, doctors may not understand the moral implications, so women must take full responsibility for informing themselves. Discussing such intimate and specifically female matters with a priest can be a very awkward undertaking for both parties. 

Besides the aforementioned issues, I have received support in the postpartum months or comfort following miscarriage from faithful and generous Catholic women. Other women care for the sick and infirm whose bodily needs are best met by a member of the same sex. Sadly, not every woman is so blessed in their acquaintances. If the deaconess were a recognized role at the local parish, women would know that here was a woman ready and willing to come through for them in these times of need.  

Imagine if every parish had a holy, wise woman, a wife and mother with personal experience of the mental and physical trials of marriage and motherhood, whom women could approach for counsel on these thorny issues. This woman, as a deaconess, would hold a formal position within the life of the local church.  During formation, she would be educated in moral theology and magisterial teaching on family life as well as in practical resources for a variety of women’s concerns.  

Of course, the deaconess would need to serve as a sort of physician’s assistant operating under the authority of a pastor. She would by no means replace the spiritual care that only a priest can give. But she could listen thoughtfully and help women sort through and organize their thoughts, direct them to useful programs or offer counsel, and direct them to confession and the sacraments. St. John Paul II’s spoke throughout his pontificate, including in his letter to women, on the unique gifts of femininity, like receptivity, sensitivity and maternity. These particular affinities make discussion among women of intimate matters much easier. A maternal figure does not compete with or devalue the paternal role served by our priests and deacons. It is the attempt to place women in a masculine role that is the great problem with many arguments for women deacons. As in the family, male and female roles in the Church can be complementary. 

Deaconesses of old fulfilled a role required by the times in which they lived. Our times too present unique challenges to female Catholics. Perhaps this period in our history requires that women serve women in a particular and official way within the Church. The exciting news is that, whether deaconesses return or not, women don’t need to wait to begin fulfilling these needs. All over the country and indeed the world women are teaching NFP, reforming marriage prep, founding crisis pregnancy centers, developing support programs for postpartum depression, and reaching out to their friends and family to provide loving support in the difficult work of being a Catholic woman in a hostile world. Still, a dedicated order of women educated, blessed, and spiritually nourished by the Church and serving in parishes across the world would be a great gift and service to all their sex.  

Posted: February 15, 2017, 7:00 am
By Christian Peschken

Representatives from the Holy See and other Catholic orders gathered in Geneva last month to acknowledge and observe the Dominican who helped form the principles behind the United Nations. 

The conference was entitled “Francisco de Vitoria and the Inception of the Principles of the United Nations: His Legacy Today.” The event was organized on January 26th by Dominicans for Justice and Peace (Order of Preachers), Permanent Mission of Spain, Permanent Mission of Peru, Permanent Mission of Colombia, Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines, Permanent Mission of Ecuador, Permanent Mission of Belgium, Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, Permanent Observer Mission of the Sovereign Order of Malta.  

Mr. Michael Moller, the United Nations Director-General, reminded everyone in his opening remarks that “Vitoria imagined a system of global governance anchored in universal rights, thoughts that would eventually lead to the United Nations and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” He continued to say, “Vitoria’s vision lives on. It lives on in the work of the United Nations and its partners to forge a safer and more sustainable future. It lives on in the work of peacekeepers, activists, and volunteers around the world.”

The spirit, thought, and principles of Vitoria were highlighted and speculated at the conference. They emphasized his reflections on the justification of war, rights of indigenous peoples, responsibility to protect, moral restrictions to sovereignty, and the political action of policy makers. From this, clues were developed to assist the UN in strengthening their System, and for a more effective implementation of its principles.

Francisco de Vitoria (1486-1546) has been given a lot of prominence in the UN, Geneva, and New York. In Geneva, the council chamber, “Salle du Conseil,” was named after him. It was built for the League of Nations, and is the present meeting place of the Conference on Disarmament. A plaque dedicated to his memory has been placed in the chamber. In New York, there is a statue of him in the UN garden with the inscription “Fundador del Derecho de Gentes” (Founder of International Law). Yet few people are aware of these homages to Vitoria and even fewer know anything about him!

He is credited for being one of the founders of International Law, which the principles of the United Nations have been built on. The principles were developed in order to promote an international co-operation that will realize peace, security, human rights, and the development for all men and women of all nations, large and small.

Vitoria was based in the University of Salamanca (Spain). After hearing the deeds of his fellow country-men in the New World of Latin America, he and his fellow Dominican scholars posed pertinent questions to the legitimacy of conquering other countries and waging war against indigenous peoples.

2016 marked the 800th anniversary of the establishment of the Dominican Order in 1216, founded by Dominic de Guzman of Caleruega. Dominicans such as Saint Albert the Great and Saint Thomas Aquinas have had a major impact on philosophy. Their inspiration on Vitoria and other people have made a major contribution to the crafting of the principles that eventually became embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today the Dominican Order is a world-wide religious organization with a presence in more than 120 countries. Through their educational institutions and other forms of preaching, they seek to counter the roots of conflict, religious differences, ignorance and illiteracy.

