Happy 100th Birthday Blessed Oscar Romero

Blessed Oscar Romero of San Salvador, El Salvador, is pictured in this 1979 photo. Aug. 15 would have been the slain archbishop’s 100th birthday. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

The 100th anniversary of Blessed Romero’s birth, August 15, 2017, falls on the glorious Feast of the Assumption. Archbishop Romero’s 1977 homily from the Assumption, and more importantly, his steadfast work for justice on behalf on his beloved Salvadoran people, can shed light on this oft-misunderstood feast.

This feast honors the assumption of Mary’s body and soul into heaven. We are reminded of Mary’s importance in our faith, and also of the reality that we, too, will one day share a bodily resurrection…a truth we proclaim in the Creed. While this truth can be difficult to comprehend, Blessed Romero used the occasion of the Assumption to underscore a more tangible truth: while we are destined for heaven, we must strive to do God’s work on earth. In his 1977 homily from the Assumption, Archbishop Romero says, “For those people who seek true happiness, there is a definitive Kingdom of Heaven, a life beyond our life, but this kingdom is obtained by working in this life and committing oneself to the fulfillment of God’s plan.” Romero then praises Mary for her exemplary model of earthly service.

Later in the homily, Archbishop Romero speaks to Mary’s heavenly existence: “[F]rom this light in heaven, she [Mary] illuminates the dignity and the rights of the human person.”

The fact that we are destined for such glory underscores our dignity and rights in the here and now. In honor of Mary’s assumption, we can renew our earthly efforts to safeguard our human dignity as God’s children. In this spirit, Blessed Romero’s 100th birthday serves to greater illuminate the importance of the Feast of the Assumption.

During his lifetime, Blessed Romero’s work for justice inspired such hope in his suffering people that he became known as the “Voice of the Voiceless.” Martyred at the altar on March 24, 1980, Archbishop Romero was beatified on May 23, 2015.

At my parish in Washington, DC, Blessed Romero will be well celebrated. During Masses on August 15, at 7:00 a.m. (English) and 6:45 p.m. (bilingual), we will hear about the Assumption and Romero’s devotion to Mary. We have invited the congregation to stay for birthday cake in honor of Romero after the evening Mass. Parishioners have also been encouraged to bring non-perishable food items or baby supplies to stock the parish’s pantry for the needy.

Two parish missionary groups will observe the occasion in El Salvador. La Juventud Franciscana (Franciscan Youth) left in mid-July with our Parochial Vicar Fr. Kevin Thompson, OFM Cap. to attend a Romero symposium at the Jesuit University of Central America, visit a children’s hospital in San Salvador, and be guests of the parish’s rural Salvadoran sister parish. A group of adult missionaries, Los Misioneros de San Francisco de Asís (Missionaries of St. Francis), will accompany our parish’s Salvadoran pastor, Fr. Moisés Villalta, OFM Cap. and Parochial Vicar Fr. Urbano Vasquez, OFM Cap. to many of the same sites in August. They will celebrate Romero’s actual birthday in his hometown of Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel.

On this feast day, I invite you to celebrate Blessed Virgin Mary, Blessed Oscar Romero, and the dignity that we all possess and work as a Church to bring to the world.

Cinnamon Sarver is a parishioner of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart parish. She has theology degrees from Boston College and the University of Notre Dame. Having traveled to El Salvador four times to research Blessed Romero’s life, she enjoys speaking and writing about his legacy.

This post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version at the Catholic Standard website.


Going Deeper

Plan to celebrate the life of Blessed Romero in your own faith community!  For example, include a remembrance of Romero in a Liturgy on or around his birthday (in the Prayer of the Faithful, homily, etc.) or host a service or advocacy project in honor of Blessed Romero’s Centennial. You can celebrate Blessed Romero’s life around his birthday, or any time throughout this year.

