All Are Welcome. Whatever your present status in the Catholic Church, whatever your current family or marital situation, whatever your past or present religious affilialtion, whatever your personal history, age, background, race or color, whatever your self-esteem, you are invited, welcomed, accepted, loved and respected at the Church of St. Theresa.
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In February of this year, Pope Francis prayed for God to welcome the 21 Coptic Christians murdered by ISIS as martyrs since they were brutally executed for the sole reason of being Christians. “The Lord welcomes them as martyrs” he said. Every human heart has the capacity to do good or evil, but the strength to make the right choice comes from Christ, Pope Francis said during his homily, before adding: “but why are we like this? Because we have this possibility for destruction, this is the problem.”
On Monday May 4th Pope Francis argued that the 21st century has seen more Christians under siege for their faith than during the time of the early church. Christians are the most persecuted religious group worldwide. Christian persecution is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ.
An average of at least 180 Christians around the world are killed each month for their faith. The U.S. Department of State reports Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Christ.
This year, worldwide levels of persecution have increased. While persecution can take many forms, Christians throughout the world risk imprisonment, torture, rape and even death as result of their faith.
The Middle East remains one of the most violent areas of the world for Christians. Violence against Christians by the Islamic State and other Islamic terrorist groups increased in countries like Iraq and Syria. More than 70 percent of Christians have fled Iraq since 2003, and more than 700,000 Christians have left Syria since the civil war began in 2011. Afghanistan and Pakistan have both increased in persecution.
For the third year in a row, the majority of African nations have increased persecutions due to Islamic extremism. With no functioning government, Christian persecution remains severe in Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, Eritrea and Nigeria.
North Korea remains the most dangerous and difficult place to be a Christian. An estimated 70,000 Christians remain in prison for their faith. The conditions are also worsening for Christians throughout Asia. Countries such as Uzbekistan, Vietnam and India have all seen increases in persecution. Of particular note is India where persecution is driven by Islamic extremism and Hindu fundamentalism.
While violent persecution is most often reported by media, nonviolent persecution is also on the rise. Violence has increased dramatically in Iraq, Syria and Nigeria, but Christians in other countries are experiencing persecution in their personal lives through family, community and national spheres of life. Christians are often ostracized by family exclusion, the loss of a job or even rejection from a community.
My Brother and Sisters, all of these statistics and even Pope Francis’ remarks can seem very remote to us. However they are not. We are Christians too! These brave terrorized men, women and children are professing their faith in Jesus Christ. We are brothers to each of these individuals. And we must pray for them and for an end to this brutal persecution against our Savior.
In his homily, mentioned above, the Pope focused on the wickedness in human hearts. “Humanity is capable of destroying everything God made, including the original loving bonds of brotherhood, family and society because of jealousy, envy and so much greed for power, to have more power,” Pope Francis said. The Pope added that people desire full freedom and autonomy, with some saying, “I’m going to do what I want and if I want this, I’ll do it. And if that means I want to wage war, I’ll do it!” Everyone has a capability to destroy because there is “this seed inside, this possibility. But we also have the Holy Spirit who saves us, you know. But we have to choose,” he said, even “in the small things.”
Jesus is present to us just as He is with those experiencing terrorism. We cannot allow our own humanity to destroy everything God made, including the original loving bonds of brotherhood, family and society because of “jealousy, envy and so much greed for power, to have more power,” Our prayer for peace and standing in solidarity with Christians around the world can end the persecution we are experiencing. Let the world know we are collectively and, perhaps more importantly, that each one of us as individuals are Christians too!
Yours in Christ