This article was written by Christian Peschken of Pax Press Agency, Geneva. 

Posted: February 9, 2017, 7:00 am
By Tina McCormick, PhD

Resolutions: there are many this time of year, as in any year. Be it plans to exercise, to be healthy, or otherwise successful, our ambitions know no bounds. But are our ambitions misplaced? Are they in sync with what they ought to be following the momentous event we just celebrated? Thomas Aquinas had his own battles with gluttony, but regardless, his brilliant mind carried him toward saintliness. Likewise, Catherine of Siena’s saintliness was informed not by surviving on a leaf of lettuce a day (purportedly her diet), but by far greater deeds. Indeed, our plans following Christmas should have less to do with specific resolutions than with the revolution that is Christmas.

The story of the infant laid in the manger of a cave conjures up images of a sweet and comforting harmony, of a peaceful family scene, humble worship, and songs of angels. Yet this story stands at the beginning of all things and is also its end. It signifies God’s final answer to our pleas of ever greater closeness and calls us to battle with the world. It is the story of a revolution and provides the measure for our lives as Christians. As such, it should rattle, not comfort us. 

According to G.K. Chesterton in Everlasting Man, “it might be suggested, a somewhat violent image, that nothing had happened in that fold or crack in the great grey hills except that the whole universe had been turned inside out. I mean that all the eyes of wonder and worship which had been turned outwards to the largest thing were now turned inward to the smallest.” To Chesterton, there was something “defiant” about the event, “something that makes the abrupt bells at midnight sound like the great guns of a battle that has just been won.” Christ’s birth in a cave signified an “undermining the world; of shaking the towers and palaces from below.” In fact, Bethlehem was the place where the extremes of “omnipotence and impotence” met and created the ultimate paradox: “The hands that had made the sun and the stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle.” And God had become man “like an outcast or even an outlaw.”

Indeed, Bethlehem showed a world turned upside down. From now on, Chesterton wrote, “there could be no slaves….Individuals became important, in a sense in which no instrument can be important. A man could not be a means to an end, at any rate to any other man’s end.” In other words, God’s entering time in the form of an infant in a cave gave recognition to man’s true dignity. Christ’s entry into the world as an infant in a cave brought to a point all of scripture and opened the way to ever greater union with the Father. The rest would be up to us.

A grand drama, indeed. But where do we fit in?

As Catholics, we have a whole arsenal of shortcuts to feel in sync with God’s plan for this world and our desires to enter the next. We offer up our pain as penance, we pray the rosary and pray for our friends, and we blame the devil for the evil in this world and our own failures. We are quick to pray, but slow to act. We are quick to lament and condemn, but hesitate to take responsibility. We fail to recognize fatalism, complacency, self-referential piety, and judgmentalism as the dangerous personal demons they are. We are often afraid to leave our comfort zone. In short, we tend to be the pious worshippers who linger at the manger, blinded by the star above and too timid to move on. Instead, we should take our cues from the other actors in the play. The shepherds and Wise Men were men of action, men on the move who wasted no time. The shepherds “went with haste” to the manger to “see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Lk 2:15f.) They heeded the angels’ message and “were not afraid.”

The message of the manger is that God is love. But the nature of this love puts us on a revolutionary path. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that “love can also be hated when it challenges us to transcend ourselves. It is not a romantic 'good feeling.' Redemption is not 'wellness,' it is not about basking in self-indulgence; on the contrary it is a liberation from imprisonment in self-absorption. This liberation comes at a price; the anguish of the Cross. The prophecy of light and that of the Cross belong together.” (The Infancy Narratives (New York, 2012), p. 86)

The image we have of the three Magi reflects the magnificent dignity that comes from this love that is also sacrifice. Dressed like kings and bearing precious gifts, the three travelers invite us to share in such dignity as we make our personal journey of faith and ever greater closeness to God. But to follow their path, we must have courage to not only recognize our personal limitations but to also transcend them through a life of active love that both accepts and gives.

To Pope Benedict XVI, “the wise men from the East are the new beginning. They represent the journeying of humanity toward Christ. They initiate a procession that continues throughout history. Not only do they represent the people who have found the way to Christ: they represent the inner aspiration of the human spirit, the dynamism of religions and human reason toward him.” (The Infancy Narratives, p. 97)

St. Paul encountered the laziness and complacency that stands in the way of such a grace filled journey. He reprimanded Thessalonians: “We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies.” (2 Thessalonians 3:11) Let us not be idle or comfortable or too pious then, but let us follow the Magi in their quest, always on the move and ready to share the glorious truth they discovered.