Feliz Centenario del Beato Oscar A. Romero

El Beato Oscar Romero de San Salvador, El Salvador, es retratado en esta foto de 1979. El 15 de agosto habría sido el 100o cumpleaños del arzobispo asesinado. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

El centenario del nacimiento del Beato Oscar A. Romero será el 15 de agosto de 2017 y se llevará a cabo en la Solemnidad de la Asunción de María. En la homilía de Arzobispo Romero en la Fiesta de la Asunción de 1977 nos puede iluminar sobre esta fiesta que a menudo es mal entendida.

En esta fiesta se honra la asunción del cuerpo y del alma de María a los cielos. Se nos recuerda de la importancia de María en nuestra fe, y también de la realidad que nosotros, algún día, compartiremos una resurrección corporal…una verdad que proclamamos en el credo. Aunque esta verdad puede ser difícil de comprender, el Beato Romero usó la ocasión de la Asunción para recalcar una verdad más palpable: mientras estamos destinados al cielo, debemos esforzarnos por hacer la obra de Dios en la tierra. En su homilía, Arzobispo Romero dijo,

“[P]ara decirles que no está en esta tierra el destino del alma y del hombre que busca la verdadera felicidad, que hay un reino de los cielos definitivo más allá de nuestra vida, pero que se conquista precisamente trabajando en esta vida, entregándose al cumplimiento de los designios de Dios.” (Romero, 15 de agosto de 1977)

Romero luego alaba a María por su modelo ejemplar de servicio terrenal.

Más tarde en la homilía, el Arzobispo Romero habla de la existencia celestial de María, “¿Cómo sirve María?… desde esa luz de los cielos, ilumin[a] la dignidad del hombre, los derechos del hombre.”

La realidad es que estamos destinados a tal gloria lo cual afirma nuestra dignidad y nuestros derechos en el presente. En honor a la Asunción de María, podemos renovar nuestros esfuerzos terrenales para salvaguardar nuestra dignidad humana como los hijos y las hijas de Dios. En este espíritu, el Centenario del Beato Romero sirve para iluminar la importancia de la Fiesta de la Asunción.

Durante su vida, la obra por la justicia del Beato Romero inspiró tanta esperanza en su pueblo sufriente que se hizo conocido como “la Voz de los sin Voz.” Martirizado en el altar el 24 de marzo de 1980, el Arzobispo Romero fue beatificado el 23 de mayo de 2015.

En la parroquia del Sagrado Corazón en Washington, DC, el Beato Romero será bien celebrado. Durante las misas del 15 de agosto, a las 7:00 a.m. (en inglés) y a las 6:45 p.m. (bilingüe) escucharemos acerca de la Asunción y la devoción de Romero a María. Hemos invitado a la congregación a permanecer después de la misa para el pastel de cumpleaños en honor de Romero. Los feligreses también están invitados a traer alimentos no perecederos o artículos de bebé para los programas de la parroquia de los necesitados.

Dos grupos de misioneros de la parroquia observan el Centenario de Romero en El Salvador. La Juventud Franciscana (JUFRA/OFS) viajó en julio con nuestro vicario parroquial, P. Kevin Thompson, OFM Cap. para asistir a un simposio de Romero en San Miguel, visitar el hospital de niños en San Salvador, y visitar nuestra parroquia hermana en la Quebradas, Jocoatique. Otro grupo, Los Misioneros de San Francisco de Asís, acompañarán a nuestro párroco salvadoreño, P. Moisés Villalta, OFM Cap. y a nuestro vicario parroquial, P. Urbano Vázquez, OFM Cap. para visitar los mismos sitios de Morazán y el norte de San Miguel en agosto. También participarán de la celebración del natalicio 100 de Romero en su ciudad natal de Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel.

Les invito a unirse a nosotros para celebrar la Santísima Virgen María, el Beato Oscar Romero, y que todos trabajemos, como una iglesia, para traerle dignidad al mundo.

Cinnamon Sarver es feligrés del Santuario del Sagrado Corazón. Ella tiene licencia de teología de Boston College y una maestría de teología de la Universidad de Norte Dame. Ha viajado a El Salvador para estudiar la vida del Beato Romero y le gusta escribir y dar charlas sobre el legado del Romero.

