At Least 99 Dead in Attacks on Nigerian Churches

Violent persecution of Christians continues in Nigeria. 

At least 99 people were murdered in attacks on worshippers at a Christian church. The attackers also razed homes in the same town.

From ABC News:

Suspected Islamic extremists used explosives and heavy guns to attack a village and worshippers during a Christian church service in Nigeria’s northeast, killing at least 99 people and razing hundreds of homes, officials and witnesses said Monday.

The attacks in Borno and Adamawa states resulted in one of the highest death tolls in recent attacks by militants who are defying an 8-month old military state of emergency in three states in northern Nigeria designed to halt an Islamic uprising there.

Attackers set off several explosions in Kawuri village in Borno state after launching their assault near the weekly market as vendors were packing up on Sunday night, the security official said.

He said 52 people died and the entire village was burned down, including 300 homes. He also said two improvised explosive devices thet were left behind went off Monday morning, narrowly missing security personnel who were collecting bodies in Kawuri. The official blamed suspected Boko Haram militants for the attack.

A police official who evacuated wounded victims confirmed at least 52 people were killed and 16 wounded. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not permitted to speak to reporters.

Ari Kolomi, who fled from his village, which is 70 kilometers (45 miles) outside Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, said, “No house was left standing” by the more than 50 extremists who attacked, armed with explosives and guns. Kolomi was searching for relatives in the village to make sure they had survived the attack.

State Police Commissioner Lawan Tanko confirmed the attack but said he was awaiting details on the casualties.

Also on Sunday, suspected militants in Adamawa state, south of Borno, stormed a Roman Catholic church during a Sunday morning service in Wada Chakawa village. They fired guns into the church, set off explosives and took people hostage during a five-hour siege, residents said. The Rev. Raymond Danbouye, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Yola, said dozens of people were killed.

Christian Persecution and Conversion in Nigeria

Nigerian Christians have suffered a decade of murderous attacks from militant islamists, in particular the killer cult of Boko Haram. 

At the same time, Christianity has been growing. The Pentecostal movement is flourishing in Nigeria with all night prayer services drawing thousands of worshipers. 

The old saying is, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” 

Present-day martyrs for Christ are no exception to that. 

From PRI The World:

Credit: Rowan Moore Gerety

Under an open-air pavilion built to seat a million people, children sleep on mats spread out on the cobblestones while their parents enter their 6th consecutive hour of worship.

All-night prayer vigils are at the core of the country’s booming Pentecostal movement. Some churches draw worshippers in the hundreds of thousands.

At one church, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Friday night vigils take place in what locals call an “auditorium.” It’s a covered pavilion the size of 87 football fields, and it’s not quite big enough. The church has already cleared ground for a bigger one. 

In fact, it’s something of a pattern: the church’s old pavilion was demolished a few years back, and now vendors have set up shop on the old foundation.

Once the service starts, all these people selling, they’ll close their shops and go inside the auditorium to listen to the word of God,” says Wale Akande, a volunteer who stands by the auditorium, welcoming visitors to the Holy Ghost Service in a fluorescent green vest.

The pavilion here was built in 2000 to seat a million people. It’s basically a corrugated rooftop. The ground below is paved with cobblestones and lined with thousands of crude wooden benches and plastic chairs. Akande says attendance is down tonight because of rain; the pavilion is only a third full.


Are Christian Bashers Bullying Us Into Silence About Christian Persecution?

NewsweekChristianPersecution The reluctance of predominately Christian countries to speak out is remarkable.

That quote comes from a February 2012 article in the National Review.

The article describes a PEW Research study which says that over 200 million Christians live in countries where they are persecuted. The article also states that over 100,000 Christians are murdered each year for their faith. 

After going through all these facts, the National Review author comments that the reluctance of predominantly Christian countries to speak out is remarkable. 

Is it remarkable? Or is it an obvious result of the harassment and repeated attacks people who speak out about Christian persecution are subjected to?

Are those who tacitly support the violent persecution of Christians able to silence those Christians’ supporters in the West by the simple methods of mocking, deriding and slandering them into silence?

I think the answer is yes.