Posted: January 5, 2017, 7:00 am
By Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo

The latest meeting of Pope Francis' “Council of Cardinals” has just ended and, according to Vatican spokesperson Greg Burke, “missionary impulse” was one of two guiding principles for the reform of the Curia.

The “missionary impulse” has underlined the papacy of Francis even before he was elected to the See of Peter. In the speech that the then Cardinal Bergoglio gave in the pre-conclave General Congregations of Cardinals, he stated his vision of the Church as the one “which evangelizes and comes out of herself” with the very specific mission to go to the “existential peripheries” and gain life “from the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.”

The year 2016 will close with significant development in the relationship between the Holy See and the world’s largest nation, China. With a population of close to 1.4 billion – one fifth of the world’s population – it looms high on the list of Pope Francis’ priorities. The stance of the Holy See is to move prudently and thoughtfully towards normal relations with China. As for China, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman stated in October that the nation is “sincere” in its efforts to improve bilateral ties with the Vatican, speaking of “effective channels for constructive dialogue.”

This past year has seen dialogue on the official level with a Vatican delegation visiting Beijing and meeting high ranking officials of the State run “Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association” and Chinese Catholic Bishops' Conference. The key point of the dialogue is to reach an accord on the thorny issue of who appoints Bishops – the Supreme Pontiff or Beijing.

This issue needs to be understood against the background of the chequered and sometimes complicated history of Church-State relations in China. Religious missionaries entered China from Europe in the 13th century, beginning with the Franciscans. They were followed by the Jesuits three hundred years later, who contributed much to Chinese society through inter-cultural scientific and artistic exchanges. Their approach was epitomized by Matteo Ricci, who attracted the Imperial Court through discourse on western technology and learning. Dominicans from the Philippines came to China, too, in the mid-17th century. Following the expulsion of missionaries from China in the late 17th and early 18th centuries due to a dispute over Confucian rituals concerning the deceased, it was the French who provided the next significant wave of clergy by sending priests from France. Beginning with Pope Benedict XV, relations with the Chinese Government improved and in 1943, following significant efforts by Pope Pius XII, the Chinese regime established diplomatic ties with the Vatican.

All of this was to change just six years later in light of the takeover of the country by the Communist Party. The persecution of Catholics began in earnest and missionaries were expelled. In 1956, the Government founded the “Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association,” known as the “official Church” because its members are loyal to the Communist led Government, which appoints its Bishops. It is closely monitored by the “State Administration for Religious Affairs” (“SARA”).     

For Catholics who choose to remain loyal to Rome, particularly in terms of the juridical authority of the Pope to appoint Bishops autonomously, a so called “underground” Church has emerged with its own Bishops (currently about 30), priests and lay faithful. The difficult conditions under which they operate is well known.   

In this state of affairs, is there a way forward? There certainly needs to be. In a nation of 1.4 billion, the number of Catholics, both “official” and “underground” has remained stagnant at just some 12 million. Evangelicals are growing at a much faster rate given their autonomous structure. Catholics, “official” and “underground,” including the Bishops, are yearning for communion with the See of Peter. Many see the possibility of great common good on so many levels – religious, moral, social and environmental – that can come from improved relations between the Holy See and China.

Pope Francis has spoken much of the “culture of encounter” and the need to “build bridges” through dialogue.

“Official” dialogue is continuing through a “step by step” approach focused on the appointment of Bishops. In August, a Vatican delegation met with some of the eight Bishops in China who do not have Vatican approval with a view to reconciliation. This included Bishop Ma Yinglin, the Bishop of Kunming in the Yunnan Province. Both the meeting and dialogue represented a significant step forward. Ma is President of the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Vice-President of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, both of which fall under SARA. Moreover, such meetings had previously been impeded by the Chinese authorities.  

Other more “unofficial” efforts are also producing great fruit.

For seven years, a three man team from a Catholic charitable organization based in the United States – “Caritas in Veritate” – has been traveling to Mainland China to offer a “theological forum” to Bishops from all over China at the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The team offers an aggiornamento of Church teaching, as well as theological and spiritual conferences. This past August, almost like a precursor to the official dialogue that ensued just days later, much of the teaching revolved around the Jubilee Year of Mercy and Amoris Laetitia. “The Chinese Bishops have been encouraged by Pope Francis and the Year of Mercy and the implications for the normalization of the relationship between the Church in China and the Holy See,” Mr. Henry Cappello, President of Caritas in Veritate, told CNA. “With Pope Francis’ continued call for forgiveness, in the spirit of the Year of Mercy, Catholics, both official and underground, have great expectations for a dawning of a new era.”
 
