by Deacon Nick Donnelly
For most of this year I have been haunted by photographs of the murderous persecution of Christians in Syria and Iraq by Muslim terrorists. I cry with Pope Francis ‘how can human beings do such cruel and depraved acts?’ A toddler in his pyjamas hanging from a wall, a little girl beheaded with a child’s bracelet on her wrist, a young woman tied to a bed, violated and murdered by a crucifix shoved down her throat, room after room filled with the bodies of women shot in the head for being ‘prostitutes, just because they were not dressed in bruqas and habibs. Christian men crucified with their ‘crimes’ written on plaques hanging from their necks or nailed above their heads.
Hatred of the faith
The photographs often show the murderers rejoicing in their crimes and the dead bodies are posed to display the humiliation and mockery of their Christian victims. Clearly these Muslim terrorists not only want to butcher Christians they also want to express their hatred of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Sister Raghad, the former head of the Patriarchate School in Damascus, Syria, told Vatican Radio how she personally witnessed the crucifixion of Christians who refused to convert to Islam. According to Sister Raghad Christians were:
‘killed in atrocious and violent ways that cannot be described. If you want examples, they crucified two youths in Ma‘loula for refusing to proclaim Islam’s credo, saying to them: “Perhaps you want to die like your teacher Christ whom you believe in? You have two choices: either proclaim the shehada or else be crucified.” One of them was crucified before his father, whom they also killed.’
There is an ancient phrase that describes the motive behind these bestial acts of evil against Christians, ‘odium fidei’, which means ‘hatred of the faith’. Pope Francis spoke of ‘odium fidei’ when discussing the modern martyrdom of Christians, ‘Martyrdom for odium fidei can occur either for having confessed the Creed or for having done the works which Jesus commands with regard to one’s neighbour.’ The Holy Father has warned that the persecution of Christians in many countries has ‘reached alarming levels of hatred and violence’.
The devil is seeking to destroy the churches of the first Christians
I am convinced that the bestial violence and degrading mockery being perpetrated against Christians, particularly Christian women and children, by Islamic State is inspired by the devil. Pope Francis’ words about the devil’s involvement in the martyrdom of St Stephen equally apply to the devil’s instigation of the martyrdom of Christians in Iraq and Syria.
‘It was not that his persecutors did not agree with what Stephen was preaching: they hated him, and this hatred was sown in their hearts by the devil. It is the devil’s hatred for Christ. In martyrdom we clearly see the battle between God and the devil. We see it in this hatred. It is clear, then, that the devil cannot abide the Church’s holiness or the holiness of a person without reacting. He stirred up hatred in the hearts of those people against Stephen, to persecute him, to revile him, and to utter all kinds of evil against him. Thus they killed Stephen’.
The persecution of Christians by Islamic State is the latest manifestation of Satan’s vicious but futile efforts down the centuries to rectify his failed murder attempt against God on Calvary. Pope St John Paul II has warned that Satan seeks to ‘destroy life lived in accordance with the truth, life in the fullness of good, the supernatural life of grace and love.’
It is no accident that Christians are being persecuted and murdered in the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity. It is not by chance that the churches of the Middle East are suffering a catastrophic collapse in population as Christians flee constant hatred, prejudice and discrimination.
It seems to me that Satan is seeking to kill the Church in the lands of her birth because the descendents of the first Christians have a special place in the Sacred Heart of Our Lord. Just as the devil sought to destroy God’s Chosen People through the Nazis’ Holocaust of the Jews, Satan is seeking to destroy the churches of the first Christians founded by the Apostles. By persecuting, terrorising and killing Christians in the Middle East, Satan is attempting to eradicate the presence of Christ in that region of the Earth that contributed to the creation of His incarnate human nature.
