رابطة قدامى الإكليريكية البطريركية المارونية
- John L. Allen Jr.
Dec 23, 2020
ROME – Here are two different standards for establishing what counts as “martyrdom” in the Catholic Church:
- Someone is a martyr if the person or persons who killed them were motivated by religious prejudice or hatred. Think Roman emperors executing early Christians for refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods.
- Someone is a martyr if they risked their life based on religious conviction, regardless of the motives of their killers. Think Archbishop Oscar Romero being assassinated in 1980 for denouncing human rights abuses and defending the poor in El Salvador.
Traditionally, the Church has upheld the first standard. One of the reasons Romero’s canonization cause was held up for decades, in fact, was a sense that his death was “political” rather than genuine martyrdom, because the gunmen who shot him through the heart while saying Mass were likely Catholics themselves and they didn’t kill Romero for his religious beliefs but his political stances.
Recently, however, the Church has been moving towards the second standard, and a decision by Pope Francis on Tuesday marked another step in that journey.
Monday morning Pope Francis received Italian Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, who heads the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and he authorized formal recognition that a young Italian judge assassinated by the mafia in 1990 was killed in odium fidei, meaning “in hatred of the faith,” which is the traditional standard for martyrdom and clears the way for his beatification even without a recognized miracle.
Rosario Livatino, 37 at the time of his death, will become the first Italian anti-mafia judge to be beatified, following in the footsteps of Father Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi, the country’s best known anti-mafia priest, who was killed in 1993 and beatified shortly after Pope Francis’s election in 2013. Both men lived and worked in Sicily, legendarily a mafia stronghold.
Of Livatino’s deep religious faith there’s little doubt. He was a regular Mass-goer at St. Dominic’s Church in his Sicilian hometown of Canicatti, and on his way to work was a judge every morning in Agrigento he would stop off to pray at the Church of St. Joseph. At the top of his daily appointment book Livatino would write “STD,” for sub tutela Dio, or “under the protection of God.”
Livatino’s most celebrated phrase also bespoke his religious ardor: “It’s not important that we’re believers,” he said. “It’s important that we’re believable.”
Such was Livatino’s overt faith that mafiosi took to calling him santocchio, a pejorative Italian term referring to someone with exaggerated piety that makes them obstinate and judgmental.
Yet when Livatino’s car was riddled with bullets in September 1990 by assassins from the Stidda, a mafia clan and rival to the Cosa Nostra, it was not really religious prejudice that drove his killers. The Stidda wanted Livatino dead because he’d seized large sums of their cash and arrested senior figures in the organization, and frankly they probably didn’t care whether it was Catholicism or atheism or any other conviction that drove him to it – they just wanted him gone.
Despite that, Pope Francis has now recognized Livatino as a martyr, which, among other things, represents another shift from the persecutor to the persecutee in terms of where the emphasis in terms of motivation lies.
Explaining the decision, Semeraro cited St. Thomas Aquinas to the effect that martyrdom happens not just in odium fidei but also in hatred of the virtue of justice, “which is connected to a willingness to offer one’s life as a witness of Christ.”
Analytically, this shift has consequences for assessing the religious dimension of a wide variety of situations.
Consider the recent prison sentences handed down in Hong Kong for three young leaders of last year’s massive pro-democracy protests. Two of those three are Christians – Joshua Wong, an ardent Evangelical, and Agnes Chow, a Catholic. Both have professed that their Christian faith in innate and God-given human dignity is what fuels their involvement in the protest movement.
Of course, their Christian faith is not the reason Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing regime put them in prison; the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, is herself a Catholic, and Christians who stay above the fray generally don’t experience many problems in Hong Kong.
Yet if it’s the motives of the one experiencing persecution, not the one inflicting it, which matter most, then one would have to say that at least for Wong and Chow, this is “religious persecution.” In their own words, they’re sitting in jail cells right now because their faith put them there.
Romero and Puglisi marked early examples of the recognition of the shift from persecutor to persecutee in terms of clergy, and now the Livatino cause extends the same standard to laity. Provisionally, his beatification ceremony is expected to take place in Sicily next spring.
Some may object to this evolution on the grounds that if almost anything can be considered religious persecution, then the term becomes so elastic as to lose its meaning. Certainly there’s a danger here, and examinations of cases such as Livatino’s doubtless will have to involve very careful consideration of how deep and sincere the candidate’s religious convictions really were.
Still, one could argue that the traditional standard always had things the wrong way around. In deciding whether someone merits a halo, arguably the truly relevant question isn’t what was in their hearts of their killers, but what was in their own.
