Martyred Priest: I Can’t Leave My People

Fr. Frans van der Lugt. Courtesy: Wael Salibi.

Fr Frans van der Lugt. Photo Source: Wael Salibi

The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. Jesus Christ

Father Frans van der Lugt, SJ refused to abandon his parish and people in the face of danger. He was the only priest who stayed when the area in Syria where he lived was overrun during the Syrian civil war.

“I can’t leave my people,” he said, “I can’t leave my church. I am director of this church, how can I leave them?”

Days before Father Lugt’s 76th birthday, an unknown gunman entered his church, beat him and shot him in the head.

From Catholic News Agency:

Days after Dutch priest Fr. Frans van der Lugt S.J. was murdered in Syria, a close young friend recalled his saintly life, noting both his personal holiness and extraordinary advances in Christian-Muslim relations.Wael Salibi, 26, recalled how when the Christian area in Homs was taken over by rebels, 66,000 of the faithful “left their home, and just few of them stayed there. He was the only priest, he stayed in his church.”

“Just months before he died, he said ‘I can’t leave my people, I can’t leave my church, I am director of this church, how can I leave them?’” Salibi told CNA on April 11.Salibi, who hails from the now-ravished city of Homs, grew up as a close friend and pupil of Fr. Frans, who was brutally killed on April 7.  Days before his 76th birthday, an unknown gunman entered his church, beat him and shot him in the head.For the past three years Syria has been embroiled in conflict which sprang up after citizens protested the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president and leader the country’s Ba’ath Party

India: Faith Grows Among Persecuted Christians in Orissa

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We have been faced lately with the defection of a number of highly-placed American Christians on serious matters of faith. 

In particular, there has been a large retreat among political and intellectual Christian leadership on the question of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. They are either tossing marriage out the door altogether, or they are, as I was once counseled concerning abortion, urging the rest of us to leave our beliefs at home or inside our houses of worship. 

I’m not talking about one, specific, runner. I’m talking about a whole group of people who have grown fat off denouncing other people for not supporting the very values they are now running from themselves. Excuse me please if I won’t go along with their self-serving patter. 

But I’m not going to. 

I think they’re self-serving phonies. 

I also think that they should consider persecuted Christians around the world who are holding fast to the cross in the face of horrific suffering. 

A case in point is the persecuted Christian population of Orissa, India. Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar (Orissa, eastern India) says,

“Faith in Orissa is growing because of the persecution. This mission, in the face of violent persecutions, has become the focus of religious and priestly vocations.”

Consider, for a moment, what sincere Christians face in India. According to Archbishop Barwa, 

… the district of Kandhamal, where the majority of Catholics of the Archdiocese live, has faced untold persecution”. The highest point were the pogroms of 2008: “During the persecutions, there was an ethnic cleansing of all Christians in 400 villages, more than 6,000 houses, 340 churches and chapels, clinics and schools were burned and destroyed. Thousands of believers were injured, several women and girls, including a nun, were raped and about 60,000 men, women and children were left homeless”. The Bishop recalled that 75 Christians (22 Catholics, 28 Baptists, 12 Pentecostals, 5 of independent churches) and 8 non-tribal Christians were brutally murdered.

The text continues: “Five years after the persecutions, visiting the affected communities, the faithful say to the Bishop: the persecutors burned our houses, property, and killed our loved ones, but they did not manage to destroy our faith and cannot separate us from the love of Jesus Christ .We are proud to be Christians and proud of our faith”. Words and actions of this kind “are clear signs of growth in faith. They may be poor and illiterate, but rich people of faith”, he comments.
The Archbishop explains that still there is no guarantee that persecution will not be repeated: “We live trusting in God and making every effort, as individuals and communities, to build peace in Kandhamal, but we surrender to God and say: Let there be your will”.

He goes on to describe what I believe is beginning to happen here in the “Christian” West when he says, “Each growth is a process that requires pruning, trials and suffering.”

The devil is collecting the low-hanging fruit with the runners who are running away from traditional marriage in America today. These folks don’t need persecution to make them tuck tail and skeedaddle. If you stop and think about it, they’ve never really talked about following Jesus. Their focus for decades has been on denouncing other people. They haven’t urged us to live by our faith or even to bring people to Christ. Their entire focus has been on manipulating us into believing that being a Christian was summarized by how we vote.

The purpose of all this wasn’t our souls or the conversion of our culture. It was their power.

All they needed to switch horses on these issues they were pushing in lieu of actual Christianity was for the manipulations to stop delivering enough votes to give them the power. They are switching — and trying to get us to switch along with them — on 2,000 years of Christian teachings because denouncing people over those teachings has stopped being profitable. The minute they see the money is leaving the fight, they leave the fight right behind it. 

Christianity is growing in India because the Christians there are following Christ. 

Cowardice and Christianity don’t mix. Opportunism and political manipulations don’t mix with Christianity, either.

They never have.

Christianity was so ascendent here in the West that its popularity covered for the manipulators and cowards in our midst. But things are changing. Faithfully following Jesus is beginning to be a career breaker, rather than a career maker. 