Indeed, the urgency of “a new era” seems to be gaining momentum on both sides. In the course of the Forum, the Bishops indicated the problems facing the Church in China and areas where help is needed. These included the rapid decrease in priestly and religious vocations; the lack of adequate priestly formation; problems facing marriage preparation and ongoing support for young married couples. Might structures be set up in the future – perhaps through web conferences – to assist in areas such as priestly formation and marriage preparation drawing on expertise from both sides? Such assistance would benefit the Church and China. Not only for the importance of family life – China recently changed its “one child” policy, an indication of the value it attaches to family life – some 30 of China’s 100 plus dioceses remain without Bishops and a similar number are beyond the age of retirement, demonstrating the urgent need for solid priestly formation for China’s future Church leaders.
 
There have been positive moves from the Chinese side, too. Last September, a delegation from the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation took part in a consultation on “Laudato Si,” organized jointly by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. In a speech delivered by the Foundation, hearty acknowledgment was given to Pope Francis for “describing the destruction of our environment as a sin … as Pope Francis preaches in word and example, the resolve to live differently should affect our various contributions to shaping the culture and society in which we live.”
 
Might these efforts signal a new page in the relations between the Holy See and China through the “culture of encounter” that Pope Francis speaks about? No one is ignoring such pertinent issues as the sufferings endured by Christians even to the point of martyrdom and the relationship with Taiwan. But, on the heels of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, perhaps the “culture of encounter” is the step by step “missionary impulse” that is needed at this time for reconciliation in and with a nation so rich in culture – spurred on by a Jesuit Pope and reflecting the approach of his confrères 400 years ago. All of this must be tread carefully, with great respect and a spirit of communion on both sides. It involves “building bridges” in the words of Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who, as Secretary of State, prudently oversees the Holy See’s relationship with China, bridges that are ordered only toward “the good of Chinese Catholics, to the good of the entire Chinese people, and to the harmony of the whole society, in favor of world peace.”      
 
As one independent and seasoned observer, well acquainted with both the Holy See and China, put it just days ago: “I may have mentioned to you the experience I was blessed to have been given in Rome more than a decade ago when I chanced to have had eye contact with the members of an orchestra and could observe in great intimacy the interaction between the individual musician and the conductor. A few days ago in China, I was once again afforded the same opportunity and could once again observe the overall direction given by the leader and that support given to the individual player when the conductor felt it was needed but more often when the musician himself felt the need and looked to his leader for guidance and support.” 

Posted: December 18, 2016, 7:00 am
By Eugene F. Rivers, III

Baltimore has spent the last year trying to heal from the wounds of division. But now a divisive proposal threatens to create more disunity. Councilman Brandon Scott’s proposal to eliminate Columbus Day is just what Baltimore doesn’t need: more division, less healing. Worse, the proposal itself is based on the kind of stereotypes that should never be the cause for legislative action.

Scholars like Professor Carol Delaney, formerly of Brown and Stanford universities, argue that Columbus is the subject of terrible and unfair slander. Professor Delaney writes in her authoritative biography of the explorer: “…he is blamed for all the calamities that befell [the New] World. The ‘presentist’ perspective that dominates the contemporary view, even among some academics, holds him responsible for consequences he did not intend, expect, or endorse.”

Delaney also noted in a 2014 interview: “Columbus has become a symbol for everything that went wrong. But the more I read of his own writings and that of his contemporaries, my understanding of him totally changed. His relations with the natives tended to be benign.”

“Columbus strictly told the crew not to do things like maraud or rape, and instead to treat the native people with respect. There are many examples in his writings where he gave instructions to this effect. Most of the time when injustices occurred, Columbus wasn’t even there,” she notes. Columbus was not perfect. None of us are. But he was hardly the monstrous caricature being used to assassinate his holiday.

None of this denies the fact that the consequences of colonization of what is now North America had deplorable consequences for Native Americans. Nor does it compensate for their treatment by Europeans, which was often reprehensible.

However, attacks on Columbus and Columbus Day were originated by the very group that has historically led racist attacks on blacks. These attacks were created in the 1920s by the Ku Klux Klan as part of a targeted assault on Italians, Catholics, and the Catholic charitable group the Knights of Columbus.

We must not forget that, in addition to African Americans, the Klan hated Catholics and Jews as well. And they had a particular hatred for the Knights of Columbus. Not only was this a Catholic group, but it was a group that stood publicly – at its highest levels – with the African American community. During World War I, it was the only charitable group to run centers serving the troops at home and in Europe that had as its policy not to draw the color line.

Long before advocacy for African Americans was popular, back in 1924, the Knights of Columbus commissioned and published NAACP co-founder W.E.B. DuBois’ book The Gift of Black Folk. It published this book because African Americans had been excluded from American history, and the Knights of Columbus wanted to correct that injustice – four decades before the Civil Rights Movement!

In 1924, the same year the Knights of Columbus published the DuBois book, the Klan disrupted their Columbus Day party in Pennsylvania by burning a fiery cross. The same year, the Klan magazine ran an article entitled: “Columbus Day, a Papal Fraud.” In the 1920s, the Klan also tried to suppress celebration of the holiday at the state level.