Este post fue adaptado para ToGoForth. Lea la versión original en El Pregonero.


¡Celebre la vida del Beato Romero en su propia comunidad de fe! Por ejemplo, incluye un recuerdo de Romero en la liturgia  (en la Oración de los Fieles, homilía, etc.) o acoge un proyecto de servicio o defensa en honor al Centenario del Beato Romero. Usted puede celebrar la vida del Beato Romero alrededor de su cumpleaños, o en cualquier momento este año.

On World Day Against Trafficking, Learn, Pray and Act

If you think that slavery in the United States ended in the nineteenth century, you would be wrong. There is an estimated 21 million individuals worldwide who have fallen victim to human trafficking, and many of them are here in the United States. July 30 is the World Day Against Human Trafficking.  It is an opportunity to learn about the issues, pray for the victims, and act.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 55% of trafficking victims are women and girls and a majority of victims are trapped in situations of labor trafficking and sexual exploitation. Pope Francis reminds us, “Modern slavery . . . is a crime against humanity. Its victims are from all walks of life, but are most frequently among the poorest and most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.” Research and case studies have indicated that individuals in situations of forced migration, notably refugees and unaccompanied children, are often most vulnerable to traffickers.

The elimination of human trafficking, and providing assistance for trafficking victims, are of vital importance to the Catholic Church. The Church’s commitment to protect human life and dignity is the foundation for its work to eradicate this terrible crime. For over a decade, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) has been a leader in the U.S. and global response to human trafficking. Through an agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Trafficking in Persons, USCCB/MRS provides case management to foreign-born victims of trafficking and derivative family members as part of the Trafficking and Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Other, more recent legislative victories, such as passage of the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), have continued progress on this issue.

This year’s World Day Against Trafficking presents an opportunity for all Catholics to heed the call from the Scriptures and Pope Francis to care for those who are vulnerable. You can join the fight against human trafficking by following a few simple steps:

Today, remember to keep the victims of trafficking in your prayers, and join the USCCB in engaging citizens to become active in combatting trafficking and offering support for the many victims affected.

O God, who led Saint Josephine Bakhita from abject slavery to freedom, so that the dignity of being your daughter and a bride of Christ could be recognized; grant, we pray, that by her example we may show constant love for the Lord Jesus crucified, remaining steadfast in charity and prompt to show compassion. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saint Josephine Bakhita, pray for us!

Nick Schmitz is a summer intern for USCCB Migration and Refugee Services and a student at the University of Maryland.

Going Deeper
Read a story about how one parish in Houston, TX, the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, is working with USCCB’s Amistad Movement to educate and fight against human trafficking.

A Prophetic Call to “Wake up the world”

Ricardo in the cave where “Canticle of the Sun” was composed.

When I embarked on my “Laudato Si’” walking pilgrimage from Rome to Krakow last year, one of the highlights of the trip was Umbria in Italy. There, I followed in the footsteps of St. Francis and happened to stumble upon the cave where the saint of Assisi composed the famed “Canticle of the Sun.” As the sunlight broke into the dark cave and the birdsongs echoed in the forest I got a glimpse of why this Canticle was such an appropriate inspiration for our latest encyclical on ecology.

While you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can learn a lot about an encyclical from its title. Laudato Si’ means “Praised be” in Umbrian. Encyclicals are usually written and titled in Latin and there are very few exceptions in the millennial history of the Catholic Church.[1] If a Pope chooses a non-Latin title, he is doing so to make a point. At first there was some confusion about whether the title of Pope Francis’ encyclical was to be Laudato Sii (Latin), but the Pope explicitly chose “Laudato Si’ in the original Umbrian of St. Francis of Assisi. What is the point Pope Francis is trying to make with the Umbrian title?

