When I was a school kid, we were told that we probably would not have to give up our lives because we were Christians. At the time, it seemed like the age of martyrdom had passed.
How times have changed! Today, anyone who professes a belief in Jesus as Lord will likely be discriminated against, and in some cases, may have their lives in danger.
A glance at the headlines of the past week prove the point. The most recent instance of Christian persecution was the Easter Sunday slaughter of Pakistani Christians in Lahore. (See story here.) Christians are a distinct minority in Pakistan and they are caught in the middle of the international hate being spread by radical Muslim leaders.
But Pakistan is not the only place where persecutions continue.
Assumptionist Father Vincent Machozi, who taught in Congo and who had studied and served in Massachusetts, co-founded a Congolese Catholic community. He also founded an organization of Nande people in the United States.
The 51-year-old priest was killed March 20. In the Congolese Diocese of Butembo-Beni, the priest was known as someone who preached Christian unity and fostered ecumenical discussion of important issues on faith and politics.
Assumptionist Father Benoit Griere, the order’s superior general, said in a letter that Father Machozi had just celebrated Palm Sunday Mass, visited his mother and held a meeting with the elders of Butembo when a jeep with 10 armed soldiers arrived at his house. “The soldiers demanded to know where Vincent Machozi was. Figuring out who he was in the small group gathered there, the assailants immediately riddled him with bullets. He died instantly.”
Then there is strange case of the Salesian priest, Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was kidnapped in Yemen on March 4 from the home for the aged and disabled run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen. Four Missionaries of Charity and 12 others were murdered in the attack.
Social media has been wild with reports that the priest, a native of India, was crucified by radical Islamists on Good Friday.
The bishop who leads the apostolic vicariate that includes Yemen said he has “strong indications” that the priest “is still alive in the hands of his kidnappers.”
Bishop Paul Hinder, head of the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, said, “I have no confirmation that anything happened Good Friday” and added that the rumors appear to be untrue.
Leaders of the Salesian order in India also said that there was no evidence to support the reports of crucifixion and asked people to refrain from “spreading false rumors.”
As I wrote this, a Mass is scheduled to be celebrated on Friday, April 1, at 5 p.m., with the Missionaries of Charity in the Brooklyn Diocese to remember their slain sisters. Auxiliary Bishop Witold Mroziewski is to be the main celebrant of a liturgy at Our Lady of Victory Church, Bedford-Stuyvesant, where the Order founded by Blessed Mother Teresa, has a convent. Mother Teresa even visited there when the community opened.
Unfortunately, these outrageous killings, perpetrated because of people’s Christian faith, are not unusual. Day by day reports out of the Middle East and parts of Africa tell of Christian communities being slaughtered by radical Islamists.
Pope Francis has made numerous pleas for international intervention to combat the situation but world powers continue to talk rather than take action.
There are implications to being a person of faith. At home and abroad, people of Christian faith face a new wave of persecution that we once believed was unthinkable.