Every time I write a post about Christian persecution, I get a flurry of nasties coming on here to claim that (1) It ain’t so, and (2) I’m both a moral and intellectual demagogue for claiming that it is so. I’ve had other bloggers dedicate posts on their blogs to attacks on my intellect and my compassion because I wrote about Christian persecution. I have had fellow travelers of those who murder, rape, batter, abduct and terrify Christians join around the virtual campfire to take shots at me.

What does this indicate — beyond the fact that some bloggers aren’t so crazy about Rebecca Hamilton? I think that it’s a small sampling of what awaits those who try to stand up for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ.  As such, it offers an explanation as to why the silence about Christian persecution from the Christian West is not so remarkable after all.

My advice to anyone who wants to take a stand against the atrocities that Christians suffer in much of the world today is consider the source of the insults they may receive and go ahead and speak up. Criticisms which are designed to tacitly support mass murder are not worthy of either answers or serious consideration.

Persecuted Christians are Christ crucified, right in front of us.

The mob yelled “Crucify Him!” and Jesus’ friends ran away from Him on that day. They ran away naked in the night, denied they even knew Him and went into hiding while He was tortured and murdered. Only the women and one disciple went to the cross with Him.

Don’t let today’s descendants of that mob scare you into running away from Him. His Passion is happening again in the suffering of our brothers and sisters. Don’t miss your chance to be one of the faithful few who don’t run away.

From National Review Online:

Perhaps the gravest under-publicized atrocity in the world is the persecution of Christians. A comprehensive Pew Forum study last year found that Christians are persecuted in 131 countries containing 70 percent of the world’s population, out of 197 countries in the world (if Palestine, Taiwan, South Sudan, and the Vatican are included). Best estimates are that about 200 million Christians are in communities where they are persecuted. There is not the slightest question of the scale and barbarity of this persecution, and a little of it is adequately publicized. But this highlights the second half of the atrocity: the passivity and blasé indifference of most of the West’s media and governments.

It is not generally appreciated that over 100,000 Christians a year are murdered because of their faith. Because Christianity is, by a wide margin, the world’s largest religion, the leading religion in the traditionally most advanced areas of the world, and, despite its many fissures, the best organized, largely because of the relatively tight and authoritarian structure of the Roman Catholic Church, the West is not accustomed to thinking of Christians as a minority, much less a persecuted one.

… The reluctance of the leading predominantly Christian countries to speak out against these outrages is remarkable.

Nigerian Christians Want Peace, Not Vengeance

Nigerian Christians call for peace, not vengeance. They even talk of forgiveness. The Nigerian Christians I have corresponded with have — every single one of them — asked for prayer.

Our resolve to help them and stand by them must not falter. What that means — among other things — is that we must not allow ourselves to bullied into silence by personal attacks against us from those who want to turn a blind eye to Christian persecution. We must never allow them to divide us from other Christians.

We all stand in solidarity before the cross. We in the West are called to show that solidarity when it comes to the violent persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We need to lift up the witness of these martyred Christians and their families and friends for all the world to see.

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Christian Persecution: What Can We Do?

Anti religion

Elizabeth Scalia has heard the call.

Have you?

I’m talking about the call to prayer for persecuted Christians around the globe.

Pope Francis issued a call to prayerfor the persecuted church earlier this week.

“So many Christians in the world are suffering,” the pope said during his general audience Wednesday morning in St. Peter’s Square. “Am I indifferent to that, or does it affect me like it’s a member of the family?

“Does it touch my heart, or doesn’t it really affect me, [to know that] so many brothers and sisters in the family are giving their lives for Jesus Christ?

Speaking directly to the crowd in the square, Francis said he wanted to ask a question, and he didn’t want people to shout out an answer but rather to ponder it in their hearts.

“How many of you pray for Christians who are persecuted?” the pope asked. “Ask yourselves, do I pray for that brother or sister who’s in difficulty for confessing their faith?” (Read more here.)

According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, one hundred thousand Christians have died for their faith each year in the last decade. That works out to 11 Christians martyred for their faith every hour for the past ten years.

Can you imagine the outcry if this was one the groups that fashion says we should care about? Just consider the sentence 100,000 _______ were murdered because of they were ______ each year for the past ten years. Supply the name of any group whose rights we hear daily that we are supposed to care about.

Now, go back and substitute the word Christians, as in:

100,000 Christians  were murdered because they were Christians  each year for the past ten years.

See what I mean?

