To Send Letters to the Christians of Baghdad

This morning, Maria Teresa Landi, friend of a friend, came up with an extraordinary  idea: send letters of encouragement to the Christians of Baghdad, who are suffering horrible persecution and killings. They are the Church’s modern-day martyrs.

By day’s end, the Nuncio at the United Nations was offering his diplomatic pouch (direct mail). He proposed to have all letters and messages sent to him by Tuesday night in a package and he will send the package to the Nunciature in Iraq on Wednesday morning.

Please address your emails to the families to His Beatitude Emmanuel Delli, Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad at tonuncio@gmail.com. He will print out the emails and put them in the pouch.

Are there not angels among us? Tere, who is active in the Communion and Liberation movement, is asking that her idea be distributed as widely as possible. Here are some excerpts from her beautiful email:

I kept thinking at their suffering, at their mysterious participation in the cross of Christ, and what this means for me and for the history of Iraq, the Middle East and the entire world. I thought to offer my work for them, to do it very seriously as my way to be present to them. And to pray for them, to ask the pastor of my Church to say a Mass for them, that they could be sustained in this difficult time and not feel alone in their struggle. That they could recognize Christ in these challenging circumstances.

Suddenly, I had an idea and this is why I am writing to you.

In addition to praying for them, why don’t we all write letters to them, many, many letters as soon as possible, also from our kids, to tell them that we are with them, that even if we are far away, we are One in Christ, we pray for them, and we thank them for their presence in that precious land and in our lives? We can witness to them the miracles we see in our lives, the path we are following, our certainty in the presence of Christ in any circumstance, so they could be sustained in their faith.

It is a small gesture, like a drop in the ocean, but Christ can use it to make great things, because, as He said, when two or three are gathered in His name, He is in their midst.

UPDATE: From our friend Elizabeth Scalia, Out of Iraq: The Gospel Message Writ Large.

UPDATE II: Thoughts of St. Cyprian on Martyrdom.

Update III: A Dedication (or two).

Update IV: To Send Supplies to Iraqi Christians.

To Ask Mary to Pray For Us— in Arabic

Asking for the intercession of Our Lady may be the best course of action each one of us can take to help bring about peace in the Middle East for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters. Our Lady is held in high esteem in the Islamic world, as well she should be, and our prayer requests to her are effective.

I spent some time in the Middle East and a friend of mine tipped me off to the Hail Mary in Arabic.

Those who speak Arabic fluently can tell you that regional dialects can identify where the speaker is from. I’m not sure which part of the Middle East this recording comes from. I only know that even in Arabic this petition to Our Lady is beautiful and profound.

Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen

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UPDATE! Write a letter to the diocese in Baghdad! Here’s how.

Because Vincent de Paul was Once a Muslim’s Slave

Life got you down? Things perhaps haven’t turned out as you planned? Do you think everyone else has got it so easy? Your neighbors, for example, or those fortunate people who come into a considerable sum of money?

And how about those saintly types? They are simply walking on air, those guys, living lives of complete and blessed beatitude, right? Hold up!

While in Heaven the saints enjoy the beatific vision, but while they were here on earth? They were slogging it out with the rest of us. And that even includes those who were fortunate enough to be blessed with an earthly inheritance.

Take St. Vincent de Paul for instance (today is his feast day). Following his being ordained a priest, in the year of Our Lord 1605, he received news that someone had left him an inheritance. Saints be praised! Come and see where this development led him.

Once Upon a Time, over four hundred years ago…

The young priest’s life flowed on peacefully for the next five years, and then a startling adventure befell him. An old friend of his died at Marseilles, and Vincent received news that he had been left in the will a sum of fifteen hundred livres, which in those days was a considerable deal of money. Vincent’s heart was full of gratitude. What could he not do now to help his poor people. And he began to plan all the things the legacy would buy till it struck him with a laugh that ten times the amount could hardly get him all he wanted. Besides, it was not yet in his possession, and with that reflection he set about his preparations for his journey to Marseilles.

He probably went the greater part of the way on foot, and it must have taken him about as long as it would take us to go to India. But he was a man who had his eyes about him, and the country which he passed through was alive with the history he had read. Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, and the scandal, now two hundred years old, of the two popes, would be brought to his mind by the very names of the towns where he rested and the rivers which he crossed, but at length they were all left behind, and Marseilles was reached.

His business was soon done, and with the money in his pocket he was ready to begin his long walk back to Toulouse, when he received an invitation from a friend of the lawyer’s to go in his vessel by sea to Narbonne, which would cut off a large corner(of his journey). He gladly accepted and went on board at once. But the ship was hardly out of sight of Marseilles when three African vessels, such as then haunted the Mediterranean, bore down upon them and opened fire.

The French were powerless to resist, and one and all refused to surrender, which so increased the fury of the Mohammedans that they killed three of the crew and wounded the rest. Vincent himself had an arm pierced by an arrow, and though it was not poisoned, it was many years before the pain it caused ceased to trouble him. The ‘Infidels’ boarded the ship, and, chaining their prisoners together, coasted about for another week, attacking wherever they thought they had a chance of success, and it was not until they had collected as much booty as the vessel could carry that they returned to Africa.

