Mass for Persecuted Christians - 27 February, 2021
Next Friday 5 March, Pope Francis will visit Iraq, a country where the exodus of Christians has continued to be very severe, but hope has been on the horizon with many returning to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.
Not only in Iraq, but right across the world, innocent men, women and children are suffering because of their religion; they are falling victim to violence and terrorism. We cannot overlook any such attempt anywhere, just because it takes place in distant lands.
You have possibly heard that wonderful quote from Pope Paul VI where he declared that more than teachers, the world needs witnesses. In fact, the Greek word for witness is martyr.
Jesus sent his disciples into the world to announce the Good News but to do so primarily by the witness of their lives. Their faith was made visible by the coherence of their actions, the courage of their convictions and the selfless love that expresses itself in the spirit of sacrifice.
In the early church, the martyrs were seen as the ideal of discipleship: men and women so transformed by their faith and their love for God that they were prepared to suffer even death to be able to witness to the Church’s faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Today, we remember our modern-day martyrs, especially our brothers and sisters who are persecuted in Iraq. Christians are being driven out, tortured and murdered. In some countries where there were thriving Christian communities living in peace with their non-Christian neighbours, now only a remnant of the faith community remains.
At a time in the West when there is increasing media focus on the rights of people regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexuality, it is ironic that in many sections of the mainstream media, there should be such limited coverage of the massive persecution experienced by so many Christians. This lack of coverage combined with inaction on the part of Western governments, points at a cultural divide and lack of concern about religious freedom violations.
I acknowledge today the Papal Orders of Ireland for your ongoing commitment in highlighting the suffering of Christians whose lives and communities are in shambles. May you continue to speak out whenever or wherever one’s faith is oppressed or persecuted. I thank your President, John Morgan for ensuring this annual Mass be celebrated notwithstanding the restrictions imposed upon us.
Covid-19 and the measures taken to contain it have worsened the situation of Christian minorities in many parts of the world. Restrictions have allowed Islamist militants to act more freely, increasing violence against Christians in sub-Saharan Africa by 30%. The pandemic has also enabled authoritarian states like China to expand their surveillance and control over Chinese Christians.
Centuries of misunderstanding, bigotry, persecution and hatred have produced the horrendous situation that we face today. The ongoing persecution of Christians is like a virus that mutates. We must all work diligently for a world where prejudice and hatred are changed by a spirit of dialogue and solidarity, where each and every person is valued as a child of God. Too often we are like the priest or the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan who seems to be oblivious to the suffering of his brother.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that Christ promises happiness to those who are persecuted. Our reaction to martyrdom cannot be one of despair, but rather of hope.
The Beatitudes, in the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are the ideals that must inspire us each day. Jesus’ Beatitudes represent a reversal of values, and indeed turn the world’s standards for happiness upside down.
Jesus challenges us, his disciples, to see life through God’s eyes. The same Beatitudes are a portrait of Christ’s own life: Jesus is poor, meek, merciful, a peacemaker, pure of heart and persecuted. Jesus teaches us that happiness is not achieved through money, pleasure and power.
True happiness comes through a life of love and sacrifice, happiness born of making a gift of ourselves to God and to others. This is precisely what our martyred brothers and sisters have done. They have laid down their lives for love of God and for love of us.
As we offer this Mass for Christians throughout the world who suffer persecution, we remember also, the religious and lay people who struggle against atrocious odds, risking their lives simply to stand up for the poor and downtrodden, those on the fringes, those that Jesus went out of his way to help and heal. They are persecuted because they speak the truth and proclaim the message of Jesus Christ.
May the God of love, mercy and compassion guide and enlighten the hearts of all of us and may we continue to pray for all in our world who are the victims of persecution.
Preached by Msgr Eoin Thynne, 27 February 2021 at the Spring Mass in the Church of St Jude the Apostle, Templeogue.