When, a decade later, Columbus Day became a federal holiday, it was Catholics – Italian Americans and groups like the Knights of Columbus – who pushed for it. Why? Because – as they had done for African Americans with DuBois – they wanted to ensure a place of honor for immigrants and Catholics in the history of the United States.

Baltimore needs unity. It needs healing. It needs honest dialogue. There is a long list of problems to solve in Baltimore: high crime, high poverty rates, unemployment, fatherless children, mistrust of police, failing schools, drug abuse, etc. The city’s politicians should devote their time to addressing these issues in innovative and effective ways rather than to initiatives that can only be divisive.

It is inspiring that the students of City Neighbors High School suggested celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day, as the Baltimore Sun reports. It is fitting that, just as the culture of Italians, Catholics and African Americans is celebrated nationally, the culture of Native Americans should be also. But, to celebrate one cultural group does not require that we denigrate another. We should not disrespect the cultural heroes of another ethnic group. Rather than renaming Columbus Day, why not add another holiday, Indigenous Peoples Day, to the City of Baltimore’s calendar in honor of Native Americans?

Baltimore is the country’s first Catholic diocese. It has a thriving Little Italy and strong immigrant community. It is the place where the founder of the Knights of Columbus was ordained a priest nearly a century and a half ago. The city should not follow a path blazed by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s to insult and marginalize Catholics. Instead the city can celebrate the legacy of marginalized people such as African Americans and Native Americans, just as it celebrates those who have defended them.

 

Posted: December 2, 2016, 7:00 am
By Father Christopher J. Pollard

“Spit on it and use it”, once said a wise old priest in the seminary about money. The same can be said about your vote. In and of itself it is not holy. It does not pertain to your dignity. Your having or lacking it does not make you more or less important.

Voting does, however, carry a burden of responsibility. A voter participates in determining an outcome that might be very significant. How and why you vote reveals your values. How and why you vote can make you blameworthy or praiseworthy. If a voter casts a ballot in order to promote an evil, she is guilty of that same evil. If she votes to promote a particular good she will likewise get some of the credit.

In ordinary circumstances voting might be no more dramatic and fraught with moral significance than choosing a breakfast cereal at the grocery store… provided that none of the cereal boxes contain rat poison. Then it would be a matter of life and death.

Sometimes the circumstances are worse. This year’s presidential election in the United States of America I compare to a hostage situation in which you, the hostage, will be forced to drink one of two poisons but you get to choose which poison it will be. Avoiding drinking the poison is out of the question. The poison will be forced down your throat. At this stage of the process there are only two possible outcomes. Either Donald Trump will be elected or Hillary Clinton will be.

You get to decide if both poisons are equally bad or not. If one outcome will be better than the other then you should try to bring it about. It is not a moral obligation to do so in the same way that you need not say anything to the kidnappers when they show you the two poisons, of which you will have to ingest one. If one is deadly and the other only sickening then you ought to choose the latter. Before you tell them “ipse venena bibas”, or “drink your own poison”, remember that the poison will be forced down not only your throat but everybody’s, even your children’s.

In fact, our situation is worse than a hostage crisis. Were it only that, you could try to reason with or persuade your captors. Rather we are hostage to a stampede numbering in the tens of millions who will force us down one road or the other.

Yes, of course, you are insulted that these are the choices. Perhaps you are mistaking your vote to mean that you think a particular candidate ought to be President. Instead you really are just choosing between one of the possible outcomes, one being better than the other(s). Are you thinking that your vote somehow morally unites yourself to that candidate? You will take upon yourself the moral character of the qualities or policies that motivate you to vote. Voting for Donald Trump would make you guilty of sexual assault if that would be why you are voting for him in the same way that voting for Hillary Clinton because she vilified her husband’s alleged victims would make you guilty… something terrible. Both scenarios are highly unlikely. Voting for Hillary Clinton does make you guilty of murder if abortion is one of your reasons for supporting her.

If you are insulted by the menu choices then it might be time to reconsider this method of choosing. Some of us are insulted by voting in the first place. Adults do not make serious decisions by taking a poll of all parties affected. Why would we expect a popular vote to have a good outcome? Why would we expect more people voting to yield a better outcome? Why would we anticipate anything other than not only a worse outcome but also worse choices next time around if we do not expect voters to become more intelligent and more virtuous? I digress… but only in the way that a hostage’s mind might wander. We should consider more energetically the democratic crisis that afflicts us and we should do so long before the next election cycle. In the meantime...

This vote is not a discernment of a free moral act. When we are freely choosing we always are able to choose good. We always must choose good. We are not in that kind of situation here. Consider King David before the LORD and having to select from among three punishments: three years of famine, three months of fleeing an invading army, or three days of pestilence (2 Samuel 24:13; 1 Chronicles 21:12). Avoiding punishment was out of the question. In that case David was not just before another man but before God and so knew that he had to reply and choose the punishment that would befall him and his people.

