Pope Francis made extraordinary headlines this past week with his endorsement of military action against ISIS, the radical Islamic group that has perpetrated heinous aggression against Iraqi Christians. Though he is not promoting violence per se, the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church has issued a statement which supports a strong military presence to stop the aggression, but not without a consensus among military leaders as to how that force should be demonstrated. Why has Pope Francis stepped out of the peaceful approach to handling acts of violence common to so many of his recent predecessors and sanctioned a more aggressive method to ending the violence against Christians? His stance does not incite a violent solution but urges military leaders to use a show of strength for humanitarian intervention. Though support for Christian persecutions has taken a back seat in most media outlets, the rise of ISIS hostility and brutality has caught the attention of the general public, especially following the execution and beheading of journalist James Foley, a devout Catholic. The brutality which has peaked in recent weeks is aimed at the massacre of Christians throughout the Middle East as well as parts of Africa. One wonders: who are these Christians that have managed to survive in an Islamic country such as Iraq? It is probable, given the demographics, that these Christians are direct descendants of the first converts to Christianity during the first century of the Christian faith. Among the first persecutors of the Christians were the Jewish leaders, blinded to the fact that their Messiah had indeed arrived and subsequently risen from the dead. Joining the early persecutions were the pagan Romans whose political and economic culture seemed to be threatened by the benevolent philosophy of the followers of Christ. And now, in modern civilization we see Christians being persecuted once again on the social justice forefront (abortion and traditional marriage), in economics (via healthcare), politically and judicially (via secular legislation), and religiously (Islamic terrorists). On what do persecuted Christians rely when confronted with avaricious, sadistic, or deceitful persecutions? They rely on a tradition of faith – as the martyrs before them gave as an example: they rely on God’s promise (as St. Thomas More puts it) “I trust that in his goodness [God] will look on me with pity as he did upon St. Peter, and make me stand up again and confess the truth of my conscience afresh… he will not let me be lost. I shall, therefore, with good faith commit myself wholly to him. And if he permits me to perish for my faults, then I shall serve as praise for his justice." Though some may criticize martyrdom, dying for one’s beliefs, as an act of folly, or raise the finger of condemnation toward God for allowing suffering in this world, they are to be reminded that it is only through God’s love, mercy and compassion that we truly live. The Catholic response to Islamic aggression, political exploitation, legislative manipulation, or social blacklisting is the same: stand firm in faith, remain strong in opposition to evil, and trust in eternal life.
August 24, 2014