The Courage to be Catholic
Persecution of the Faith in the 21st Century
In 2002, prominent Catholic writer George Weigel penned a booked entitled The Courage to be Catholic – Crisis, Reform and the Future of the Church.
As the subtitle suggests, his focus was on (orthodox) reform of the Church and perhaps has been somewhat overtaken by events. The main title however has proven to be all too prescient. If the 20th Century saw more Christian martyrs than the previous 19 combined, this one sadly is set to quickly overtake it.
One of the blessings of recent years in our Archdiocese has been seeing the pews of our churches and the seats of our classrooms and parish halls being increasingly filled by Catholics from around the world. At the risk of omitting other equally deserving groups, what would the life of the local Church be without the joy, devotion, creativity and energy of our Indian, African, Filipino and Vietnamese brothers and sisters? Long may they prosper!
At the same time, many of our new parishioners, students, priests and religious have harrowing tales to tell of persecution for being Catholic in their homelands. The rise in anti-Christian, especially anti-Catholic persecution while generally being ignored by Western governments has not gone unnoticed. As Pope St John Paul II noted “At the end of the Second Millennium, the Church has once again become a Church of martyrs”. More recently noted Vatican journalist John Allen has penned The Global War on Christians.
The many forms of persecution
Persecution takes many forms. In some places, it is simply expressed as unchecked brutality sanctioned by totalitarian states, North Korea is a prime example. Islamic regimes or terrorist groups have wielded their evil weapons usually throughout the Middle East, Africa and Asia, however Fr Jacques Hamel was murdered in his French Church in 2016. Earlier this year, committed Catholic Gendarme Arnaud Beltrame was executed by an Islamist after exchanging himself for a hostage.
Elements within emerging powers India, China and Indonesia tend to hide persecutions under the cover of the law, shutting down churches for spurious zoning reasons or whipping up mob fury over false or widely exaggerated allegations against Catholic agencies.
More surprising are the assaults on Catholics, especially clergy in traditional Catholic heartlands. At present the sometime Communist President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega has joined his counterpart in Venezuela in attacking the Church for opposing his authoritarianism.
In Mexico priests are murdered sometimes because their ministry to the poor offends drug gangs, other times simply as a way for drug lords to demonstrate their power.
Anti-Catholic activities in the West operate under the cover of wider legal programs and so Catholic orphanages in Britain and the USA are shut down because they refuse to adopt out children to same sex couples and Catholic chaplains are arbitrarily driven from universities. The Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) has recently announced that Catholic Hospitals will be forced to perform abortions.
Now in Australia we are confronted with States and Territories requiring Priests to disclose the contents of Confessions. They won’t. Of course. However, this act foreshadows our future. That great Catholic champion of the poor, Servant of God Dorothy Day once wrote “We must prepare now for martyrdom – otherwise we will not be ready.”
All of us that are parents pray that our children will uphold the faith of our fathers and mothers. As we sit in the pews at mass and worship together; recent arrivals and long term, multi-generational Australians alike, we face a common future but it’s nothing to fear. Jesus told us to expect this and to “stand up lift up our heads because our redemption is near.” (Luke 21:28).
Perhaps the last words can be left to Dorothy Day, who certainly knew persecution for the faith: “Thank God that He has permitted us to live among present troubles. It is no longer permitted to be mediocre.”