I contend that this vote is a choice between two poisons. One of them would like to bring about the end of authentic Christianity. The other is simply disgusting. One intends to ensure that abortion, even its most brutal forms, remain legally protected. The other wants to defund Planned Parenthood. If the abortion business had nothing at stake in this race then why would Planned Parenthood give Mrs. Clinton a 100% rating and Mr. Trump 0%?

Let me be clear. I am not saying you have to vote. Boycotting a vote can be an effective rebuke of a candidate, but only when the boycott determines the present outcome and affects the future choice of candidates next time around. A local election where a few hundred votes are decisive is the best arena for a boycott to send a message effectively. Curiously enough, if the average voter did not really think that important decisions like this should be decided by experts then why does she blame the political parties for the candidates we have? Even more curious is that a vote for Trump seems to be the way some people are punishing the GOP. His nomination took place despite the dismay of party leaders. He might have garnered that many more votes partly for the same reason.

If you do decide to vote, please do not do so for the sake of feeling better. Vote because it will bring about the better outcome. And for heaven’s sake, if you do cast a ballot, do not use it to promote abortion. If you have ever done so, please repent. The punishments for those who deliberately kill the innocent, from which God will not be able to spare the impenitent, do not expire after three days or three months or three years or ever.

Posted: October 18, 2016, 6:00 am
By Paul Badde

It was a single word that brought about the decisive split between the Eastern and Western churches. It happened in May 581, at the Council of Toledo, when the bishops of the Visigoth kingdom added the Latin word “filioque” to the then-200-year-old Catholic creed of the Council of Nicea-Constantinople.

In English, the word means: “and the Son.” Ever since that day, Christians of the West pray in their creed: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son,” whereas in the Eastern Churches to this day they pray: “We believe in the Holy spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.” This addition first attained the rank of dogma under Pope Benedict VIII, and then again in 1215, by which time alienation between East and West had substantially increased.

However, it was but this single word that became both a stumbling block and a milestone in the separation process between the Eastern and Western Church. Thousands upon thousands of highly erudite words only further deepened the rift and never could heal it.

But this week, in a quiet ceremony unnoticed by most media, a single image brought the Eastern and Western Church together in way that arguably has never happened before. On this Sunday, Sept. 18, in the small town of Manoppello in the Abruzzi mountains, 70 Orthodox bishops celebrated, together with two cardinals and many Roman Catholic bishops and clergymen, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom before the image of the “Holy Face.” The holy veil had been hidden for more than 300 years in a side chapel of St Michael's Church, until, after the great earthquake of 1915, it was publicly displayed for the first time again, in the year 1923, over the main altar of a newly constructed building, where it can be visited and adored every day.  

Ten years after the September 2006 visit of Pope Benedict XVI, this visit of a mixed Orthodox synod, together with their Latin brothers, marked a most significant event in the process of re-discovery of this mysterious, original icon of Christ. It had long been worshiped in Constantinople as “Hagion Mandylion,” and later in Rome as “Sanctissimum Sudarium,” before it was also given the name of “Sancta Veronica Ierosolymitana.”

There were metropolitans and bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (from Finland, Estonia, Crete, Patmos, Malta, Great Britain, America, Australia, the Exarchate of the Philippines, from Europe and from Mount Athos) and patriarchs, metropolitans and archbishops of Alexandria, Antioch, Damascus, Jerusalem, the autonomous Church of Mount Sinai, and the Orthodox churches of Russia, Georgia, Serbia, Cyprus, Romania, Greece Poland, Albania, Czech Republic and Slovakia, which came before the Holy Face and celebrated the Eucharist. Only the Bulgarian Church had sent no representative.

The antiphons of the liturgy were in Italian, Russian, Greek, English, Romanian and French. In his homily, given in English, Metropolitan Job Getcha of Telmessos, who headed the service as representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, praised the “image of Christ, not made by human hand” of Manoppello. He pointed out that – according to some scholars – the Image is identical with that of the Soudarion from the Gospel of the Resurrection according to John, while another tradition holds that a certain Veronica wiped the face of Jesus with this veil on his way to the Cross, though she is not mentioned in the canonical Gospels.

Archbishop Bruno Forte from nearby Chieti knows that neither bloodstains nor any residue of paint can be found in the veil. It had been his idea and initiative to bring the bishops before the face of Christ, which he likes to praise as the “North Star of Christendom.” He invited the group to Manoppello and had given the visitors a scholarly introduction on the bus trip from his diocesan town of Chieti to Manoppello.