Vincent and his fellow-captives had all this while been cherishing the hope that, once landed on the coast of Tunis, the French authorities would hear of their misfortunes and come to their aid. But the Mohammedan captain had foreseen the possibility of this and took measures to prevent it by declaring that the prisoners had been taken on a Spanish ship. Heavy were their hearts when they learned what had befallen them, and Vincent needed all his faith and patience to keep the rest from despair.

The following day they were dressed as slaves and marched through the principal streets of Tunis five or six times in case anyone should wish to purchase them. Suffering from wounds though they were, they all felt that it was worth any pain to get out of the hold of the ship and to see life moving around them once more. But after awhile it became clear that the strength of many was failing, and the captain not wishing to damage his goods, ordered them back to the ship where they were given food and wine, so that any possible buyers who might appear next day should not expect them to die on their hands.

Early next morning several small boats could be seen putting out from the shore, and one by one the intending purchasers scrambled up the side of the vessel. They passed down the row of captives drawn up to receive them; pinched their sides to find if they had any flesh on their bones, felt their muscles, looked at their teeth, and finally made them run up and down to see if they were strong enough to work. If the blood of the poor wretches stirred under this treatment they dared not show it, and Vincent had so trained his thoughts that he hardly knew the humiliation to which he was subjected.

A master was soon found for him in a fisherman, who wanted a man to help him with his boat. The fisherman, as far as we know, treated his slave quite kindly; but when he discovered that directly the wind rose the young man became hopelessly ill, he repented of his bargain, and sold him as soon as he could to an old chemist, one of the many who had wasted his life in seeking the Philosopher’s Stone.

The chemist took a great fancy to the French priest and offered to leave him all his money and teach him the secrets of his science if he would abandon Christianity and become a follower of Mohammed, terms which, needless to say, Vincent refused with horror. Most people would speedily have seen the hopelessness of this undertaking, but the old chemist was very obstinate, and died at the end of a year without being able to flatter himself that he had made a convert of his Christian slave.

The chemist’s possessions passed to his nephew, and with them, of course, Father Vincent. The priest bore his captivity cheerfully, and did not vex his soul as to his future lot. The life of a slave had been sent him to bear, and he must bear it contentedly whatever happened; and so he did, and his patience and ready obedience gained him the favour of his masters.

Very soon he had a new one to serve, for not long after the chemist’s death he was sold to a man who had been born a Christian and a native of Savoy, but had adopted the religion of Mohammed for worldly advantages. There were many of these renegades in the Turkish service during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and nearly all of them were men of talent and rose high.

Vincent de Paul’s master had, after the Turkish manner, married three wives, and one of them, a Turk by birth and religion, hated the life of the town where she was shut up most of the day in the women’s apartments, and went, whenever she could, to her husband’s farm in the country, where Vincent was working. It was a barren place on a mountain side, where the sun beat even more fiercely than in Tunis; but at least she was able to wander in the early mornings and cool evenings about the garden, which had been made with much care and toil.

Here she met the slave, always busy—watering plants, trimming shrubs, sowing seeds, and generally singing to himself in an unknown tongue. He looked so different from the sad or sullen men she was used to see that she began to wonder who he was and where he came from, and one day she stopped to ask him how he happened to be there. By this time Vincent had learned enough Arabic to be able to talk, and in answer to her questions, told her of his boyhood in Gascony, and how he had come to be a priest.

“A priest! What is that?” she said.

And he explained, and little by little he taught her the doctrines and the customs of the Christian faith.

“Is that what you sing about?” she asked again. “I should like to hear some of your songs,” and Vincent chanted to her,

“By the waters of Babylon,” feeling, indeed, that he was “singing the Lord’s songs in a strange land.”

And day by day the Turkish woman went away, and thought over all she had heard, till one evening her husband rode over to see her, and she made up her mind to speak to him about something that puzzled her greatly.

“I have been talking to your white slave that works in the garden about his religion—the religion which was once yours. It seems full of good things and so is he. You need never watch him as you do the other men, and the overseer has not had to beat him once. Why, then, did you give up that religion for another? In that, my lord, you did not do well.”

The renegade was silent, but in his heart he wondered if, indeed, he had “done well” to sell his soul for that which had given him no peace. He, too, would talk to that Christian slave, and hear if he still might retrace his steps, though he knew that if he was discovered death awaited the Mohammedan who changed his faith.

But his eyes having been opened he could rest no more,and arranged that he and Vincent should disguise themselves and make for the coast, and sail in a small boat to France. As the boat was so tiny that the slightest gale of wind would capsize it, it seems strange that they did not steer to Sicily, and thence journey to Rome; but instead they directed their course towards France, and on June 28, 1607, they stepped on shore on one of those long, narrow spits of land which run out into the sea from the little walled town of Aigues-Mortes.