First of all, the encyclical’s title is a reference to the “Canticle of the Sun,” by St. Francis of Assisi, who was also the inspiration for the Pope’s name. Picking a name is the first decision made by a new pontiff and it usually indicates his priorities. No pope has ever chosen to be called Francis before, and it has been over a millennium (since Pope Lando in 913) that a pope has chosen an original papal name. Therefore, by invoking St. Francis of Assisi in the title of the encyclical, Pope Francis is being true to what he believes he is about as pope. About his name he has said,That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.” In a certain sense, the name Francis and these three characteristics outline the program of the Pope’s pontificate.

Laudato Si’ is intended to be read and understood by everyone. It opens, “I would like to enter into dialogue with all people.” Therefore, the language of the encyclical is simple and accessible. Pope Francis uses phrases like “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth (porqueria)” (21). Just like Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Sun,” Laudato Si’ is filled with passages of lyrical and poetic beauty: “There is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face” (233). This is unusual language for an encyclical, and its style is distinctly colloquial, accessible, and down to earth. Laudato Si’ is something that anyone can read.

Indeed, it almost seems that everyone has read it. The encyclical was highly anticipated, praised, and criticized even before it was published. Upon its release, major media outlets including the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Economist, among many others, published multiple articles about it. Even the president of the United States and several world leaders made remarks about the encyclical. Of course, not everyone was happy with Laudato Si’. Some Catholics were expecting an air-tight doctrinal treatise on creation, while others thought of it as a political manifesto or climate policy white paper. The encyclical was none of these… which leads us to the final point, concerning the genre of the encyclical.

The title Laudato Si’ is somewhat ground breaking, or “edgy,” like the choice of Francis for a papal name. This “edginess” anticipates what I will call the “prophetic” genre of the encyclical. Laudato Si’ is Francis’ example of a prophetic “wake up” call in which he takes the side of “the poor and the powerless.”[2] One commentator picked up on this prophetic genre: “Francis has penned a cri de coeur… Like the prophet Ezekiel, Pope Francis sees perversion and decadence in a global system dominated by those who consume and destroy….” We must recognize the novelty of the style of this encyclical – it is not an “application of Catholic social doctrine to help us think in a disciplined way about how to respond to environmental threats,” but rather a prophetic and poetic appeal for change.

Austen Ivereigh, a Francis biographer familiar with the Pope’s language and style, came to the following conclusion, “The pope is almost saying: ‘You may not believe in God, but if you believe in ecology, you can’t ignore this.” Laudato Si’ invites people of all beliefs to stop, reflect and pay attention. Much like the legacy of the saint of Assisi who shook up the world in his time, the encyclical that bears his mark has had and continues to have its desired effect.

Ricardo Simmonds is the Environmental Policy Advisor for the Office of Domestic Social Development, within the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the USCCB.

 

Going Deeper

Every year, for the Feast of St. Francis on October 4th, Catholic Climate Covenant produces a free catechetical resource to help faith communities explore how they can better care for creation and the poor. Get the resource.

[1] One of the most recent exceptions was Pope Pius XI’s prophetic ‘Mit brennender Sorge’ (With Burning Anxiety),  a denunciation of the ideas of the Third Reich, smuggled into Germany and read out from the pulpits of Catholic churches on Palm Sunday in 1937.

[2] Laudato Si’ was published during the Year of Consecrated Life, for which , Pope Francis called all consecrated persons ‘“to wake up the world” since the distinctive sign of consecrated life is prophecy’, and  ‘prophets tend to be on the side of the poor and the powerless, for they know that God himself is on their side.’” See https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco_lettera-ap_20141121_lettera-consacrati.html

Voices Unite to Reform the Justice System

Persistent injustice, mind-boggling greed, and downright confusing twists in the legal system can wear down the strongest people. It’s almost easier to give up and give in than try to change things. But once in a while, like-minded individuals lean on one another, share their frustrations and dreams, and commit to an action plan that lifts everyone. And the plan develops and changes as the needs and strengths of the people change.