Christian bashing is far more popular in today’s world than defending the human rights of Christians. Every time I post on the issue, I get a spate of comments telling me that no such problem exists. There are usually a few profane and truly ugly comments mixed in with them. I delete these things the same way I would swat a fly; the same way I delete Holocaust deniers and gay bashers and woman haters; with speed and quickness.

Pope Francis is right. We need to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. If you’re one of those people who has been observing this carnage and wondering What can I do? here’s you answer. Get on your knees and start praying.

I wrote a Novena for the Persecuted Church a few weeks ago. You can find it here:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8

Day 9

Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 9

Stmichael

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Rev 12: 17 – 18

This is the 9th and last day of our Novena to St Michael. We are praying for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters around the world.

For this last meditation of our Novena, let’s look at what it all means. 

What does it mean to be Christ crucified in the world today?

It means that you are the living representation of that day long ago on Calvary when Our Lord, who was without sin, became sin itself for our sakes. It means that, just as satan poured out his rage against God onto Jesus by acting through other people, he is now pouring out his rage against Jesus on you, and he is doing it once again through his actors in this world; other people. 

Demonic possession is not just the stuff of movies. It happens in real life, all the time, everyday. However, it doesn’t usually manifest itself in spinning heads, flying objects and spitting pea soup. 

When the devil walks in this world, he almost always does it on two feet. When he acts out his hatred and destructive desires, he almost always uses human hands and speaks with a human voice. 

There is no bottom to his hatred, and there is no limit to the cruelty and depravity of his followers. Whatever bad thing they do today, they will do worse tomorrow. 

Christ is crucified in the world today in places where satan’s disciples are freed by circumstance to act out his hatred of Father, Son and Holy Ghost by attacking the living representation of them: Christians. There is no nation or community on this earth that is exempt from becoming satan’s active disciple by virtue of their virtue or their wisdom or their knowledge. 

Germany and the Soviet Union had many of the greatest scientists, most subtle and acute artists and philosophers the world has ever known. And yet they fell prey to satan’s leadership. Rwandans slaughtered with clubs and machetes, but it was fealty to the same satan that drove them to do it.

Only fealty to the Risen Christ can save us from following the darkness away from the Light. The miracle is that by fealty to Christ, we not only save ourselves from falling into the darkness, we become the Light in this world. 

Satan is a ravening hunger that craves annihilation. His followers, many of whom do not believe he exists, are shades of him in both those things. They hunger with a hunger for they know not what and crave annihilation with a compulsive drive. That is why everything they do turns in the end to death. 

It is also why they attack and try to darken the Light of Christian witness wherever they find it. 

The millions of Christians who suffer constant fear, dread of violence and the degradation of second-class citizenship in the world today are, wherever they are, the Light of Christ. When they are reviled, falsely arrested, attacked, beaten, raped, kidnapped, tortured and murdered, they become Christ before Pilate, Christ scourged, Christ mocked, reviled and hung up naked to die in front of a mocking, jeering crowd. 

He Who had no sin became sin for us. He suffers again in His followers who are His living martyrs today. 

If that was the end of the story, it would just be another holocaust in a devil-besotted world that plays host to a genocide glut. But it is not the end. In fact, it is the beginning.

Jesus died on Calvary. He was buried and left to rot in His tomb. But on the third day, He rose from that grave. Not, notice that He was raised, as He Himself had raised Lazarus. He rose. He is God and He arose from the dead on the third day. 

He became what St Paul calls “the first fruits” of the resurrection that awaits us all. 

There is no death. 

Not for those who follow Christ.

Nor for their persecutors. 

The difference lies in what waits for them on the other side.

Those who follow Our Lord to the death are assured of their place in heaven. Those who are reviled, shunned and attacked for Him are also blessed. Rejoice and be glad, Jesus said of people who are slandered for Him, for great is your reward in heaven. 

These people who are Christ crucified in our world today are not victims. They are victors. They are guaranteed eternal life in heaven. 

Ironically, it is the ones who persecute them who are in the most peril. They are laying up an eternity in hell for themselves where they will be the only thing their master the devil has left to torment and hurt. 

It is a scalding thing to look into the eyes of another person and see satan looking back at you. It must be unimaginable suffering to look for eternity into the cold, pitiless, eyes of satan himself. 

