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The Legends of Martyrs Continue to Grow

When I was a student in elementary school, I remember the nuns telling us that we would probably never be called upon to give our life’s blood for the faith. This was usually in the context about how so many martyrs had died for the faith. One of our heroes at the time was Bishop Francis X. Ford, the Maryknoller from Brooklyn who lost his life in a Communist Chinese prison camp.

The nuns were right at the time. It would have been tough to imagine a time when the Church would suffer such persecution again. But today the Church is again on the front lines of life-and-death battles and lives definitely are at risk.

Look at Nicaragua, where the Church led by Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes Solorzano of Managua and his auxiliary, Bishop Silvio Jose Baez, and Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, the apostolic nuncio, face numerous violent attacks from pro-government groups. Clergy and bishops recently were attacked as they attempted to protect St. Sebastian Basilica in Diriamba from a pro-government mob.

Or how about Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Congo, who recently was quoted on Catholic News Service as saying, “A cardinal does not have fear. It is a mission to defend the faith, to the cost of shedding one’s blood. I’m not afraid to do that.”

Cardinal Monsengwo’s condemnation of the current regime has put him in a dangerous position, but he says he does take measures to stay safe. “Naturally, I am prudent,” he said. “I don’t eat just anything; I don’t drink just anything.”

When he’s at home, the two women who prepare and serve his food are his nieces, he said. “No one else enters into the kitchen.”

Then there the case of what’s happening in the Philippines, where Church leaders have been going head-to-head with President Rodrigo Duterte’s handling of the drug dealers. They claim that his violent crackdown has been nothing less than a violation of human rights.

In December, Catholic News Service reported that Father Marcelito Paez was gunned down in Nueva Ejica province after facilitating the release of a political prisoner.

Since January, four foreign religious missionaries, including Sister Patricia Fox, an Australian who is Philippine superior of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, have been arrested, detained, deported or threatened with deportation after they were accused of participating in political activities opposing the state.

Catholic priests and Protestant ministers claim they are under surveillance and have been threatened by officials of the government.

Duterte, in his State of the Nation address, July 23, warned that his war against the drug trade is about to get “more chilling.”

Of course, we all know what has been occurring in the Middle East where the oldest Christian communities in the world have been forced to flee their homelands and are virtually disappearing because of attacks from ISIS. Displaced around the world, those people have been slow to return even though victory over the Islamic extremists is ongoing. There is nothing to return to, since homes and churches have been destroyed.

Here in the U.S., we face waves of anti-Catholic persecution, though more subtle than the physical threats taking place around the world. Religious beliefs, based on thousands of years of teaching, are branded as bigotry. Nominees for judicial offices are being told they should be disqualified because of their religious faith.

It’s not easy being a Catholic these days, either here or abroad. Right now, we may not be asked to give our lives here – the nuns were right – but around the world, legends of martyrs continue to grow.

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