On Sunday, in the city of Lahore in Pakistan, we saw yet again how the persecution of Christians around the world is intensifying as two churches were bombed during Sunday services and 17 people died and many more were wounded. In his Angelus message on Sunday, Pope Francis prayed fervently for those affected and commented: “May this persecution against Christians, which the world is seeking to hide, end and may there be peace.” Indeed, who still speaks about the up to 70 Christian churches burned down in Niger only last month by orchestrated mobs? Who speaks about the Christian children routinely being beheaded in Syria and Iraq? Does any Western politician or news outlet still pay attention to the plight of over 200 mostly Christian schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria over a year ago and who are now living a life as sex slaves? Did political leaders from around the world march in Paris after the public beheading of 21 Coptic Christian Egyptians last month? Pope Francis is right, the world is still seeking to hide the harsh reality that Christians are by far the most persecuted people in the world and that the situation is becoming worse by the day.
We have to speak out, we have to form alliances worldwide to deal with these injustices and stop them – and we have to finally bring into the corridors and media of international politics the most potent weapon a Christian has at his disposal: the Gospel of Life and its message faith, hope and love. These three Gospel virtues are the foundation of what our broken world is most in need of today: the mercy of Christ our Redeemer. On Friday, March 13th, Pope Francis took the lead when – for many by surprise – in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome he announced a Year of Mercy, a Jubilee Year, which in the Christian tradition is a time of special graces. As a witness to mercy, the Pope said, the Church has to render this her primary mission more evident so that all Christians learn to ‘Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful’ (cf. Lk 6:36). Especially in the times of merciless killing that we are experiencing today, Christ’s mercy is the only answer we can give that may lead to reconciliation, healing and peace.
The utter moral confusion, not only in the West but equally in those countries where ideologies persist thriving through hate and revenge, leads to a profoundly wounded world. This causes broken lives, broken families, broken communities, broken nations and the escape into a wide range of “isms”: militant secularism, consumerism, materialism, terrorism and ideological extremism, to name but a few. It is especially during the past months and weeks – and on Sunday again for all the world to see – that we have been witnessing the horrifying results of ideologically inspired violence, of fellow human beings whose hatred has become so intense that it consumes them entirely and leads to ever more grotesque acts of killing, aimed at creating fear and a violent response which would justify more violence.
But there is a much better answer: In recent weeks, some extraordinary examples of mercy, resulting from an unshakable faith in Christ and leading to heroic acts of forgiveness, have been publicized in response to the violence and killings in the Middle East. There is real hope: this destructive cycle can eventually be stopped through what Jesus makes very clear in Matthew’s Gospel:
Then Peter went up to him and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.
Three videos that will be shown below show the true meaning of the forgiveness Jesus refers to and are the best introduction to the Jubilee Year of Mercy announced by Pope Francis. When one sees the faith and ability to forgive of these persecuted brethren, what more do we need to learn about mercy? Mercy is first of all seeing and speaking the entire truth, but then instead of remaining with the question of guilt, to forgive the guilty one.
The first video shows an interview with a Christian child refugee from Iraq, Myriam, who tells us how she has forgiven her persecutors. This 10-year old girl who has lost almost everything…except her faith in Jesus Christ…
“We have to forgive, to let the grace transfer from generation to generation. If not, the pain and the hate will close the way to the grace of God (..) We have to take care of our children, they are our future, if not the next generation of ISIS will be from our side.”, says Father Douglas Al-Bazi, an Iraqi Catholic priest who was shot in the leg during Mass, whose church was bombed and who was kidnapped and tortured by Daish. When miraculously released, he returned immediately to his flock, knowing the dangers…
The impressive televised testimony of one of the brothers of the the 21 Coptic martyrs beheaded for their faith in Christ by Daish in Libya last month shows the power of faith, forgiveness and redemption in ways that we can hardly begin to imagine…
There is a lot for us in the West to learn from oriental Christians, especially when it comes to their faithfulness to Christ, their willingness to embrace their suffering whilst openly forgiving those that have harmed them. We Christians in the West have not been put to the test of faith as have the Christians in the East – they are the living examples of Christ’s mercy. Let them be our guides as we prepare for a truly Holy Year of Mercy.