A priest holds a cross with a candle during the washing of the feet ceremony on Holy Thursday in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City March 28, 2013. (CNS photo/Ammar Awad, Reuters)
events reveal a heartbreaking reality about Christians suffering in the Middle
East. There seem to be very few authorities Middle Eastern Christians can turn to
for basic human freedoms and protection.
Asia news reports that Ecumenical Patriarch
Bartholomew is presently in Milan celebrating the 1,700 anniversary of the
Edict of Milan (A.D. 313). Constantine the Great was the first Christian
Emperor who decreed religious freedom for Christians and stopped the 300 year
blood bath of early Church martyrs within the Roman Empire.
Bartholomew pointed out that instead of religious freedom, "With
great sorrow today we see Christians, of all denominations, persecuted in many
places, deemed enemies of society and the state; [we see that] the Christian
faith is not tolerated in many countries and under many laws. Despite the progress
apparently noted in the world with regard to respect of human rights, the
persecution of the Christians has not ceased."
Patriarch of Constantinople observed that the Edict of Milan did not end Christian
persecution for all time. "The
persecution of Christians has not ceased… the Church of Christ will never cease
to generate martyrs."
statement could not be truer as the Middle East has been riddled with
worse-than-usual Christian persecution during the past decade.
In a bleak
but very observant essay by Andrew Doran, he reveals our American foreign
policy as a scandal to Christianity because it continues to nourish an
environment hostile to Christians living in the Middle East.:
The objective of the Iraq Warto
democratize the Middle Eastmay yet be realized. But democracy in the Middle
East is proving less tolerant than the regimes it has succeeded. Unless swift
action is taken, these democracies will evolve into bastions of intolerance and
violence beyond our comprehension.
A hundred years from now, I suspect the
lasting historical legacy of the American interventions in the Middle
East and of the fall of the Mubarak dictatorship in
Egypt will be the end of Christianity in the Middle East.
Christians living in the Middle East are Arabs who find themselves stuck
between the hammer of Islamic jihad and the anvil of American-Israeli foreign
policy. Mathew Block of First Things reports that “Christians (including clergy
and foreign diplomats) were attacked by Israeli police as they attempted to enter the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre the day before Orthodox Easter.”
As a result of their Arab ethnicity, many Christians in the
Holy Land find themselves more closely aligned with Muslim Palestinians than
Jewish Israelis. The grievances of Muslim Palestinians are therefore often
shared by Christian Palestinians.
news can inspire hopelessness, but the words of David come to mind, “Put not
your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.”
(Ps 146:3) “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.”
shouldn’t world leaders “turn to God to draw inspiration,” Pope Francis asked
during his speech to four
new ambassadors to the Vatican. If public leaders do not seek the interests of God, how can
they understand or defend the interests of those they have been entrusted to
protect. Christians will continue to be martyred in the Middle East. They
desperately need courage and endurance. We must offer them our solidarity and
our prayers. “If one member suffers, all suffer together, if one member is
honored, all rejoice together.” (Cor 12:26)
This week the pontificate of Pope Francis was
dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, at the pope’s request, by Cardinal Polycarp of Lisbon.
“Contemporary humanity needs to feel loved by God and by the
Church,” Cardinal Polycarp said. “If humanity feels loved, it will overcome the
temptation to violence, materialism, estrangement from God, loss of direction,
and it will be able to advance towards a new world in which love will prevail.”
of Our Lady to the children of Fatima also come to mind, “If Russia is not
converted she will spread her errors throughout the world, promoting wars and
persecutions of Christians.”
of Russia in 1916 were atheism and communism and, as we look back with horror
on the events of the 20th century, we can see that these errors did
spread with the ill effect Our Lady prophesied. Prayer for the conversion of
sinners remains the answer to a world that is perpetually blinded by its own
folly and demonic lies.
Bartholomew and Pope Francis, like their apostolic predecessors, are calling
all Christians to prayer, charity, and unity. Christian unity is not just a
nice idea, it has become a necessity for survival in our post-modern society.
the anniversary of the Edict of Milan is quite relevant. An aspect of
Constantine's work that Bartholomew highlighted in Milan is the fact that:
"The Emperor was very interested, and rightly so, in
the unity of the Church, which presupposes unity in faith, without which it is
essentially impossible. Constantine the Great understood the need for spiritual
unity among his subjects, as a commitment to the prosperity of the state, and
as his ardent desire to see the people of his empire united under the one and
only guide of life and love, our Lord Jesus Christ.
"The organization of a united Christian empire was part
of Constantine the Great's broad vision, in which peace, fraternity,
solidarity, harmony, and love would have reigned. Certainly, without such a
vision, today's Europe, speaking by analogy, would not have this spiritual
heritage. The world too would not have caught with the same depth the spread of
the Christian message on God, man, and the world - a message that has and
should have the single purpose of man's sanctification (theosis).”
Bartholomew concluded by saying, "By living according
to the commandments of the Holy Gospel and acting with wisdom and continued
sanctification, we are trying not to let fear stop us from resisting the
destructive power of globalization and material life in today's world.”