Essentially, that’s how DART was established in Florida more than 30 years ago and then became an eight-state network. Two groups of people associated with religious congregations found common ground in their shared beliefs and commitment to justice. And the Archdiocese of Miami had its shoulder to the wheel with them from the beginning. DART’s formal name is Direct Action and Research Training Center, but like your Aunt Sis and Uncle Buddy, everyone knows them by the shorter name.

The Polk Ecumenical Action Council for Empowerment (PEACE), an affiliate of DART, builds justice ministry in Polk County, FL. Members tour a drug rehabilitation clinic that PEACE helped open.

The network helps congregations form larger organizations that reflect their common interests and values as they negotiate solutions to the root causes of problems in their community. Each of the 22 DART organizations is an independent entity, but all the groups and the more than 400 diverse congregations they comprise are united by a belief in the biblical concept of justice. They also use a “bottom-up” model to identify issues, develop leaders, and figure out realistic solutions.

The DART model is based on the Scripture account of Nehemiah, who brought people and their leaders together to devise solutions to a system that impoverished the citizenry. Nehemiah insisted that the nobles, magistrates, and people be held accountable for the promises they made.

Members of St. Ann Catholic Church were part of the 2,000 Attendees at a recent Nehemiah Assembly. At this assembly local officials from the juvenile justice system learn about the problem of youth arrests and make commitments to address them.

Recently, the DART group in Florida turned its considerable attention to a disturbing trend to criminalize young children. I was shocked when Holly Holcombe, Assistant Director, told me 12,000 children were arrested in 2014 for generally minor offenses. During a tantrum, for example, a five-year-old Special Education student knocked a tissue out of a teacher’s hand. He was charged with assault.

There is, however, an alternative: civil citations. The civil citation process, as provided under state statute, would allow non-arrest restitution and diversion for non-serious offenses. “It’s not a slap on the wrist,” Holly said.

From 2010 to 2014, 5,000 children ages 5-10 years old were arrested for offenses for which they could have received a civil citation. At first, the provision could only be used once for each youth and only 38% of those eligible received citations. Through the efforts of ten Florida-based DART organizations, 52% of eligible children were diverted to civil citations without arrest in 2016, and legislation was enacted to allow children to receive up to three citations. Nonetheless, civil citations are at the discretion of local law enforcement, which results in uneven application of the provision. Holly points out that 8,000 youth who were arrested last year were eligible for the citation, but it was not applied to their cases.

Training participants enjoy lunch between workshop sessions. Here participants learn to build their justice ministry through witnessing, evaluating, and engagement.

Clearly, there is more work to be done, and DART’s work is advancing steadily. Groups like these help people surface their deeply held concerns, engage with their feet on the ground, act on the Biblical mandate to do justice, and hold public officials accountable to work for the people they serve. This is what we are called to do.

As Pope Francis said at the 2nd World Meeting of Popular Movements, “The future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change. I am with you.”

Beth Griffin is a free-lance journalist with an abiding interest in social justice.

DART in Florida receives funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

The U.S. Catholic bishops have long been vocal about restorative justice.  Read the bishops’ statement on Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice and find out what’s happening now.

Serving the Local Community: Catholic Colleges and Universities Partner with CCHD

Inspired by their mission, Catholic colleges and universities serve their local communities in many ways, including building partnerships to work for the common good. Since 2010, Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) member institutions have partnered with community organizations funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the domestic anti-poverty program of the U.S. Catholic Bishops. Together they collaborate on initiatives that help people in their local communities who are living in poverty participate in decisions that affect their lives, families and communities. These organizations are dedicated to empowering people to create change in their local community through solidarity and education. Saint Joseph’s University, the University of Dallas, and Marquette University are just a few of the institutions addressing local issues of poverty through these partnerships, providing a concrete way for students to live out the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.