Pope Francis would appear to agree, with Tuesday’s decision on Livatino the latest case in point.
By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin contributed concluding remarks in an online virtual symposium held on Thursday afternoon entitled Never Again: Confronting the Global Rise of Anti-Semitism.
The event was hosted by U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista L. Gingrich. In his remarks, the Cardinal brought contributions from Pope Francis, and cited a recently-discovered letter written in 1916 by then-Secretary of State Cardinal Gasparri.
In her opening remarks, Ambassador Gingrich specifically cited the 2018 attack in Pittsburgh, the more recent attack in Jersey City at the beginning of this year and numerous attacks in New York City. “Every free society”, she said, “has a stake in reversing this trend”. Then her remarks turned to describing the steps taken under the Trump Administration to address the phenomenon both nationally and internationally.
Pope Francis: significant ally
Finally, Ambassador Gingrich extended special words of thanks to Pope Francis. She called him a “significant ally in the fight against anti-semitism and holocaust denial”, citing remarks he made in January in which he stressed the importance of keeping the memory of the holocaust alive.
She expressed that many Jewish organizations are supportive of Pope Francis’s decision to anticipate the opening of the holocaust-era Vatican archives and “welcome the availability of the records”.
Church and Judaism: partners
Elan S. Carr, U.S. Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combatting Anti-Semitism, reminded participants that anti-semitism is on the rise and is embraced by people all types of ideological camps and religious persuasion. Addressing personal safety issues, criminal prosecution of offenders, promoting the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and monitoring online anti-semitic communication while upholding freedom of speech are some of the ways the United States is actively addressing this reality.
In addition, Mr Carr said that telling the story of the positive contribution of the Jewish people is another key in combatting anti-semitism. He expressed gratitude to the Catholic Church’s “priority” in combatting anti-semitism. Since 2000, he said, the Church’s recognition of the importance to educate in Jewish values is helping to replace ignorance and hatred. In this way, the Church is a partner with Judaism in instilling “Abrahamic values” and “godliness” in today’s world. Mr Carr also recalled that Pope John Paul II was the first pope to visit Auschwitz and a synagogue and led the way in the Church’s ability to embrace her Jewish brothers and sisters.
Survival of democracy at stake
Lisa Palmieri-Billig, Representative in Italy and Liaison to the Holy See American Jewish Committee, explored the roots of anti-semitism.
She explained that the search for a scapegoat for economic crises in society is common to the persecution against the Jews. This, she said, was true throughout the history of Europe, and is true in the various other geographical areas where anti-semitism now appears. While citing the unfortunate fact that anti-semitism was compounded by the Christian teaching of contempt enshrined in European culture through art, she said she is grateful for the cooperation that various churches are now providing, especially in such areas as education and law.
“The stake”, she said, “is not anti-semitism alone, but the health and survival of democracy itself”. She concluded saying that “interreligious dialogue, cooperation and solidarity” are the positive means to achieve this.
Picking up the thread of the need to remember the past, Dr. Suzanne Brown-Fleming, Director of International Academic Programs United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, recalled Cardinal Lustiger’s visit to the museum. She recalled his words during his visit that the holocaust needed to be documented.
The survivors of the holocaust, she recalls the Cardinal saying, are witnesses to the fact that “hatred leads to death”. The mission of the Holocaust Museum is, therefore, very important in helping to preserve the memory of what happened. She too expressed appreciation to Pope Francis for the anticipated opening of the Vatican archives which allow historians to do this work.
From contempt to respect
Speaking specifically from the perspective of a Jewish Rabbi, Rabbi David Meyer, Lecturer Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies Pontifical Gregorian University, said that the traditional role of a rabbi is that of comforting people during times of suffering. When thinking of anti-semitism, he shared the verse from the Torah that resonates for him which is repeated both before and after the flood: “the thoughts of the human heart are continually evil” (Genesis 6:5; 8:21) “Is there anything darker”, he asked, than the violence the Jewish community has experienced over and over again?
Nonetheless, Rabbi Meyer’s asks if this darkness can be “brightened” and “defeated”. The answer, he says, is yes, because it has already been done. Beginning with Nostrae aetate, the Catholic Church’s teaching of contempt has been transformed into a teaching of respect, thus demonstrating that anti-semitism can be transformed within a society that promoted it. This is a “successful battle”, Rabbi Meyer said, from which “practical insights” can be drawn to fight anti-semitism where it is currently manifesting itself. The three tools necessary are: passion, aiming high and audacity.