Great act of resistance against Satan
At the present time one of the greatest acts of resistance against Satan is the refusal by many Syrian and Iraqi Christians to renounce faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ in the face of rape, torture and public execution. Pope Francis has filmed a video message that has been sent to Christian refugees from the ancient Christian city of Mosul, Iraq, now living in Erbil, Kurdistan:
‘Today I wish to draw closer those of you who tolerate this suffering, and to be close to you. And I think of St. Therese of the Baby Jesus, who said that she and the Church were like a reed: when the wind rises and the storm comes, the reed bends but it does not break. At the moment, you are like this reed: you bend painfully, but you have the strength to carry forth your faith, which is a testimony to us. You are God's reed today! The reeds that bend under this ferocious wind, but then rise up again. I wish to thank you again. I pray that the Spirit, Who makes all things new, will give each of you strength and resistance. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Brothers and sisters, your resistance is martyrdom, it is dew that brings fruitfulness.’
Testimonies of faithfulness and resistance
Mainstream media outlets such as the BBC and RTÉ are imposing a news blackout on the systematic persecution and murder of Christians for refusing to convert to Islam by Muslim terrorists. The BBC even goes so far as to describe Christian victims massacred in the name of Muhammad as ‘non-Muslims’ in order to avoid identifying them as Christians. During his speech to the European Parliament Pope Francis condemned such silence as shameful complicity in the persecution of Christians.
As Catholics enjoying the relative safety of the West readers of Catholic Voice can join the resistance against Satan by challenging the complicit silence of the BBC and RTÉ. We must listen to the testimonies of faithfulness and resistance of our brothers and sisters in Syria and Iraq, and elsewhere, and then tell them in our homes, parishes and schools. Here are just two of the countless examples of martyrdom that have happened in 2014:
1. Islamic State terrorists beheaded four Christian children under the age of fifteen because they refused to renounce Jesus. According to the Rev. Canon Andrew White, the Anglican Vicar of Baghdad:
‘ISIS turned up and they said to the children, 'you say the words that you will follow Muhammad.' The Children, all under 15, four of them, they said, 'no, we love Yasua [Jesus]. We have always loved Yasua. We have always followed Yasua. Yasua has always been with us. The Militants said, 'say the words!' The Children said, 'no, we can't do that.' They chopped all their heads off.’
2. Khiria Al-Kas Isaac, a 54 year old woman, lived with her husband, Mufeed Wadee’ Tobiya, in the Christian town of Qaraqosh in northern Iraq. When Islamic State terrorists overran the town. Separated from her husband Khiria, along with other Christian women, was whipped, beaten and threatened with beheading over a ten day period to force her to renounce Christ. Khiria recounts:
‘I answered immediately, I was born Christian and if that leads me to death, I prefer to die a Christian.’ She said to her persecutors: “Jesus said: ‘Whoever denies me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven”.’ (Mt 10:33).
Forced to watch other women being severely beaten by the Muslim terrorists Khiria testifies that none of them renounced their Christian faith, ‘All of us were crying but refused to convert’.
On the tenth day of their captivity Khiria and the other women were assembled in a square and a terrorist ‘put the sword on my neck in front of all the ladies and said to her: ‘Convert or you will be killed.’ Khiria answered: ‘I am happy to be a martyr.’
In the face of such bravery her Muslim persecutors released Khiria Al-Kas Isaac and the other women, after stealing all their possessions. The fate of Khiria’s husband and the other Christians of Qaraqosh is unknown.
Hearing the testimony of the survivors of this vicious persecution of my fellow Christians makes me weep. I cry that human beings can commit such cruel and depraved acts and I am appalled at the ruin of the perpetrators’ humanity in the blasphemous name of God. But greater still is my awe and hope that human beings can respond with such courageous faith and persevering love of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Confronted by torture and barbaric execution these children and women did not take the easy option of renouncing Jesus. They did not compromise in the mistaken belief that all Faiths are the same and are equal paths to God. I pray that we have the same courage to remain true to Jesus. I pray that we love Jesus enough to give up everything out of faithfulness to Him.
This Advent please consider helping the Christians of Syria and Iraq by making a much needed donation to Aid to the Church in Need. Ireland :St. Joseph's, 151 St. Mobhi Road, Glasnevin, Dublin 9. 00 353 1 837 7516. UK: 12-14 Benhill Avenue, Sutton, Surrey, SM1 4DA. 020 8642 8668