Pray for the Holy Church of God
As we prepare ourselves for the sacred Paschal Triduum that begins tomorrow, culminating in the triumph of Easter, we follow the way of the cross that was traveled by Jesus two millennia ago and has continued to be traveled by his body in the world today, the Church. The Church does not only meditate and reflect upon the Passion of Christ, but participates in it in a very real and tangible way.
In so many places around the world, including here, the Church is suffering mockery, violence and oppression to varying degrees. Reports show that Christians are suffering persecution throughout the world more than any other people.
It pains our hearts especially to see the persecution by ISIS of our sisters and brothers in the Middle East with an aim toward eradicating Christianity in the very land where it all started and first began to grow. Many of them have fled their homes, stripped of everything they own but the clothes on their back – and their faith in Christ. Since whoever is of Christ belongs to one body, their suffering is ours.
Last week, the U.S. government took a welcome step in officially recognizing that the violence perpetrated against Christians and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq constituted genocide, as well as crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. Referring to ISIS by its alternate name “Daesh,” Secretary of State John Kerry explained in announcing this determination that “One element of genocide is the intent to destroy an ethnic or religious group, in whole or in part. We know that Daesh has given some of its victims a choice between abandoning their faith or being killed, and that for many is a choice between one kind of death and another. The fact is that Daesh kills Christians because they are Christians; Yezidis because they are Yezidis; Shia because they are Shia.”
Secretary Kerry then added that “the reality of genocide underscores even more starkly the need for a comprehensive and unified approach to defeating Daesh . . . the best response to genocide is a reaffirmation of the fundamental right to survive of every group targeted for destruction. What Daesh wants to erase, we must preserve. That requires defeating Daesh, but it also demands the rejection of bigotry and discrimination – those things that facilitated its rise in the first place.”
In our own nation, the body of Christ faces not physical violence, but various forms of social opposition and legal burdens on being able to fully live and express our Gospel faith. We are confronted with a marginalizing of the Church, including attempts by government to take it upon itself to narrowly define what constitutes religion and religious ministry, and a bleaching out of freedom of conscience from our society.
As a sign and instrument of communion, today and throughout this holy season I ask that you persevere in prayer especially for our family of faith here and around the world as we make up in our trials and tribulations what is lacking in the suffering of Christ (Colossians 1:24). Let us pray for genuine peace and for the gifts of the Spirit to console and strengthen us, and also to touch the hearts of leaders and society with wisdom and justice so that toleration and religious freedom reigns in every land.
Turning now to God, we know that our efforts in prayer are never wasted. The Lord knows us, we are his. He hears our voices and responds to us with his merciful love.