Promoters of peace find joy
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Holy See Secretary of State, provided the closing remarks for the symposium. He echoed Pope Francis’s words that any form of anti-semitism is “a rejection of our Christian origins”, and is thus a contradiction. Fratelli tutti offers a reflection, he said, on distortions of “fundamental concepts” such as democracy, freedom, indifference, the “loss of the meaning of the sense of history” and racism which are also reflected in anti-semitism.
The Cardinal then quoted a recently discovered document written by his predecessor, Secretary of State Cardinal Gasparri in 1916. It was written in response to a letter from the American Jewish Committee asking for a response to violence against Jews in the context of World War I. Writing on behalf of Pope Benedict XV, Cardinal Gasparri wrote that the natural rights due to human beings should also be “observed and respected in relation to the children of Israel as it should be as for all men, for it would not conform to justice and to religion itself to derogate there from solely because of a difference of religious faith”.
Then, he also cited the reaction to this letter on the part of the American Jewish Committee. They called it a “virtual encyclical”, and wrote that:
“Among all the papal bulls ever issued with regard to Jews throughout the history of the Vatican, there is no statement that equals this direct, unmistakable plea for equality for the Jews, and against prejudice upon religious grounds”.
Cardinal Parolin then emphasized the place of historical memory stating that “in order to overcome so many deplorable forms of hate we need the capacity to involve ourselves together in remembering. Memory”, he said, “is the key to accessing the future and it is our responsibility to hand it on in a dignified way to young generations”.
Cardinal Parolin concluded saying that interreligious dialogue is an indispensable tool to combat anti-semitism. Fraternity, he said, is built on the truth held by various religious that each human person is “called to be a child of God”.
“It is my hope that the more Christians and Jews grow in fraternity, social friendship and dialogue, the less anti-semitism will be possible because ‘deceit is in the mind of those who plan evil, but those who counsel peace have joy’ (Prov 12:20). Shalom!"
"O humanity! Indeed, We created you from a male and a female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may get to know one another. Surely the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous among you. Allah is truly All-Knowing, All-Aware."
This Quranic verse is emblematic of the Islamic tradition's embrace of plurality and its call to goodness. The first part affirms that human difference is neither an accident nor a deviation to be fixed, but an intentional manifestation of the divine plan for human beings to "get to know one another" in their plurality. The second part, following from an affirmation of that plurality, confers nobility not to nationality or tribalism, but to righteousness. One might call it a Fratelli Tutti verse.
For Muslims, the Quran is the divine speech of God, articulated in the Arabic language and revealed to the Prophet Muhammad through the Archangel Gabriel over a period of 23 years. It has served as a moral-ethical guide for societies stretching from the Balkans to Indonesia to — as recent scholarship has shown — the Americas for centuries.
That the sacred text has informed the lives of more than 1 billion believers across time and space without homogenizing them into a monochrome singularity has been hailed as one of the hallmark qualities of Muslim civilization. And since the age of prophethood has ended with Muhammad, it becomes the prerogative of all believers to forge a prophetic paradigm of righteousness by drawing from the shared idiom of the Quran.
When I read Pope Francis' new encyclical on solidarity, I saw a passionate clarion call from the leader of the only other religious community with comparable diversity and numbers, similarly exhorting his followers to higher moral-ethical ideals in a shared idiom. But it was within the particularities of that idiom that paradoxically made it resonate universally. Too often does interfaith engagement center commonality at the expense of difference, but it is precisely in embracing the latter that true solidarity is affirmed.
As my colleague Jordan Denari Duffner has written, though the encyclical itself doesn't mention "Islam" or "Muslims," its message is clearly animated by Muslim-Catholic encounters — St. Francis of Assisi's meeting with Sultan Malik al-Kamil in 1219 and Pope Francis' meeting with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in 2019 — that serve as models for social solidarity across our traditions.
Catholics and Muslims collectively account for roughly one-third of all people, and the well-being of the world is dependent not just upon our relationships with each other, but upon our relationships with humanity as a whole. It is not merely that our respective traditions teach us to be good and just, but that they offer us a language that can expand the horizons of what social solidarity can look like as the world grapples with crisis after crisis.
To use a shared idiom between us, one can say we are living in the age of pharaohs. Muslims are under siege in France, India, Myanmar and China, and centuries-old Christian communities in the Middle East and Asia endure unprecedented persecution. Amid this trauma, Pope Francis begins his encyclical with a paradigm of friendship that draws from Muslim-Catholic encounters to underscore the possibility of human fraternity. Muslims are part of the human family, neither as competitors nor as subordinates, but as equals.
