In many places of the world it’s not good being a Christian these days. Or, I should say, it’s not easy being a Christian these days. It’s open season on Christians in many countries of the world; Christians are suffering and dying for their faith in unprecedented numbers, at least in the modern era. Consider the following.
In Iraq, where the most notorious of persecutions is taking place, the brutal Islamic terrorist group ISIS has ordered Christians to convert to Islam, pay a hefty tax, leave the country or die. Christians are being beheaded, crucified and maimed. As a result, thousands of Christians have hastily fled Iraq finding temporary refuge in safe havens such as churches, convents and monasteries. For the first time in 1600 years, Sunday Mass is not being celebrated in Mosul, the northern Iraqi city known as Nineveh during biblical times.
According to Msgr. John Kozar, President of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), which is courageously providing material and spiritual assistance in the region, “we are witnessing, at the hands of extremist thugs, the eradication of a cradle of Christianity in the cradle of civilization.”
The violent persecution of Christians is occurring in other areas too.
In Syria, Christians are subject to an extreme version of Islamic Sharia law, which among other things forbids them to repair their war-torn churches, worship or pray in public, ring church bells, or wear crosses or other symbols of their faith.
In Nigeria, extremist groups led by the heinous Boko Haram have killed, this year alone, approximately 1,500 Christians because of their religious profession. According to one local advocate, “The pattern is that if you do not do what they demand, even if you are a Muslim, you become an ‘apostate’ deserving of death.”
In India, a wave of Hindu religious fundamentalism is taking hold in some sectors of the country. Christians are being persecuted, sexually assaulted, and attacked by mobs, and the crimes are going unpunished, according to testimony given to the U.S. Congress by the Alliance Defending Freedom.
In some regions of China, where the Christian Church is growing, the government is tearing down crosses and razing church buildings in an apparent attempt to thwart the spread of the faith. “The cross removals and demolitions reflect the flexing of political muscle by local authorities to show who’s in control,” said one member of a local Christian congregation.
Even traditionally Christian countries are not immune from attacks on the faith. In Germany for example, Syrian and Iraqi Christians who have sought asylum there have been faced with threats from Muslim residents in Munich. Bavarian Broadcasting reported that one Iraqi family that had sought refuge in rural Bavaria was so frightened that it returned to Mosul, only to be tormented there!
And lest we ignore our own backyard, even here in the United States there are challenges to religious freedom, though certainly not nearly as dramatic or violent as in other parts of the world. Here, despite the alleged protection of the First Amendment, the ever-increasing intrusion of the federal government is suffocating the practice of religion.
The imposition of the ill-conceived and morally deficient Obamacare is forcing individuals, religious organizations (including the Little Sisters of the Poor, for heaven’s sake!) and private corporations to pay for other people’s birth control – pills, devices and procedures – by requiring them to participate in complex insurance schemes. Similarly, as a result of various court rulings, some private entrepreneurs, including innkeepers, florists and bakers are required to service homosexual wedding ceremonies, even though such events violate their conscience. And an increasingly emboldened atheistic community seeks to scrub every religious reference and symbol from public life – including Christmas trees, prayer banners, and public displays of the Ten Commandments.
In light of these horrendous challenges to religious freedom, at home and abroad, what’s a Christian to do?
Well, first, we should pray for and sacrifice for our fellow Christians around the world who are suffering and dying for their faith. In moments such as these, spiritual solidarity is extremely important, so that our brothers and sisters around the globe know that they are not alone. As St. Paul teaches, we are all parts of one body, the Body of Christ. “If one part suffers, all parts suffer with it.” (I Cor 12:26)
Secondly, if we have the opportunity, we should provide financial support to relief organizations such as Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) who are on the ground in these troubled lands providing spiritual and material assistance.
And finally, while we’re still able to do so, we should treasure the gift our religious freedom and practice our Catholic Faith proudly and joyfully. Go to Mass every Sunday; receive the sacraments regularly; support the Church personally and financially; share your faith with others; pass on your faith to your children and grandchildren; and let your Christian voice be heard in the public square.
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Mt 6:21)
So, the question is, do you treasure your faith? Do you treasure it enough to suffer and die for it? Or at least to live for it every day?
A popular saying reminds us that, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it,” a truth that applies to many aspects of life, including our religious freedom.