Blog – 2020 1st Quarter
Weekly Commentary March 22-28, 2020
It is strange, in this time of pandemic, how things are the same, and yet not the same.
On our report this week (please click here to read in full), persecutions continue in India, with a vicious pointless attack by Hindu radicals on the very Christian hospital that serves them, and another cemetery desecration.
We also have the hospitalization of a Vietnamese priest following a heart attack; this man had spent many years in prison camps for his faith. Thankfully he has been reported as improving.
But we have two stories of Christian ministers who have died from the SARS-COV-2 virus, the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both stories might have a deeper meaning than would at first appear.
First, an Italian priest named Fr. Giuseppe Berardelli became one of over 60 priests to have died in the Italian phase of the pandemic. Nearly all were elderly. Now, Today’s Martyrs does report on what some Catholics call ‘white martyrdom’, or ‘a martyr of charity’: a church leader who knowingly puts himself or herself at risk of death in an epidemic to serve the people of God. At 73 Fr. Berardelli was under the mandatory retirement age, and so it could be assumed he was still active in ministry. Moreover, the report said he had refused a ventilator in favor of a younger patient, which would be a true act of martyrdom. We published the story, and then the next day the hospital stated the ventilator story was untrue – in fact one detail, the fact that his parishioners brought a ventilator to him at the hospital, did sound too good to be true, but strange things do happen. Hopefully this was a case where people who loved him misreported the story accidentally, perhaps as is done in the Telephone game, and not deliberately.
The second case involved Pastor David Cheng in Sarawak state in Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. He was the first person to die from the COVID-19 virus in Malaysia. This on the face of it looks odd. Malaysia has a large Muslim majority, and while many Malaysian Muslims are tolerant of non-Muslims many are not. Large numbers of Muslims have contracted the virus at Islamic festivals and meetings, with many hospitalizations. Yet the first death in the entire country is of a Christian pastor who was a convert, possibly from Islam? We would hate to be unfair to good Malaysians, but the question does float up: was there substandard care due to his religion, or more likely his conversion? His family made no such allegation. We will simply have to monitor the news to see if ugly patterns emerge in the non-Christian world, and pray that everyone in the coming sad months will most value our common humanity.
Weekly Commentary March 15-21, 2020
This week’s report is only one story (please click here to read), but it is a start after a long hiatus. The mission of this ministry is still needed. As Voice of the Martyrs Korea just wrote, CORONAVIRUS DOES NOT SLOW THE PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS IN CHINA.
Thank you and God bless
Weekly Commentary February 16-22, 2020
We have no report this week, but we did receive notice of this week’s Sunday homily by the prolific writer and Manhattanite Fr. George Rutler. Here it is in it’s entirety:
The names of the Franciscan friars Berard of Carbio, Otho, Peter, Accursius and Adjutus, are not as familiar as that of Francis of Assisi, who said that they had become the prototypes of what he called the Friars Minor. After his own failed mission to convert the Muslims of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade in 1219, he sent them on a similar mission to Morocco where they were tortured and killed in 1220. That was exactly eight hundred years ago. Clearly, Saint Francis did not spend his days talking to birds. Nor did he and his friars risk their lives to engage in meandering “inter-religious dialogue.”
This column is being published on the fifth anniversary of the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians. All martyrs believe, as did Saint Peter when filled with the Holy Spirit: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). This perplexes flaccid minds and scandalizes the morally compromised, but it is the engine of heroic virtue. Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote in 1967: “Enamored of our present epoch, blind to all its characteristic dangers, intoxicated with everything modern, there are many Catholics who no longer ask whether something is true, or whether it is good and beautiful, or whether it has intrinsic value: they ask only whether it is up-to-date, suitable to ‘modern man’ and the technological age, whether it is challenging, dynamic, audacious, progressive.”
About a century earlier, in his Grammar of Assent, Saint John Henry Newman had already explained: “Persons influence us, voices melt us, looks subdue us, deeds inflame us. Many a man will live and die upon a dogma: no man will be a martyr for a conclusion.” Saint Paul disdained rhetoric and mere speculation “so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5).
By one estimation, and it is by necessity approximate, over the centuries there have been about seventy million Christian martyrs and, astonishingly, half of them have been in roughly the last century. It is also a fact that in our present culture, one in six 18- to 64-year-olds, and one in five aged 65 and over, depend on antidepressants. The example of the martyrs is better than any chemical cure for sadness, for they testify that Christ has made life so worth living, that living and dying for him makes sense. When the ransomed bodies of those five Franciscan martyrs were brought from Morocco to Portugal, a young priest in Coimbra was so moved by their mute witness that he consecrated his life to proclaiming the Gospel as far and wide as he could. We know him as Saint Anthony of Padua.
Now, we all know that some of us really do need to take medication for real medical problems such as depression. What Fr. Rutler is criticizing is our obvious propensity to seek worldly happiness above all else, and our flight from even normal degrees of sadness that come to every life at some point. Fr. Rutler is right: only Christ can redeem suffering, as He does all of us who suffer for the Gospel, for each other, and even for our histories of which He knows everything.
Weekly Commentary January 19-25, 2020
Seven identified Nigerian Christians were listed on this week’s report as having been killed in five separate events. In one case, the Rev Lawan Andimi, a husband and father of eight, was beheaded after refusing the invitation to Islam. Here are some of his last words that were recorded while he was held captive: “If the opportunity [for freedom] has not been granted, maybe it is the will of God. I want all people close and far, colleagues, to be patient. Don’t cry, don’t worry, but thank God for everything. I have never been discouraged, because all conditions that one finds himself is in the hand of God”. In another revolting story a 22 year old college student was shot execution style by an 8 year old child soldier spouting anti-Christian propaganda. Two high school girls were killed in a third incident. Please click here to read this report in full.
One more Christian death was reported, from China. An elderly director of an officially sanctioned church fought her local Religious Affairs Bureau’s 2018 decision to close her church and ‘repurpose’ it into a banquet hall. On her last visit to the RAB she was told the government intended to permanently shut down all churches. She went home distraught, suffered a brain hemorrhage the next day, and died eight days after that.
Gospel Church, Humiao village, Zhecheng county, Henan province, China – courtesy Bitter Winter
Christians remained in captivity in China, Niger and Nigeria, and more were sent to prison in India and Iran. One of the Iranians was a 21 year old convert named Fatemeh Mohammadi, who had adopted the name Mary. She had acquired a reputation of a fearless critic of the government, with bold messages sent out on Twitter. She was arrested during a demonstration protesting the government shoot-down of a Ukrainian airliner, and has not been heard from since. Please follow the links on our report to read more about this brave and inspiring woman, and please pray for her.
Christians in Indonesia protested a local government’s reversal of approval for the enlargement of their church. Churches were vandalized in India, Sweden (for the third time in less than 2 years!), and the United States.
A priest at a Canadian Catholic college was attacked in a letter by many faculty members for showing an anti-abortion film.
Two stories ended with more or less good news:
- In Britain a college student was reinstated in a midwifery program. She had been suspended after it was discovered she belonged to a student pro-life group. She may have lost an entire year’s study and therefore an entire post-graduation annual income, so she is considering legal action for compensation.
- In Ukraine a bishop-abbot who had been stripped of his citizenship despite having been born in the country (he was a dual naturalized U.S. citizen and former U.S. Navy chaplain) has now won two court cases to regain it. He was denied re-entry to the country in February 2019 and deported under armed guard onto an airliner because he had just reported on the religious conflict in Ukraine to members of the U.S. Congress.
Please read our report, and please remember all these people who suffer for their faith in Christ.
St Joseph’s Church, Tanjung Balai, Karimun, Riau Island, Indonesia – courtesy AsiaNews
St Francis of Assisi Church – Kengeri, Bangalore, India – courtesy Nicholas Sampson
First United Methodist Church, Freehold, New Jersey, USA – courtesy patch.com
Weekly Commentary January 12-18, 2020
Murder is to be found in three countries on this week’s report (please click here to read in full), with Christians killed in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, the last a Belgian missionary in the country since 1965. The family of another Christian minister who was executed in Iran 30 years ago discovered that his gravesite had been bulldozed in an attempt to make him disappear from the earth: too bad the desecrators failed to see his place in eternity with his Father.
An elderly Christian couple in poor health, the last Christians in their village in Turkey, disappeared, apparent victims of abduction by unknown men. Christians were also taken into captivity in Nigeria and Pakistan. A priest arrested in Turkey last week has been released.
The Good Shepherd Major Seminary, Kaduna, Nigeria – courtesy Maria Lozano and Aid to the Church in Need
A church has been ordered to be closed in Algeria. In China the residences of a bishop and several priests were ordered closed, along with a nursing home run by nuns; all were thrown out onto the streets, but some – some – of the elderly residents of the nursing home found shelter with their families. The 61 year old bishop, Vincent Guo Xijin, has been sleeping outdoors in the doorway of his residence. In another story from China a church had been closed in early December with official seals affixed to the doors (the kind that promised prosecution if broken). Over 200 parishioners proceeded to enter their church for worship in the following weeks by climbing in through a window! Imagine such determination and faith! The authorities got even on Christmas day by cutting the electricity to the building during their service.
Oratoire Church, Oran, Algeria – courtesy Morning Star News
There is also a story from Turkey that tells much about the standing of Christianity there. For almost nine years the patriarch of the Armenian Patriarchate in Constantinople, Mesrob II Mutafyan, had been incapacitated by early onset Alzheimer’s, and the government had refused to allow his church to retire him and elect a successor. Patriarch Mesrob passed away in March 2019, and in December Sahag II Mashalian was elected his successor. This week it was reported that Patriarch Sahag had become the victim of a Turkish media smear campaign: he had given a speech in which he tried to say that Armenians in Turkey would stay in the country despite the genocide of a century ago, but of course he could not say the word ‘genocide’ without incurring legal problems, so he alluded to it by using the word ‘diaspora’ – “We do not need a diaspora”. The media twisted his comment into a condemnation of the Armenians of the diaspora. This is just another example of the need for Christians to become savvy media proponents, and at a deeper level to tell the truth without concern for the cost.
All in all, another typical week for Christians around the globe. Please continue your prayers for them.
Holy Mother of God Patriarchal Church, Istanbul, Turkey – courtesy Vmemkov and Wikipedia
Weekly Commentary January 5-11, 2020
Two pastors in the Central African Republic were reported on this week’s report (click here to read) as having been killed by jihadists while travelling on Christmas (December 25, 2019). A young bride-to-be was killed by jihadists in Nigeria while travelling to her wedding along with her fiancé and friends, and 13 Christians were killed and 3 wounded in another incident there. A priest in Mexico was shot four times and left on a highway after his family paid a ransom for his release from kidnappers – he was hospitalized in stable condition.
Four seminarians were abducted in Nigeria. Christians were arrested in China (including a widowed pastor with minor children), Iran, Thailand (a Pakistani grandmother with health problems), and Turkey.
A church in Texas was subjected to a mass shooting threat during services.
Hundreds of church vandalisms were reported from Italy (mostly creches). Two churches were vandalized in Germany, and a Christian reporter in Berlin saw his automobile firebombed for the second time in six years. All of the German attacks were claimed by feminists. A church in Louisiana was also vandalized. Only a few of these stories included names that we could use in our reporting. Also, the Gatestone Institute in New York issued a very comprehensive report on church vandalism which stated that vandalism is at an all-time high in six Western European countries in 2019 (click here to read).
From China has come a very disquieting story. Cardinal Joseph Zen, the 87 year old bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, released a letter in Rome that he addressed to all of his fellow cardinals (the bishops charged with electing and advising the Pope). Attached to the letter was a dubia, a list of questions he had submitted to Pope Francis concerning the Vatican’s agreement with China on church freedom; in this cover letter he stated that the Vatican agreement “encourages the faithful in China to enter a schismatic church (independent of the pope and under the orders of the Communist Party)”. Zen noted that Pope Francis had not answered his dubia after six months, nor had he – the leading Chinese Catholic prelate – been allowed to see the text of the still-secret agreement. His language regarding the Vatican’s actions toward Chinese Catholics and Pope Francis’ predecessors were scathing: “manipulation”, “disrespectful”, “disgusts me”; the particular object of his ire was not Pope Francis but rather the Vatican’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. Cardinal Zen ended his blunt assessment and appeal to his fellow cardinal bishops with “Your Eminence, can we passively witness the murder of the Church in China by those who should protect and defend her from her enemies? On my knees, your brother”.
In recent years, the world has witnessed a growing conflict of bishops against bishops, in many denominations. Battles have erupted over liturgical practice, moral doctrine, financial transparency, national autonomy, and sex abuse cover ups. Now we can add church persecution to the list. In many situations, Anglican, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, and most recently Methodist churches are breaking into schism as bishops oppose each other. Catholics are taught to value unity as one of the great charisms of their church, so an official schism remains remote, but only God really knows what will come. All this calls to mind the ancient Chinese curse May you live in interesting times. Are we so cursed? Or, as some have written, are we blessed to live in times where we have been given the opportunity to stand up for the faith, in truth and in charity? Perhaps so. Let us pray for the wisdom and eloquence that these interesting times will require of us.
St Peter Basilica, Vatican City – courtesy Eugene Pivovarov and Wikipedia
Weekly Commentary December 29, 2019 – January 4, 2020
This week’s report (please click here to read in full) has a particularly evil story of the murder of a 14 year old Pakistani boy by two of his factory co-workers. It also tells of the murder of two Christians in their church in Texas by a man described by his sister as having “demons” as a result of childhood neglect. The killer was in turn killed by the church’s security team before he could kill anyone else. Some in the U.S. then published lurid headlines such as “Parishioners kill man” and the like, as if to suggest that Christians fall short of Christ’s teaching when they defend the lives of their friends and families, to defend those they love. These writers get the irony prize this week, since the last U.S. church mass shooting produced published comments such as “If prayers did anything they’d still be alive”; “They had the prayers shot right out of them. Maybe try something else”. So, Christians are wrong if they respond to violent evil in one way, with self-defense, and wrong when they respond in the opposite way, without it. What does that tell us? Another gem of this story is the number of people who were quick to claim the church was tolerant of violent racists because it was in the municipality of White Settlement (!), overlooking that the deacon killed while serving communion was African American.
This week we have other stories from China, India, Iran, Montenegro (the first ever from that country), Myanmar, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Ukraine.
Please read over this week’s report and please redouble your prayers. Please pray especially for all those who have been gravely hurt by childhood trauma, pray for their full and complete healing.
St Therese Parish Church, Datu Piang, Maguindanao province, Philippines – courtesy Bong Sarmiento
Holy Protection Church, Novozhivotov village, Oratov district, Vinnitsa region, Ukraine – courtesy zruchno.travel
West Freeway Church of Christ, White Settlement, Texas, USA – courtesy Laura Buckman / New York Times
Blog – 2020 1st Quarter