We must pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray that the Holy Spirit will walk with them through their passion in Our Lord’s name. Pray that the same Holy Spirit will lift them and their sacrifice for Him up high, where all the world can see it. Pray that He will show us all what we can do to help them and to end this persecution. 

Pray, finally, that we will not fail when our time of persecution comes, no matter how small it may be. Pray that the Holy Spirit will guard us from denying Him, even in the small social ways of going along with the larger culture. Pray that we will follow Him, as our brothers and sisters are doing, and that He, not the pleasures of this world, will be the Lord of our lives. 

All Christians who follow Christ will suffer for Him in this world. There are no exceptions. Some Christians have the privilege of suffering extreme persecution for Him. Others, He does not trust so much. But there can be no peace between the gods of this world and the Kingdom. Not for any of us.  

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Here is the Novena to St Michael for the Persecuted Church, Day 9. Please pray it and ask others to join you.

Glorious Saint Michael,
guardian and defender
of the Church of Jesus Christ,
come to the assistance of His followers,
against whom the powers of hell are unchained.
Guard with special care our Holy Father,
the Pope, and our bishops, priests,
all our religious and lay people,
and especially the children.

Saint Michael,
watch over us during life,
defend us against the assaults of the demon,
and assist us especially at the hour of death.
Help us achieve the happiness
of beholding God face to face
for all eternity.

Amen.

Saint Michael,
intercede for me with God
in all my necessities,
especially

for the conversion of the world, 
that from pole to pole, 
dateline to dateline, 
all will call out Jesus' name. 

Obtain for me a favourable outcome
in the matter I recommend to you.
Mighty prince of the heavenly host,
and victor over rebellious spirits,
remember me for I am weak and sinful
and so prone to pride and ambition.
Be for me, I pray,
my powerful aid in temptation and difficulty,
and above all do not forsake me
in my last struggle with the powers of evil.

Amen.
 
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 8
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 7
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 6
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 5
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 4
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 3
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 2
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 1

Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 8

St Michael

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Rev 12: 17 – 18

This is day 8 of the Novena to St Michael. We are praying for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters around the world.

For today’s meditation, let’s think about the onlookers at Calvary.  

Every year on the Sunday before Easter, we re-enact the Gospel of Mark. In my parish, it’s the custom for the priest to take the role of Jesus and the parishioners to take the role of the condemning crowd that yelled “Crucify Him!”

But the actual crowd of that day when they crucified Our Lord was more mixed. The onlookers ranged from the holiness of Our Lady and the faithful women, to the taunting cruelty of the priests. 

These priests were not satisfied with what they had wrought. They followed Jesus to Golgotha and stood at the foot of the cross to taunt Him. 

“If He is the messiah,” they said, “let Him come down from the cross. He saved others. Let Him save Himself.”

This taunting mockery tells us two things. It demonstrates how completely these fallen priests were in the grip of satan, and it also shows how afraid they were of Jesus. 

This Jesus they were murdering had raised three people that we know of from the dead, but the one that upset the priests the most was Lazarus. In fact, it was the resurrection of Lazarus that pushed them into moving forward with their murderous plot. Now, they stood at the cross where Jesus hung, helpless and in agony, and mocked Him. He saved others. Let Him save himself, they said, as if to reassure themselves. 

But the priests were not the only ones who mocked Him. All along the way to the cross, the road had been full of gawkers, mockers and a smattering of genuine mourners. Most of these people probably left once the show of watching this desperately injured Man attempt to drag his cross up the hill was over. After he’d been nailed to the torturous device and, as He foretold, “lifted up,” there was nothing left to see but the slow dying of a totally humiliated human being. 

Most of them probably left, because they got bored. 

There were two groups to whom this whole affair was so deeply personal that they shared in His agony with Him. The first, oddly enough, was a group of people who were, by their own choosing, not there. The disciples who had followed Him, lived with Him, been taught and loved by Him, had run away from Him in His hour. 

Anyone who doubts the veracity of the Gospels should consider the raw and unflattering way these men described themselves. John Mark was in such a panic that when one of the soldiers who arrested Jesus grabbed his garment, he jerked free of both it and the soldier and ran away into the night naked. Peter suffered the ignominy of denying and cursing Jesus while Jesus looked at Him. The others fled like bunny rabbits into the darkness. 