The historical encounters between Islam and Catholicism contain both conflict and communion, and believers in both traditions must grapple with the weight of their history, but the fact that there is a history points to a potentiality of what is yet to be.
What might a new language of Muslim-Catholic solidarity look like in this moment?
One of the central concepts of social solidarity in the Islamic tradition is the command to "enjoin the good and forbid the evil" (amr bi'l-ma'ruf wa'l nahy 'an il-munkar), which the Muslim sage Imam al-Ghazali (died 1111) referred to as "the greatest axis in the religion and the primary concern for which God sent all the Prophets."
While there is a rich discussion within the Islamic tradition as to the concept's categories, practices and implementation, its centrality as a guiding force for believers is affirmed within the Quran itself.
The scholar Talal Asad writes that Islam's tradition of enjoining good and forbidding evil can potentially forge a paradigm of friendship and mutual responsibility outside of the state and capitalism, and help us "unthink our language of sovereign power, with its calculative, logical obsessions and the race to progress that that language invites us to join."
I suspect that the pope recognizes the urgency for a new paradigm, too. He indicates as much by rejecting both "a populism that exploits [the vulnerable] demagogically for its own purposes" and "a liberalism that serves the economic interests of the powerful."
At the same time, he reaffirms, as he did with the grand imam (I should point out that there is no analogue to the pope in Islam. The grand imam is rector of the world's most respected Sunni institution, but he holds no unique theological stature as such), that "we do not ignore the positive advances made in the areas of science, technology, medicine, industry and welfare" but that all of these advances are only as good as the human beings advancing them.
Neither consigning economic inequality, armed conflict, populist xenophobia and environmental destruction to fatalism nor describing them as the natural state of affairs, Francis recognizes the role of human agency in bringing them about and in challenging them.
By channeling the radical Latin American tradition that has inflected his persona, Francis forcefully takes aim at the material conditions that have robbed the world's masses of the capacity to live dignified lives. In a world that is exhausted by empty speech, the encyclical avoids indulging in vague, self-serving platitudes. Religious discourse often becomes so entangled in otherwise scholastic theological debates or paternalistic sermonizing that attending to human welfare often takes a backseat. Our theologies must not merely be stated, but embodied, and our praxes must not be anthropocentric, but anthropological. We have a duty to show how God can and must be present in attending to our immanent needs.
The pope's encyclical — articulated in a shared idiom — attends to our global crises and pushes us to forge a new paradigm of social solidarity. Muslims and Catholics find themselves at a critical juncture where the possibilities of inaugurating this paradigm are ripe. We are nations and tribes, different, and yet, precisely because of that difference, we are meant to protect one another as witnesses on behalf of God.
As the Quran says, "If God did not repel some people by means of others, many monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, where God's name is much invoked, would have been destroyed" (Quran 22:40). To do the work of enjoining good and forbidding evil is to do the work of prophets in an age of pharaohs. But the prophethood has ended, so it is our job to take up the mantle and forge a prophetic paradigm.
By Vatican News Staff writer
Church bells will be able to toll again across the Lebanese capital Beirut thanks to an project supported by Aid to the Church in Need.
The programme was announced 100 days after an explosion triggered one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, causing more than 200 deaths, 6,500 injuries and leaving 300,000 people homeless.
In the aftermath of the disaster, the Pontifical charity was providing emergency support for 5,880 homeless families.
The 5 million euro aid package announced by ACN this week will be spent mainly on reconstruction, with churches, a cathedral and a convent among the buildings being repaired.
One of the churches included in the project is St Saviour’s Melkite Greek Catholic church which lost its roof in the explosion.
Speaking to ACN, Parish priest Father Nicolas Riachy said they want give hope to those who still want to remain.
“Our mission is to bring light into the darkness through which we are living. There is no Christianity without the Cross. Christ is our example.”
“It is not easy to be Christians, but many of our people are still very much aware that this land is Holy Land and we cannot abandon it," he said.
Winter and economic hardship
As winter fast approaches Father Riachy stressed the importance of getting the roof repairs completed as soon as possible.
He also pointed to the suffering and economic hardship people are enduring as a result of the blast.
“All the houses of our faithful have had their windows smashed and doors blown in. And on top of this we have the economic crisis. The banks have frozen people’s assets, so now they have nothing. How are they going to help me rebuild this church?”, he asked.
“Pope Francis has told us that a Middle East without Christians is unthinkable”, said Fr Riachy.
But he noted that if Christians are to remain in Lebanon, help is required.