At Saint Joseph’s University, students have the opportunity to work with Urban Tree Connection, a non-profit organization funded by CCHD that works with people living in Philadelphia’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods to develop community-based greening and gardening projects. Urban Tree Connection (UTC) empowers members of the local community by training people in farming and other agricultural skills and making fresh produce more widely available. Their projects are created on vacant land to create safe and functional spaces that promote positive human interactions. Saint Joseph’s University’s Sustainability Committee and Institute for Environmental Stewardship work with UTC to provide access to the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at UTC to faculty, staff, administrators, and students at the university. Subscribers to the CSA receive vegetables from UTC’s urban farms, supporting their efforts to transform abandoned lots into community gardens.

In addition to promoting the CSA program, students at SJU are also encouraged to work with UTC in their community gardens through the Philadelphia Service Immersion Program and the Magis Program. The Philadelphia Service Immersion Program is an optional early move-in experience for first-year students. This four-day program introduces incoming freshmen to the Jesuit values of social justice, service to those on the margin, moral discernment, and intellectual inquiry through community service learning. This past fall, six students volunteered with UTC through the program. Each evening, the students reflected on what they learned and experienced that day in a small group discussion led by incoming sophomores. Another opportunity available to connect students to UTC is the Magis Program, a semester-long service and social justice program for first-year students. Students meet weekly in small groups for community service, social justice education, and reflection. UTC is one of the sites where students can serve for the semester as part of the Magis Program.

Like St. Joseph’s, other Catholic campuses are finding that partnerships with CCHD-funded groups provide mutual benefits for all the partners. For example, the University of Dallas partnered with the local diocesan CCHD staff to educate students about the reality of poverty in the United States. Working with students and staff, together they created the Journey to Justice Retreat (J2J) to teach students about the issue of poverty in the local area and throughout the country. Using resources from CCHD such as Poverty USA, participants learned about the effects of poverty on people all over the country.

The J2J Retreat featured a focus on the CCHD-funded group Texas Tenant Union (TTU). TTU is a community organizing group dedicated to securing more and higher quality low-income housing by advocating for legislation, providing free legal counsel for low-income tenants, and offering rights education and counseling for tenants. Former diocesan CCHD intern Colleen McInerney, an alumna of the University of Dallas, says the retreat showed students the importance of CCHD in that TTU “wouldn’t have been able to do nearly as much without the CCHD resources” available to it, which inspired many students to get involved with anti-poverty organizations. The retreat was well-received and students hope that the university will be able to host the retreat again in the future.

In addition to hosting service opportunities and working together on educational programming, Catholic colleges and universities can partner with CCHD-funded organizations to learn more about advocacy within the nation’s political system. Marquette University offers students a way to become involved in advocacy through courses that incorporate service learning and through an internship. Project Return assists men and women who have experienced incarceration in making a positive reentry to the community. Each academic year, students work at Project Return for ten hours a week , helping clients find jobs and housing, work through personal issues, and celebrate accomplishments. They learn about the process of reentry by visiting a prison, meeting parole officers, and witnessing a reentry court run by a federal judge. In addition to learning more about the issue, students most recently advocated with community leaders, canvassed neighborhoods on issues surrounding criminal justice reform, and organized a community mental health day.

The project also enables Marquette student interns to work with a mentor on a variety of tasks and to incorporate their own academic interests into the internship. One student intern during the past year worked to launch a mental health initiative to accommodate clients in need of psychological services. Ed de St. Aubin, Ph.D., the director of the internship program, commented, “The social justice mission of our Jesuit university is completely aligned with the mission of Project Return.” De St. Aubin noticed how the experience opened students up to more growth than a classroom could have afforded, exposing them to numerous human factors connected to criminal justice reform, such as race relations, ethnic disparities, and faith development. Recently, de St. Aubin, as well as interns Max Hughes-Zahner and Alex Krouth, were guests on RiverWest Radio Milwaukee’s show, Expo: Ex-Prisoners Organizing. Hughes-Zahner, a junior at Marquette, noted on the show that this internship “was very important for me to experience it from that side because previous to that I had really only experienced classroom learning about incarceration and prison.”