They all went into hiding. They left Him to His fate. 

The other group stayed with Him throughout the ordeal. They stood at the foot of the cross, they buried Him in the tomb, and they came back a few days later to anoint his body for burial. 

This group was led by His Mother and included the women who followed Him, plus one disciple. John ran away with the others on the night He was taken. 

But He came back.

And he stood there with the women all that day long. 

Let’s consider what these faithful followers witnessed. The crucifixion of Our Lord did not resemble the prettied up presentations we see in the art that hangs on our church walls. 

It was ugly.

It was meant to be ugly. This kind of death was not meted out to Roman citizens, because Roman citizens were exempt from being reduced to the level that crucifixion took people. 

The cross was a protracted, humiliating death in which the person died alone, naked, in terror and in agony. 

The cross was then, and it is now, the full and complete message of how much God loves us. It was also then and is now a scandal and an embarrassment to those who want to follow a good-times god of prosperity and social acceptance. 

Those onlookers who gawked, mocked, ran away from and stood faithful before the cross can teach us a lot. It is not so much a question of which one of them would we have been back then as it is which one of them are we today. 

Christians are dying for Christ all over the globe. They suffer persecution, discrimination and terror on a daily basis. They are carrying their cross. 

But what of us? 

There is a large group of people who deny the fact of Christian persecution. They mock and jeer if the topic comes up.

There is another group who shrugs and says, What can we do? “What can we do?” is a fair question, if it is a question. “What can we do?” can easily be re-phrased to mean “How can I help?”

Put like that, as a beginning of a search for what we can, in fact, do, the question is both honorable and positive. 

But if it’s a dismissal, as in “What can we do,” said with a shrug and a turning away, then it is both dishonorable and deplorable. 

We are the onlookers as Christ is being crucified in our persecuted brothers and sisters today. 

Our first task is to pray. We need to pray for them, and for God’s guidance about what we can do for them. Our second task is to tell their story. Lift them up as the true martyrs for the faith that they are. Give them the respect they deserve by respecting their sacrifice for Our Lord. 

Never shrug and turn away from Christ crucified right in front of you. 

Pray and speak for them. Pray and witness to their witness. Pray and refuse to be silenced by the sneers and jeers of satan, speaking through the mouths of those who support this murder of innocence with their demands that we say nothing and do nothing for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Christ is crucified in the world today. We are the onlookers.

Mocker, gawker, run-away or faithful: Which one are you? 

 

Here is the Novena to St Michael for the Persecuted Church, Day 8. Please pray it and ask others to join you.

Glorious Saint Michael,
guardian and defender
of the Church of Jesus Christ,
come to the assistance of His followers,
against whom the powers of hell are unchained.
Guard with special care our Holy Father,
the Pope, and our bishops, priests,
all our religious and lay people,
and especially the children.

Saint Michael,
watch over us during life,
defend us against the assaults of the demon,
and assist us especially at the hour of death.
Help us achieve the happiness
of beholding God face to face
for all eternity.

Amen.

Saint Michael,
intercede for me with God
in all my necessities,
especially

for the conversion of the world, 
that from pole to pole, 
dateline to dateline, 
all will call out Jesus' name. 

Obtain for me a favourable outcome
in the matter I recommend to you.
Mighty prince of the heavenly host,
and victor over rebellious spirits,
remember me for I am weak and sinful
and so prone to pride and ambition.
Be for me, I pray,
my powerful aid in temptation and difficulty,
and above all do not forsake me
in my last struggle with the powers of evil.

Amen.
 
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 7
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 6
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 5
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 4
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 3
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 2
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 1

Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 7

StMichaelFace

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Rev 12: 17 – 18

This is day 7 of the Novena to St Michael. We are praying for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters around the world.

For today’s meditation, let’s consider Simon of Cyrene. 

Simon of Cyrene was a long way from home that day. Cyrene was a town in Africa, a former Greek colony, in the area we now call Lybia. 

He had probably come to Jerusalem for the Passover. He may never have heard of Jesus before that day. It is almost certain that he had no desire to get involved in this execution, much less be forced to help a bleeding, dying man carry His cross to His crucifixion. 

Roman soldiers had enormous power over the civilian population. They could arrest people on their own initiative, kill people who interfered with their duties, use people’s homes and provender to carry out their work and impress anyone they chose to work as free labor for them. 