He added: “Around 10 percent of the population of this particular suburb have left, because they can no longer live in their homes.
“I can’t do anything to stop them because I can’t offer them the security, which is what they are seeking.”
- Crux Staff
Nov 13, 2020
YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – East Africa is currently facing a unprecedented amount of anti-Christian persecution, according to a leading Christian charity.
“The intent of persecutors is often to drive Christians out of the area, and unfortunately they often succeed. Loss of home and property, the necessity to start over, it takes a huge toll,” said David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA.
He told Crux that Open Doors now runs economic empowerment programs in East Africa with the ultimate goal “to equip them to build thriving, sustainable lives amid persecution.”
“When their physical, mental, and spiritual needs are met, they are more equipped to meet the needs of their community as well,” he said.
What follows are excerpts of Crux’s conversation with Curry.
Crux: Can you give us an update on the situation of anti-Christian persecution in East Africa?
Curry: People from Islamic backgrounds who have studied the Bible and commit their lives to Jesus may lose their jobs, face harassment from their community, be beaten or sexually assaulted, and are targeted by their families. Yasin, an Open Doors partner in East Africa, said:
“Marginalization is a major strategy for persecutors. Though it is not as obvious as violence, marginalization is very effective because Christians are so dependent on the community for survival.
The family will first warn or threaten the Christian, urging them to come back to their original faith. If they refuse, the family may start to withdraw economic support or even kick them out of the home. Parents disown the believers, saying, ‘You are not my child anymore.’ In extreme cases, the Christians are beaten, forced into marriage or even killed.”
Persecution from family members often escalates to persecution from the entire community. Christian-owned businesses are boycotted, women are forced into marriages, and Christians are offered bribes to recant their faith in Jesus.
According to Yasin, radical Muslim extremists frequently destroy churches, burn the homes of Christians and carry out violent attacks against them: Christians are often left with no other choice than to flee … the aim is to weaken Christians and force them to recant or leave the area.
Governments are sometimes guilty of discrimination against Christians as well. Restrictions on church registration, the demolition of church properties, arrests, and fines on Christian leaders are all common forms of persecution in this region.
How widespread is Christian persecution in East Africa?
There is a vast unknown toll of persecution in East African countries, but I estimate at least three million Christians face persecution in East African countries, including Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan. Three of these countries – Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan — rank in the top 10 of Open Door’s 2020 World Watch List, indicating the intensity and frequency of persecution.
What impact has such persecution had on individual Christians and for Christianity as a whole?
Believers face hidden trauma. They become depressed and isolated because they cannot openly process the injustice they face and have so few places to turn for justice or help.
Open Doors provides trauma counselling to victims of persecution, providing mental health support and spiritual encouragement. Open Doors also provides medical care, emergency relief and economic support to help Christians rebuild their lives after persecution.
Open Doors runs economic empowerment programs for persecuted Christians in East Africa. Is there a connection between economic well-being and the resilience of Christians faced with persecution?
The intent of persecutors is often to drive Christians out of the area, and unfortunately, they often succeed. Loss of home and property, the necessity to start over, it takes a huge toll. We feel it is important to empower Christian men and women to earn a wage to support their families and have meaningful work. It’s critically important that we equip and strengthen Christians so they can impact their community and build healthy families.
Though Open Doors does provide emergency relief for Christians in need, the ultimate goal is to equip them to build thriving, sustainable lives amid persecution. When their physical, mental, and spiritual needs are met, they are more equipped to meet the needs of their community as well.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for emergency relief among persecuted Christians. We’ve recently seen cases where Christians are told, ‘Come back to Islam and we will give you food.’ The result is that Christians are faced with a choice: Recant their faith in Jesus or starve.”
How successful has the economic empowerment been?
Open Doors’ economic empowerment efforts equip Christians with vocational training, tuition support, and small business loans. These efforts have been remarkably successful in helping those attacked for faith in Jesus – so they can ultimately remain and live out the Gospel, even amid persecution. An estimated 26,700 Christians were directly impacted by this work in 2019.
What do you think is driving Christian persecution in East Africa, and perhaps across the continent?
Radical Islamic extremism is the primary driving force behind the persecution of Christians in East Africa. It’s especially dangerous when it’s paired with ineffectual governments, like we see in Somalia. These forces motivate overt acts of violence in addition to the more insidious, quiet forms of persecution, such as marginalization.
Christians in the West need to raise our voices in prayer and support for the millions of Christians whose livelihoods are constantly at risk for their choice to follow Jesus.