In Chieti, the pilgrims had all participated in the 14th General Assembly of a Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox. They had discussed a document entitled “Towards a common understanding of synodality and primacy in the service of the unity of the Church.” It was a debate that began in the previous plenary meeting in the Jordanian capital Amman in 2014 and was continued in 2015 in Rome. The Commission is the official organ of the theological dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox. It was founded in 1979 and unites 14 autocephalous Orthodox churches, which are each represented by two theologians who are mostly bishops, together with Catholic representatives.

And now the same group practically traced, as a synodal pilgrimage, that first spectacular step towards the face of Christ that Benedict XVI undertook ten years ago, against much resistance, the first pope to do so after more than 400 years.

His successor Pope Francis later – on Nov 30, 2014 while flying from Istanbul back to Rome – told journalists travelling with him: “Be careful: the Church does not have a light of its own. She needs to gaze upon Jesus Christ! On that path, we must move forward courageously.”

And following on this path, the Divine Liturgy before the Divine Face this Sunday became a milestone of reconciliation on the way to unity. Heavy rainfall had been announced. But only a few drops ended up falling.

“Pray for the Christians in the Middle East as you pray before the Holy Face. They are suffering unspeakably,” an Oriental bishop said right after the final blessing to the German sister Petra-Maria Steiner, who introduces countless pilgrims to the mystery of the light of this image in Manoppello. Earlier, at the conclusion of the celebration, Anatoliy Grytskiv, Protopresbyter of Chieti, had hailed the “miracle” of the encounter in a passionate summary in Italian.

Whereto from here? “Today we have gazed upon the face of God,” Cardinal Kurt Koch told CNA outside the main entrance of the Basilica after the celebration. “Probably only in view of the face of the Redeemer may unity come about. But surely it will be difficult. After all this is like a divorce, after you have grown apart – it is hard to get back together. In this case…thousand years of separation are standing between us.”

“Yes, but fortunately it is said in the Scriptures: A thousand years are with the Lord as one day,” Sister Petra-Maria responded with a smile to the cardinal’s sober skepticism. “Perhaps now the new day of unity arises. With God, nothing is impossible. Perhaps today we have seen the dawn of this new day. This new beginning is as thin and delicate as the Volto Santo.”

Were it so, the image of Christ would indeed have briefly bridged that abyss on this Sunday, an abyss carved out, like a primeval river, by the countless words between East and West, a Grand Canyon into the very foundation of Christianity.

At those very depths, the holy “sudarium” might yet intervene, in a healing fashion, in the ancient Filioque controversy about that first word of separation. For if the veil, as John writes, was indeed lying in the grave of Christ, on the face of the Lord, it must also have absorbed the first breath of the Risen One – when the Spirit of God woke Jesus Christ from the dead – as that Spirit that is the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

 

 

 

 

Posted: September 22, 2016, 6:00 am
By Charles Mercier

Two young men were ordained Catholic priests last Friday in Ankawa, Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, for the Chaldean Catholic Church. Louis Raphaël I Sako, Patriarch of Babylon, Archbishop of Baghdad, performed the rite and for his church called it “a great sign of hope in a time of great crisis.”
    
The two are Joachim Sliwa and Martin Baani. Sliwa is in his late twenties, married with a young daughter, emigrated from Iraq to Germany ten years ago in his late teens, has served as a deacon in Munich, and is destined to serve dispersed Chaldean Catholics in Berlin.
    
Baani, 26, unmarried, became an internally displaced person when Karamles, his hometown several miles southeast of Mosul, fell to ISIS on August 6, 2014, escaping with only clothes, passport, and the Blessed Sacrament he rescued from his church.
    
Baani’s family emigrated to San Diego, and Martin was invited to stay with them and be ordained in the Chaldean diocese there. But he returned to Iraq and has become the face of Christian internally displaced persons who want to stay, not emigrate, and recover and rebuild their Christian communities. Baani will now spend time in Baghdad for further training with the Patriarch and then expects to be assigned to Dohuk. He would wish to be pastor in a liberated Karamles.
    
The ordinations, conducted entirely in Aramaic, took place at 10 a.m. on Friday September 9 in the fresh, new, monumental, air-conditioned church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ankawa. In attendance was a crowd of some 500, wearing clothing eastern and western. A youth choir of 20 in white sport shirts sang sacred songs to eastern melodies and rhythms, accompanied by synthesizer and oud. A group of 20 permanent deacons and acolytes of the archdiocese chanted liturgically. As the Patriarch presided, ecclesiastical dignitaries, bishops, cor bishops, Orthodox and Catholic, Chaldean and Syriac, populated the sanctuary, including Ramzi Garmou, Chaldean archbishop of Tehran; Nicodemus Sharaf, Orthodox Syriac Metropolitan, whose cathedral is in Mosul, himself an internally displaced person; and, of course, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Ankawa, Bashar Warda. (I was visiting the archdiocese and attended the services as a guest of the archbishop.)
    