When Jesus said If someone forces you to go with them a mile, go with them two miles, He was referring to the practice of Roman soldiers. They impressed random bystanders into carrying their loads and functioning as their beasts of burden. It was not a volunteer position, and the person who was forced into labor was not paid. 

That is what happened to Simon of Cyrene. He was evidently among the bystanders, watching the spectacle of three men, carrying the instruments of their execution to the place where they would die. 

The excessive cruelty the Roman soldiers had heaped on Jesus was causing them trouble now. This man they had beaten was so weakened by loss of blood and the injuries they’d inflicted that He fell repeatedly while trying to carry his cross. 

The Romans had a timetable. They were tasked with getting these three men on their crosses and dead before the Passover began that evening. The whole purpose of Jesus’ death was to spare their Governor the problems of an uprising. Breaking Jewish law by leaving these Jews hanging on their crosses alive after sundown might provoke the very uprising the Governor was trying to prevent. 

They didn’t have time to dally with a dead man, walking on the way to His final execution, Who was too weak to get there. 

The solution, for them at least, was simple. They grabbed a man at random, without knowing, as the authors of the Gospels did, his name, and forced him to carry the cross for Jesus. 

Simon doubtless thought this was his unlucky day. Here he’d come to Jerusalem on pilgrimage like the good Jew he probably was. He’d brought his two sons, Rufus and Alexander, and most likely the rest of his family, as well. It was supposed to be a holy time; a time of rejoicing.

And here he was, forced to stand beside this sweaty, smelly, bleeding wretch of a man — this criminal — and lift the heavy cross onto his own shoulders and help the man carry it to his death. 

Day ruined. 

Pilgrimage ruined. 

And yet something unexpected must have happened that day. Because scripture indicates that Simon didn’t just walk away. This indignity he suffered didn’t just fade into part of the family lore about what happened to Dad when we went to Passover in Jerusalem a long time ago.

The Gospel authors knew him. They knew the names of his sons. There is a familiarity about the way they identify him that makes it clear that Simon of Cyrene’s interaction with the followers of Christ went on past that horrible morning when He helped the Son of God carry His cross to Golgotha. 

This is satan’s hour, Jesus told His disciples. But even in this deepest darkness of the worst crime of our human history, the Light shone through. It touched the thief on the cross. It entered the soldier who confessed Him. And it evidently touched and stayed with Simon of Cyrene, as well.

It’s the same today.

Even in the deepest darkness of Christ crucified again in the persecution of His followers, the light of their witness, their fidelity, their awesome faith, shines through. 

These people who, in the face of unbearable terror, refuse to convert away from Christ, refuse to recant and deny Him, are the Light, shining for all of us. 

We need to set their light on a hill and let it shine so that it touches all of indifferent and callous humanity. Our first task as their brothers and sisters is to give their awesome witness to the faith the attention and respect that it deserves. 

Pray for an end to the persecution, yes. 

But in our praying we must pray also that their witness to the Truth is seen and known and honored in every church, before every Tabernacle and in every heart where Christ is worshipped around the world. 

Even in the deepest darkness, the Light still shines. 

Pray that we will have the eyes to see it, the courage to proclaim it. 

Here is the Novena to St Michael for the Persecuted Church, Day 7. Please pray it and ask others to join you.

Glorious Saint Michael,
guardian and defender
of the Church of Jesus Christ,
come to the assistance of His followers,
against whom the powers of hell are unchained.
Guard with special care our Holy Father,
the Pope, and our bishops, priests,
all our religious and lay people,
and especially the children.

Saint Michael,
watch over us during life,
defend us against the assaults of the demon,
and assist us especially at the hour of death.
Help us achieve the happiness
of beholding God face to face
for all eternity.

Amen.

Saint Michael,
intercede for me with God
in all my necessities,
especially

for the conversion of the world, 
that from pole to pole, 
dateline to dateline, 
all will call out Jesus' name. 

Obtain for me a favourable outcome
in the matter I recommend to you.
Mighty prince of the heavenly host,
and victor over rebellious spirits,
remember me for I am weak and sinful
and so prone to pride and ambition.
Be for me, I pray,
my powerful aid in temptation and difficulty,
and above all do not forsake me
in my last struggle with the powers of evil.

