A Statement by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, President, UnitedStates Conference of Catholic Bishops about Persecution of Christians
"Lord Jesus Christ."
These three whispered words
rose above the sound of the surf to overcome death, as 21 Coptic Christians – brothers as dear to
us as our own family – knelt in the sand before the executioner's sword. The
body and blood of Christ were offered on the Mediterranean shore that all too
recent February day. Our body and blood were offered, for as St. Paul teaches
us, we are one body in Christ and "if one suffers, all the parts suffer with
it" (1 Cor 12:26).
The words of our Lord
Jesus Christ are alive and with us now. "If they persecuted me, they will
persecute you as well" (Jn 15:20). Places of worship that have stood for centuries
in the very cradle of Christianity are being destroyed. Families are fleeing
from beheadings, sexual slavery and even crucifixion. In places such as Mosul, Christmas
bells that have heralded the birth of our Savior uninterrupted for nearly two
thousand years have fallen silent as our brothers and sisters in the faith have
been scattered. It is nothing
short of genocide.
This Sunday, more than
20 million Catholics will attend Mass throughout the United States, kneeling in
preparation to receive Holy Communion. In the week ahead, they will read the
Bible, teach their children to pray, and practice Christian virtue in the workplace.
We will do so, largely, without fear of being targeted for simply worshipping
God. This Sunday, when we kneel, let us draw near to all those dying in the
name of our faith. Let us then rise, renewed in our solidarity with the
suffering of people of all faiths.
We will soon begin to
celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy announced by Pope Francis. During this special year, the Holy Father
encourages us to rediscover the corporal and spiritual works of mercy,
including feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, comforting the afflicted
and praying for the living and the dead (Misericordiae Vultus, 15). How might we accompany our suffering fellow
Christians and all people of good will?
- Pray – Surrounded by death, the loving embrace
of Jesus is often the modern martyr's only comfort. Let us pray their faith will sustain them as
it inspires us to turn ever more fervently to Christ in our own lives.
- Witness – Our hearts never grow indifferent to
the continuing stories of families forced from their homes, separated from
those they love and facing an unknown future. We cannot be hesitant to speak
their name, make their cause our own and ensure they are never forgotten by the
powerful in a position to protect them.
- Give – Last September, Catholic parishes in the
United States gave generously to a special collection supporting our brothers
and sisters in the Middle East. We can continue our generosity through
organizations like Catholic Relief Services or the Catholic Near East Welfare
As Pope Francis reminds us, "authentic
religion is a source of peace and not of violence." Ever confident in Christ's abundant grace, we look with
hope to the day when people of every faith live in harmony with their neighbor.