The rite of ordination took place at the beginning of the service. Sako, smiling, anointed the ordinands’ hands. They received new stoles and were vested. The two new priests kissed the altar, kissed the baptismal font, embraced each other and then their own and one another’s families, who were weeping with both joy and sorrow. The newly ordained Joachim kissed his wife, pregnant with another child, who, by Chaldean rite rule, had signed her assent to his ordination as part of the liturgy.
    
The Liturgy of the Word then began at a lectern from which hangs a banner of the Jubilee of Mercy logo in Aramaic script. A family member read from Isaiah 11, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him.” Newly ordained Abouna Joachim chanted the Gospel from Luke 4, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
    
Patriarch Sako preached, finding a sign of hope in these ordinations: we expect very soon, he said, the liberation of Mosul and the Nineveh plain. A priest gives up his life in service and these men are doing that, serving their church as their family. The bishop is a father and I offer the support of a father to you new priests.
    
Family members read petitions. The two new priests then concelebrated the Liturgy of the Eucharist with the patriarch and two other priests of the archdiocese and gave communion to the whole congregation.
    
Mass concluded, Abouna Martin spoke from the pulpit. He thanked God for the support of his family, the archdiocese of Mosul, and his spiritual mentor Abouna Thabet. We will return to a liberated Mosul, he said, and the church erupted in cheers and ululations. As the new priests processed out, people threw candy and confetti, applauded, cheered, most everyone weeping.
    
The Christians of Karamles fled together as a town and live together as a town in an internally displaced person encampment in Ankawa, which is where that night they held the celebration for Abouna Martin’s ordination. Food for hundreds was set on trestle tables in an open area; a band of young girls danced; a video slideshow of photographs of Martin’s life was projected on a big white wall; childhood friends wore photo t-shirts of Martin’s face. A scale model was built and displayed of the Karamles church of St. Barbara, making somehow present what internally displaced persons had left behind. The Christians of Karamles expect soon to move as a town into permanent housing, a new apartment building, McGivney House, now being built in the outskirts of Ankawa by the Knights of Columbus.
    
The church building of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is itself a statement of hope for permanent survival, consecrated two months ago, big enough for more than 600, brilliant in marble and other stones, with a dazzling icon of its patron on one side of the sanctuary, paired with one of Christ pantokrator. Its architect is Malik Kadifa, whose other recent projects for the Ankawa archdiocese are similarly gracious: the archdiocesan seminary St. Peter’s and the buildings of the nascent Catholic University in Erbil.
    
A cycle of huge mural paintings in the church of scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary includes the visit of the Magi, legendarily Chaldeans, and the finding of Jesus of the temple. Among the religious authorities Jesus teaches in that scene is a Catholic archbishop suspiciously similar in appearance to that of Ankawa.
    
The same church on the next night, Saturday, with Blessed Sacrament and altar removed, became a packed concert hall for Lebanese soprano Abeer Nehme, who sang sacred songs in Aramaic and Arabic in several Middle eastern styles as well as covering “I Believe” by the Bachelors in Aramaic. Ninety members of an archdiocesan young adult choir backed her for a few opening songs. Our faith is strong, we stand firm, she sang again and again. The crowd loved it. Archbishop Warda was proud.
    
Attending the ordination and concert was among the activities of a British delegation of officials from UK Aid to the Church in Need, which has decisively supported Iraqi Christians from the earliest, desperate moments of 2014, and from British Parliament, including three MPs. Nehme turned to them from onstage and said in English, remember that Jesus was born in this part of world and spoke Aramaic. He did not have green eyes and blond hair!
    
The signs of Christian life in Ankawa like the ordination, the concert, the 18 Chaldean Catholic seminarians at St. Peter’s themselves on the path to ordination, the colored lights and illuminated crosses displayed everywhere in preparation for the festivity of the Holy Cross on September 14, are surprisingly vibrant and alive. You would not immediately guess if you did not know that this community includes residents of internally displaced person camps and is only a few miles away from war and genocide.
    
A member of the delegation, Mark Menzies, a Tory MP for Fylde, a Catholic, told me he was humbled by his experience of Ankawa’s Christians and realized anew how much in the West we take for granted the freedom to practice religion. Humbled also felt Jim Shannon, Democratic Unionist MP from Strangford in Northern Ireland, who joined the delegation with the intention of supporting Iraqi Christians as Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief. A Baptist, he told me he was encouraged at the Catholic ordination by seeing so many young Iraqis on fire in the love of the Lord.
    
An American is Counsel for the Ankawa archdiocese and Vice Chancellor for external affairs for nascent Catholic University, Stephen Rasche, a multitasking aide to Archbishop Warda. He often confronts the notion that Iraqi Christians are a lost cause, dinosaurs on their way to extinction. To him, in spite of many reasons for pessimism, ordination day in Ankawa was one among many vivid indications of their survival and rebirth.

 

Posted: September 19, 2016, 6:00 am
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