Amen.
 
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 6
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 5
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 4
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 3
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 2
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 1

Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 6

Michael archangel

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Rev 12: 17 – 18

This is day 6 of the Novena to St Michael. We are praying for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters around the world.

Today, let’s meditate on the soldiers who carried out the orders to crucify Our Lord.

Corrupt priests used their influence with the Roman governor of Judea to push him into consenting to the crucifixion of Jesus. This roman governor, whose name was Pontius Pilate, tried to avoid committing this murder, but in the end, he yielded to the pressure from the priests and ordered it.

Who carried out the order?

Roman soldiers.

Roman soldiers scourged Jesus until He was so weakened, probably from loss of blood, that He fell repeatedly on His way to Golgotha. Roman soldiers put a purple robe around his shoulders and a crown of thorns on His head and beat Him and mocked Him. Roman soldiers impressed Simon of Cyrene into forced service to help Jesus carry His cross.

They drove the nails, pulled the cross upright and cast lots for His robe. It was a Roman soldier who thrust his lance into Jesus’ side after His death and was drenched in the blood and water that flowed from it.

What of these men who were just following orders? How, other than as pawns on the stage of history, do they play in this drama?

These were hard men; harder than we can comprehend. First century warfare was man to man; hand to hand. Roman might was based on an infantry formation called the Roman Phalanx. This phalanx required steel nerves and total dependence on the man next to you to hold his place.

Roman soldiers fought as units who depended on one another for their lives. They also, as the Roman peacekeepers in this dusty outpost of Judea, were charged with the bloody business of putting down uprisings among the civilian population. When Pilate ordered the death of worshipers in the Temple, “mingling their blood with their sacrifices,” it was Roman soldiers who did the killing.

They were probably sick of the Jews and their uprisings and God-talk.

The Passover season was almost certainly a dreaded, disgusting time for them, with its crowds, high tensions and boring religious practices. When these men thought of “religion” they associated it with temple prostitutes and wild high drama. Fun stuff.

These religion-besotted Jews with their shalt nots and insistence on taking a day off every week didn’t even follow an entertaining God.

Roman soldiers, as soldiers everywhere, were probably early risers. But the ruckus these hoity-toity Jewish priests raised about the nondescript miracle worker from Nazareth not only disrupted their morning, it most likely got them out of bed early. It cheated them of the slower convivial start to their day.

Instead of enjoying their breakfast with their friends, they had to scourge this Jew.

They were good with the flagellum and whip. They’d scourged lots of people. It took strength, physical endurance and skill to wield the flagellum so that its metal ends dug through the skin and into the muscle below without actually tearing into the vital organs beneath.

Scourging a man almost to death in this fashion was hard, physical labor. This Jesus was to them just an unnecessary piece of work that was forced on them by these impossible people and their insulting religious demands.

Their cruelty with the crown of thorns almost certainly had nothing to do with Jesus directly. He was just a job of work to them. But they were angry. They almost scourged Jesus to death in their anger. Then, they tortured Him with their mockery and cruelty. 

Jesus was not a person to them. He was an addition to their workload and a disgusting annoyance. Truth be told, the devil-driven rage they vented with the whip and later with the crown of thorns was probably aimed more at the priests and the whole Jewish people than at Jesus.

They faced a hard, disgusting task that day. They had to execute two criminals by crucifixion. When Pilate added Jesus’ name to the list, that only increased their workload again. The other two men they were charged with executing were strong enough to carry their crosses. But the soldiers found that they had overdone the beating they gave Jesus.

He had lost so much blood that He couldn’t carry the cross. He fell repeatedly, until finally they had to force an onlooker to help him.

These Roman soldiers were hard men. Callous and cruel men. But they evidently weren’t spiritually dead men, at least not all of them.

Two people converted on that hill that day.

The first was one of the thieves. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom, he asked Our Lord. His reward for this simple act of faith was what we all long to hear; Today you will be with me in paradise. 

The second convert was one of the hardened Roman soldiers.

What was it that caused this soldier to exclaim, Truly, this man is the Son of God? 

How did he hear the Holy Spirit, speaking to him? God’s own Levitical priests and the Roman Governor would not hear this Spirit of God, even when, in the governor’s case, he was warned explicitly.