Saint Joseph’s University, the University of Dallas, and Marquette University are working with local organizations to create community-based solutions to issues of poverty and inequality. Their partnerships with CCHD-funded groups enable them to live the values of Catholic Social Teaching and have a visible effect on the surrounding neighborhoods. Students are able to work alongside those living the issues they are working to resolve, giving them an experience of solidarity. Through a partnership with an organization funded by CCHD, Catholic universities make a difference in their communities and give students experience in what it means to have a faith that does justice.

Camilla MacKenzie is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and former Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

This post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version at the ACCU Peace and Justice blog.

Remembering Global Persecution of Christians during the Fortnight for Freedom

In 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic and Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, was gunned down just outside his home in Islamabad. Last year, Church officials in Pakistan opened a cause for his beatification. Bhatti’s life was striking for the depth of his vocation. He had taken up his post out of a calling to protect Pakistan’s downtrodden minorities. Knowing that his life was in danger, he had renounced marriage so as not to leave behind a fatherless family. Shortly before he was assassinated, he stated in a video, “I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us, and I am ready to die for a cause. I’m living for my community … and I will die to defend their rights.”

As the Church rightly draws our attention to the growing curtailment of religious freedom in the United States in recent years during this Fortnight for Freedom, let us not forget that Christians around the world like Bhatti suffer the violation of their religious freedom through killing, torture, arbitrary arrest, unjust interrogation, the burning of their churches and property, and numerous forms of heavy discrimination.

“How many people are being persecuted because of their faith, forced to abandon their homes, their places of worship, their lands, their loved ones!,” exclaimed Pope Francis in a recent video. A report published earlier this year by the Center for Studies on New Religions in Turin, Italy, held that some 90,ooo Christians were killed for their faith around the world in 2016 and that between 500 and 600 million Christians were in some manner persecuted or barred from living out their faith.

While the mainstream media and major human rights groups by and large have not given the global persecution of Christians the coverage that it deserves, we can be grateful that some important voices have brought the trend to the world’s attention. Critical, for instance, was the U.S. State Department’s decision to designate as genocide the persecution of Yazidis, Christians, and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq in March 2016.

Once the world comes to acknowledge the persecution of Christians, the question must then be asked: What do Christians do when they are persecuted? How do they respond?

Bhatti responded to persecution not only through being ready to accept martyrdom but also through constructively promoting religious freedom through political means. For instance, he advocated for the reform of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws, constructed coalitions of religious communities, and counseled the forgiveness of his enemies.

How Christians around the world respond to persecution is the subject of the Under Caesar’s Sword project, based at the University of Notre Dame and the Religious Freedom Institute. The project’s premise is that with good answers to these questions in hand, the rest of the world can exercise more effective solidarity with persecuted Christians.

On a generous grant from the Templeton Religion Trust, the project assembled a team of fourteen world class scholars of global Christianity and sent them out to investigate how Christian communities respond to persecution in countries ranging from Iran to Indonesia, Syria to Sri Lanka.

The findings were numerous (and reported here). The most common responses to persecution were strategies of survival, through which communities seek to remain alive and to practice their most basic activities. The second most common response was strategies of accommodation, through which they seek to strengthen their position by constructing relationships with other churches, religious communities, and secular actors – much like Bhatti did. The least common was strategies of confrontation, which involves direct opposition to persecuting regimes, including martyrdom, the fate that Bhatti ultimately met. Striking was the rarity of violence as a response to persecution. Evangelicals and Pentecostals suffered more persecution, and reacted more assertively to persecution, than older, established churches like Catholic and Orthodox communities. The most central finding was that Christian communities engage in a creative pragmatism by which they undertake short-term measures to build their position with the long-term theological hope that one day the persecuting regime will fall and that they will then blossom.

With these findings in hand, we who live in relatively free environments may actively support our beleaguered brothers and sisters who, like Bhatti, struggle to respond faithfully to persecution.

“I ask you: how many of you pray for persecuted Christians?,” queries Pope Francis.

No time is better to undertake such prayer – as well as other forms of support – than the Fortnight For Freedom.

 Daniel Philpott is Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame