I’ve had a lot of time to pray and think about the Christians currently in Syria and Iraq under the persecution of ISIS. A lot of time.
I remember being a teenager and feeling very convicted whenever I would read about the Holocaust, I would swear, never again could something like this happen. And here I am, almost 35 years old feeling helpless except to pray as Christians are marked with the Arabic letter “N” which is as wrong as Jews being marked with Stars of David. And hearing children are being sawed in half and beheaded is as wrong as children being led into gas chambers.
The Holocaust has come to the 21st century because of religious extremism and hatred.
The Holocaust caused a lot of people to step back and re-examine their own prejudice of a group. A friend’s grandmother once told me that upon hearing of Hitler’s extermination camps, she realized she often made jokes about Jews and money and how that was hatred in her own heart. Similarly, I’ve been seeing lots of new “support groups” coming out now to educate on the Eastern Church now that it is under heavy persecution.
I’ve long been intrigued by Eastern Rite Catholicism. I know precious little about the various rites which are in union with Rome but look and feel a lot like Orthodoxy. I adore the use of icons for prayer. I have heard from some that the sense of community is stronger in various Eastern Rite churches because they are smaller and in some cases, all they have are each other. In fact, someone commented on a piece at National Catholic Register in response to a post about converts from Protestantism feeling a lack of community with a suggestion to seek out Eastern Rite churches vs Roman Rite. I have very mixed feelings about that suggestion because on the one hand, it exposes more people to this unique (in this part of the world) part of the faith but on the other hand…
I’ve never been to a Byzantine, Melkite, Chaldean or any other Eastern Rite church much less mass. I’ve never been to a TLM for that matter. TLM is only offered here one Sunday a month for Roman rites. To go to the closest Byzantine community would be a two hour drive. My own community has only two Catholic parishes, and we actually already travel to the neighboring county for the closest mass. That county has a grand total of five parishes. And there are only 2 Orthodox churches, one that is fiercely Greek and the other that started as identifying as Ukranian but couldn’t get much of a congregation until they opened themselves to all Eastern European and Middle Eastern nationalities (it’s quite the congregation, I’ve been told). So, what would an Eastern Rite Catholic who found herself plopped down in my community do? Travel four hours each Sunday? And how would you be part of the community? Not only is it a huge time commitment, but what about the cost of gas…even if just traveling one time per week?
Those are the very real predicaments that Catholics of various Eastern Rites find themselves in in our country. And for a long time, most Roman Rite Catholics had no idea, or if they did know, responded with a, “meh, not my circus, not my monkeys.” Heck, Roman Rite Catholics in areas with several churches think that way about places like where I grew up and live where Catholics of all stripes are in the distinct minority and don’t “settle” for ugly liturgy, but take it because it’s all we can get our hands on. So, do you think we really ever considered, heavily and prayerfully considered, the plight of the Church in the Middle East or Eastern Europe?
The real tragedy with what is happening right now in Ukraine, Egypt, Syria and Iraq to Catholics (and various Protestants and Orthodox)…is the same tragedy that happened during World War II and it’s lead-up. It took outright war…it took the murder in cold-blood of children, whether in gas chamber or by beheading, for us to realize the very real crises the church in these areas face. In some places they have survived (barely) the Nazis followed swiftly by the Communists. They have survived Assad and Hussein. And they did it without the West because we didn’t have any concern about Christians in these lands. It took children being beheaded for us to care enough to demand action from our government and acknowledgment in most of our parishes.
And Catholics, wake up, some are as Catholic as you are although maybe without the same vestments or fasting requirements during Lent. In our country, they also suffer silently, although grateful that the only indignity is a two hour drive, not fearing for your child’s life because you make that drive.
I can’t claim to suffer the fear of my children being killed for our faith. I can’t even claim to understand exactly the unique struggles of being a Catholic in one of the Eastern Rites here in the US. But I can understand being in the minority and wildly unpopular. And it’s a shame that I could not unite and offer up my limited suffering in this capacity with the people suffering so much more for their faith until a war was started. Until a child was beheaded.