Why was this hardened soldier who had helped drive the nails the one who listened to that small, still voice?

How many of the soldiers and thugs who go out to torture, attack, rape, kidnap and murder Christians in the world today are turning their backs on the call of the Holy Spirit while they do it?

This Roman soldier was not a thug. He was part of a disciplined military unit of professional soldiers who depended on one another for their lives. But he stepped away from the groupthink of that unit and saw Jesus for Who He was. This same soldier had participated in the torture, degradation and ultimately, the murder of Jesus.

Yet the Holy Spirit gave him eyes to look past the blood and gore and into truth of Who he was dealing with.

He knew.

Those who attack Christians and murder them also know. The things they do are condemned first by the natural law that informs all of us that torture, rape, kidnapping and murder of innocence is wrong. There is no ameliorating explanation that can alter the wrongness of these things. There is no reason or excuse or idea that can ever make them right.

Those who attack Christians because they are Christians are also condemned by the voice of the Holy Spirit, speaking inside their consciences, telling them to stop.

It is a simple fact, and an ugly one, that the corrupt priests and cowardly politicians who demand these atrocities send other people to commit them.

Every hand that throws a rock or lights a fuse or lifts a gun against Christians is the hand of the Roman soldiers wielding the whips and driving the nails all over again. Persecuted Christians are Christ crucified, right in front of us. Those who carry out the persecution with their own hands are His executioners.

We need to pray for these executioners of the Body of Christ. Pray that they will put down their weapons and turn away from this blood sin they are committing against the Son of God. Pray that they will tell the corrupt priests and cowardly politicians to go to hell alone.

 

Here is the Novena to St Michael for the Persecuted Church, Day 6. Please pray it and ask others to join you.

Glorious Saint Michael,
guardian and defender
of the Church of Jesus Christ,
come to the assistance of His followers,
against whom the powers of hell are unchained.
Guard with special care our Holy Father,
the Pope, and our bishops, priests,
all our religious and lay people,
and especially the children.

Saint Michael,
watch over us during life,
defend us against the assaults of the demon,
and assist us especially at the hour of death.
Help us achieve the happiness
of beholding God face to face
for all eternity.

Amen.

Saint Michael,
intercede for me with God
in all my necessities,
especially

for the conversion of the world, 
that from pole to pole, 
dateline to dateline, 
all will call out Jesus' name. 

Obtain for me a favourable outcome
in the matter I recommend to you.
Mighty prince of the heavenly host,
and victor over rebellious spirits,
remember me for I am weak and sinful
and so prone to pride and ambition.
Be for me, I pray,
my powerful aid in temptation and difficulty,
and above all do not forsake me
in my last struggle with the powers of evil.

Amen.
 
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 5
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 4
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 3
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 2
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 1

15 Countries Named for ‘Systematic, On-Going’ Abuse of Religious Freedom

The US Commission for International Religious Freedom issued a recent report that named 15 Countries of Particular Concern because of the threats that their governments pose to religious liberty.

These countries are: Burma, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Viet Nam. The governments in these countries have “either engaged in or tolerated systematic, on-going, egregious abuse of the right to freedom of religion or belief.”

Based on the stories I’ve seen since I’ve been writing about Christian persecution, I would guess that the most consistently persecuted group in these countries is Christians.

From CNA:

Washington D.C., May 4, 2013 / 04:11 pm (CNA).- A recent report on international religious liberty cautioned that severe threats to freedom of religion exist in diverse communities through the world and should be discouraged through actions by the U.S. government.

“The Annual Report ultimately is about people and how their governments treat them,” said Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, chair of the commission that released the report.

“Religious freedom is both a pivotal human right under international law and a key factor that helps determine whether a nation experiences stability or chaos,” she explained.

The U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom gathers information throughout the year by meeting with government officials, citizens, analysts and non-governmental organizations across the globe in order to assess the state of international religious liberty. The independent, bipartisan group then advises the president, U.S. Congress and State Department on recommended actions to be taken.

Issued each year, the commission’s report marks “countries of particular concern” (CPCs), which are defined as “countries whose governments have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of the universal right to freedom of religion or belief.” The State Department has the opportunity to officially label CPCs and decide whether to impose sanctions or other penalties on each country.

The 2013 document recommended 15 countries to be designated as CPCs: Burma, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. (Read the rest here.)


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