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The Resurrection in a violent world

When Christ rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples in his glorified body, he still had his wounds. In John’s Gospel we hear Jesus speak to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side” (Jn 20:27).

The same can be said of those Christians, many of them Catholics, in Kenya, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere who are being persecuted but have allowed the power of the Resurrection to rule their hearts. Their hearts and communities may be wounded, but their wounds are being glorified.

In April 6 remarks, Pope Francis urged us all to continue “the spiritual journey of prayer, intense prayer” and to provide “tangible help in the defense and protection of our brothers and sisters, who are persecuted, exiled, killed, beheaded, only for the reason of being a Christian.”

Their journey through the crucible of persecution is certainly more intimate and profound than our sufferings are, but in spite of the difference in intensity, we should allow their witness to inspire us to let the Risen Lord heal our own wounds. And, as the Holy Father said, we should not fail to accompany our brothers and sisters with prayer and real material assistance.

You may not realize it, but there are more martyrs today than there were in the first centuries of the Church. In addition to the heroism of those who are being martyred in the Middle East and Africa, I am also hearing stories about some of the survivors or those helping them that testify to the truth that Christ is Risen.

“In all the villages, as well as in the camps set up in the city, I found love,” said Cardinal Fernando Filoni, whom Pope Francis sent to the Middle East as his personal envoy.

He told Fides News Agency, “In all the homes and parishes where I went I was told: ‘Your presence is a blessing for us.’ And all the meetings were concluded with a prayer and a blessing. Talking to them, I urged them not to lose hope, ensuring that we have not forgotten and will not forget them. I also encouraged them to look ahead.”

Cardinal Filoni is right. We must not forget our brothers or sisters, even though they live so far away. Tens of thousands of Christians have found refuge in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region, where they have been welcomed by parishes and where housing has been provided for them by donations from international and local Catholic charities. Two or three families are crammed into single family apartments, while others are living in unfinished buildings, but they are being supported by the local Church. Despite being persecuted and driven from their homes, the Resurrection is in their hearts.

On Holy Thursday, terrorists from al-Shabaab sorted Christians from Muslims at the University of Garissa College in Kenya and then shot 148 people to death. Just three days later, hundreds of Catholics gathered at the nearby Our Lady of Consolation Parish with their shepherd, Bishop Joseph Alessandro.

One parishioner, Roseline Oduor, recalled how the parish itself was assaulted three years before and said, “Having courage as a Christian, we just have that faith (from) coming to church. We have gone through what Jesus went through.”

Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, Kenya went to Chiromo Funeral Parlour, one of the places where relatives of the victims gathered to mourn. He consoled the families there, exhorted them to have courage, and to do something that only the Resurrection of Jesus makes possible—forgive the people who killed their children, nieces and nephews, or grandchildren.

In his annual Easter message to the city and the world, Pope Francis reflected on how the Resurrection can turn our hearts away from violence. He said, “Those who bear within them God’s power, his love and his justice, do not need to employ violence; they speak and act with the power of truth, beauty and love.”

The Holy Father also offered a prayer that I would like to share with you. “From the Risen Lord we ask the grace not to succumb to the pride which fuels violence and war, but to have the humble courage of pardon and peace. We ask Jesus, the victor over death, to lighten the sufferings of our many brothers and sisters who are persecuted for his name, and of all those who suffer injustice as a result of ongoing conflicts and violence.”

May we welcome the Risen Lord in our hearts to heal them so that we are able to offer forgiveness to those who offend us, and may the Resurrection be transmitted through our prayers and concrete support to those who are persecuted for the faith. May all people come to know and to receive the mercy and love of Jesus Christ!

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
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