We shouldn’t be surprised when people who were only pretending to follow Jesus in the first place fall away under these circumstances. It is inevitable. 

I am humbled by the persecuted Christians in our world today, those in Orissa among them. I know that God holds them close, because I know that none of us has the courage to stand toe to toe with satan incarnate and not run unless the Holy Spirit is empowering them. 

We need to help our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ in every way we can, including by praying for them every single day. I hope they in turn will pray for us.

Because their prayers avail much. 

Because they walk with God. 

 

The link to this article is courtesy of reader Fabio. 

All Saints Day: Grains of Falling Wheat

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12: 24

 

All Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation for American Catholics. It’s also one of my favorite feasts. I love that this solemnity for the many saints who have given their lives, either by dying for Christ or by living for Him comes at this time of year when the seasons are changing. The fact that we pause to remember our faith through memories of these many saints who have gone before us seems like a fitting way to prepare, once again, for the Coming of the Lord.

All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas; it’s like a wheel spinning us through the old story backwards. We begin by contemplating the great saints, then our own family and friends who have passed, to a family day of feasting and Thanksgiving. The wheels turns and we are in the period of self-examination and cleansing of Advent, then on to the day when we remember that God was made human for us and He is born again.

How could anyone not love that?

This year, the wheel spins through another quadrennial rite that is uniquely American. We will elect our president a few days after All Saints and All Souls Days.

I’ve been thinking about specifically political saints. Saint Thomas More, my name saint and a martyr for the faith, Saint Joan of Arc and Blessed John Paul II come to mind.

I also have thought about six saints, none of whom have been canonized, who were martyred in this hemisphere, at the hands of people who, many people believe, were trained and armed by our own American government. They died in the last few decades and their blood cries out to heaven to this day. They are, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Father Stanley Rother, Sister Dorothy Kagel, Sister Maura Clarke, Sister Ita Ford, and lay sister Jean Donovan.

Their stories are especially poignant because they are martyred saints who died at the hands of death squads and assassins who were most likely trained by the United States, ostensibly for the purpose of fighting communist insurgents in Central America. Whoever trained these men, (our government has assiduously blocked inquiries and denied involvement) it appears that the people they ended up “fighting” were the unarmed civilian population of those countries and the Church who tried to defend them.

One thing stands out in each of these stories: These were people who lived out their faith in Christ by walking in solidarity with the poor, the disenfranchised, the “disappeared.” They stood against torture, rape, murder. They gave their lives for this, and they did it in the name and service of Christ the Lord. As such, their lives and their deaths are a testament to the love of Christ and the power of faith in our world today.

I believe that Christians in America are rapidly approaching a time when we can no longer hide in our private piety. We are going to have to “choose this day whom we will serve.” When that day comes, I can think of no better models than Archbishop Oscar Romero, Father Stanley Rother, Sister Dorothy Kagel, Sister Maura Clarke, Sister Ita Ford, and lay sister Jean Donovan.

Archbishop Oscar Romero

Archbishop Romero was shot and while he was saying mass on March 24, 1980. He said, “I do not believe in death without resurrection … If God accepts the sacrifice of my life, then may my blood be the seed of liberty and a sign of hope.”

An article in Third World Sunday says,

“The Sunday before his murder, he denounced the military violence in El Salvador. In a rising voice, breaking with emotion, he called on ordinary soldiers to side with the people, to ignore the orders of their superiors. “Brothers, you are from the same people, you kill your fellow peasants … No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is contrary to the will of God … In the name of God then, in the name of this suffering people, I ask you, I command you in the name of God: Stop the represssion.’”

Father Stanley Rother

Father Stanley Rother was an Oklahoma priest who was murdered while serving in Guatemala, a country so rife with terrorism against the civilian population that it was known as “the land of the disappeared.” He was brought back to Oklahoma after it became known that he was considered a marked man in Guatemala. After three months, he told his family that he didn’t want his parishioners in Guatemala to feel that he had deserted them during the fighting. He didn’t want them to ask “Where were you when we needed you?”

In a letter to the people of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, he said,

The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger. Pray for us that we might be a sign of the love of Christ for our people, that our presence among them will fortify them to endure these sufferings in preparation for the kingdom.”

An article in the August 9, 2010 National Catholic Reporter said,

“Stanley told me that he would not be taken away and killed in the shadows,” said his friend, then Father, now Archbishop Harry Flynn. “Stanley was a strong man and intended to fight his assassins.”

In the early hours of July 28, 1981, Rother was attacked in the rectory by three men in ski masks, shot and killed. Rother’s knuckles were rubbed raw by the fight.

 

Sister Dorothy Kagel, Sister Maura Clarke, Sister Ita Ford,  lay sister Jean Donovan

Sister Dorothy Kagel, Sister Maura Clarke, Sister Ita Ford, and lay sister Jean Donovan were not only murdered, they were tortured and raped, as well, which makes them martyrs to violence against women as well as the people of Guatemala. They were kidnapped on the evening of December 2, 1980. Their bodies were left to rot on the side of the road. Stories have circulated since their deaths that their murderers were from death squads that were trained and equipped by our own country.

 

 

 

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