The massacre inflicted in Egypt by Daesh on our Coptic brethren at worship in their churches on Palm Sunday is still fairly fresh in our minds. The first bombing was inside a church at Tanta, on the Nile delta, during the Palm Sunday liturgy, killing 27 and injuring or crippling 78 people. Soon after was a blast at the Coptic pope’s cathedral in Alexandria, again during the liturgy but at the entrance to the church as the bomber had been stopped by police. 17 people were killed, including three police officers, and 48 injured. Pope Tawadros was not injured.
With the murder today of 86 year old Fr Jacques Hamel while he was offering Mass in the small church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen in Normandy, the persecution of Christians in foreign lands, especially the Middle East, has come a lot closer to home. A lot closer. The Church of the west in now directly caught up in the plight of the persecuted Church abroad.
A small church on the edge of a sizeable city in a politically unremarkable part of France, Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray could be St Anywhere. What priest in France, or Germany, or Belgium, or Holland… or Britain, heads into his church on a weekday to offer Mass and has even the slightest conception that he could possibly be murdered by enemies of Christ? Continue reading “The Church of the martyrs comes closer to home”
When asked to celebrate the conventual Mass today, St George’s day, I was a little conflicted. For our patron, St Edmund King and Martyr (†869/70), was the original patron of England, St George only being established in that role in 1348. In recent years there have been petitions to the government to restore St Edmund as English patron, to no avail. For not a few among the English, St Edmund is still the rightful patron.
It is unnecessary to retell the horrific story of the disgusting martyrdom of the 21 Coptic men in Libya last week, gloatingly displayed to the world in an online video of the sort that
ISIS Daesh* is notorious for producing. Though I have not watched it, those who have say that many of the martyrs had the name of Jesus on their lips as they died. Despite the hair-splitting of the SSPX, whether or not their murder was in revenge for the killing of a senior jihadist is irrelevant: they were murdered because they were Christian, and in hatred of Christ.
*(a name hated by the ISIS jihadists themselves and so most appropriate to give them)
The second objection of the SSPX to granting the title of martyr to the 21 Coptic brethren is that the Copts are heretics. This objection has more weight to it, but how relevant is it to this situation?
On this memorial of St Francis of Assisi, a couple of aspects of his life hold a certain interest in light of the current crisis we face with militant Islam, and in particular ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh (or whatever you might call them).
St Francis himself nurtured an ardent desire to bring Christ to the Muslim Saracens. Eventually, during a lull in the siege of Damietta, he managed to cross the front lines and enter the camp of the Sultan of Egypt, a nephew of the infamous Saladin. Sultan Al-Kamil received him graciously and for several days he remained in the Saracen camp and preached Christ to them. It was to no avail, but he was allowed to return to the crusader lines unmolested. Mind you, St Bonaventure (probably the only authority for this) asserted that the Sultan converted to Christ on his deathbed. Some seeds take a long time to be bear fruit. What we can be more certain of is that ISIL (Daesh, etc!) cannot lay legitimate claim to be the modern Saracens, nor representatives of an authentic caliphate, at least viewed in historic terms. The Saracens were capable of remarkable generosity of spirit, and Al-Kamil’s gracious reception of St Francis suggests that he recognized, if only in an inarticulate way, the holiness of the man of God. Daesh/ISIL (etc!) represent only themselves, whatever strains of militant Islam they might tap into.
Another incident from St Francis’ life might give us cause to pause, and to think about our context. In the town of Gubbio, not far from Assisi, the townsfolk were being terrorized by a wolf, which as eating not only livestock but their owners as well. Moved by their plight, St Francis took it upon himself to find this wolf and deal with the crisis. He found the wolf on the hill above Gubbio and admonished it for its evil deeds, and commanded Brother Wolf to cease. St Francis discovered that the wolf was acting so rapaciously because it was tormented by hunger. So the Poor One returned to the town and explained to them the underlying problem. The townsfolk promised to feed the wolf every day. They did, and the wolf struck no more.
With young Muslim men, and women, from the UK, France, even Australia going to Syria and Iraq to join in the Daesh/ISIL bloodlust, we might profitably ask, what is their hunger that moves them to such a despicable decision? What need of theirs is not being addressed that, perhaps, we could address? Why not starve Daesh of recruits, and prevent so many youths from being killed by the increasing opposition that is squaring up to Daesh. What moves them to enter a conflict in which they by all appearances have no legitimate claim to enter? (if there could be any legitimate reason for joining Daesh/ISIL.)
It is one strategy, a Franciscan one and an eminently Christian one. For now, all we seem to have is the strategy of slaughtering Daesh before they slaughter more of our brethren in Syria and Iraq.