Vincent drew a long breath, as after two years captivity he trod on French soil again. But he knew how eager his companion was to feel himself once more a Christian, so they only waited one day to rest, and started early the next morning through the flowery fields to the old city of Avignon. Here he made confession of his faults to the Pope’s legate himself, and was admitted back into the Christian religion. The following year he went with Father Vincent to Rome, and entered a monastery of nursing brothers, who went about to the different hospitals attending the sick and poor.

It is very likely that it was Father Vincent’s influence that led him to take up this special work, to which we must now leave him, for on the priest’s return to Paris, he found a lodging in the Faubourg SaintGermain, close to the Hopital de la Charity—the constant object of his care for some months.

And did I mention that St. Vincent is an Incorruptible?

You can read the rest of St. Vincent de Paul’s story in The Book of Saints and Heroes by Leonora Lang on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

This was originally posted on Novermber 12, 2010. Happy Feast of St. Vincent de Paul!

Because My Pope says “Read the Bible!”

I can remember the days when I just knew that Catholics were clueless about the Bible. My wife was, for example. Of course, that was before I bumped into Blaise Pascal, and Thomas à Kempis, St. Francis de Sales, et al.

But those guys are all high-powered super Catholics, you may be saying to yourself. Well my Pope just published Verbum Domini, and a lot of converts like me are turning cartwheels over it. What follows are a few short paragraphs that will give you an idea why there is cause to celebrate.

Because if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: we are a Bible-believing Church!

72. Encountering the word of God in sacred Scripture

If it is true that the liturgy is the privileged place for the proclamation, hearing and celebration of the word of God, it is likewise the case that this encounter must be prepared in the hearts of the faithful and then deepened and assimilated, above all by them. The Christian life is essentially marked by an encounter with Jesus Christ, who calls us to follow him. For this reason, the Synod of Bishops frequently spoke of the importance of pastoral care in the Christian communities as the proper setting where a personal and communal journey based on the word of God can occur and truly serve as the basis for our spiritual life. With the Synod Fathers I express my heartfelt hope for the flowering of “a new season of greater love for sacred Scripture on the part of every member of the People of God, so that their prayerful and faithfilled reading of the Bible will, with time, deepen their personal relationship with
Jesus.”

Throughout the history of the Church, numerous saints have spoken of the need for knowledge of Scripture in order to grow in love for Christ. This is evident particularly in the Fathers of the Church. Saint Jerome, in his great love for the word of God, often wondered: “How could one live without the knowledge of Scripture, by which we come to know Christ himself, who is the life of believers?” He knew well that the Bible is the means “by which God speaks daily to believers.” His advice to the Roman matron Leta about raising her daughter was this: “Be sure that she studies a passage of Scripture each day…Prayer should follow reading, and reading follow prayer…so that in the place of jewellery and silk, she may love the divine books.”

Jerome’s counsel to the priest Nepotian can also be applied to us: “Read the divine Scriptures frequently; indeed, the sacred book should never be out of your hands. Learn there what you must teach.” Let us follow the example of this great saint who devoted his life to the study of the Bible and who gave the Church its Latin translation, the Vulgate, as well as the example of all those saints who made an encounter with Christ the center of their spiritual lives. Let us renew our efforts to understand deeply the word which God has given to his Church: thus we can aim for that “high standard of ordinary Christian living” proposed by Pope John Paul II at the beginning of the third Christian millennium, which finds constant nourishment in attentively hearing the word of God.

Read the whole document here.

To Pray for the Christians of Iraq

Post by Allison Salerno,
I drive New Jersey highways to work each morning, one uninspiring state road after another. Lately, I have found a scenic side road, right before I pull up to the large public high school where I work. The subdivision has large yards and ranch homes festooned for the season. Pumpkins, bales of hay and scarecrows dot the lawns. Some folks even have started to display Christmas wreaths even.

As I was navigating these hilly pretty suburban streets, a news report came on my car radio about more Christians killed in Iraq. Overnight, bomb attacks targeted Christian homes in the Baghdad neighborhoods of al-Mansour, al-Duarah and Sara Camp.

Al-Qaida– the same folks who murdered innocents on Sept. 11 – including dozens of my husband’s friends – is taking “credit” for the massacre of more than 50 worshippers, including priests, at Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad at a vigil Mass for All Saint’s Day.

It is considered the worst attack on Iraqi Christians in modern times. This is the land we learned as children was the “Fertile Crescent,” the “Birthplace of Civilization” 4,000 years ago. God have mercy on us all.

How many of us Americans consider ourselves Christians and yet do little to live out our faith day by day? How many of us would be willing to be martyrs, to pray in public no matter what the consequences? Would we be willing to die for the faith?

A dear friend, whose father works in Jordan with Iraqi Christian refugees, tells me the persecution of Iraqi Christians has been unrelenting ever since Saddam Hussein was ousted from power. Hussein was brutal, for sure, but he had other targets, such as the Kurds, for his persecution.

Let us pray none of us blessed enough to be living in countries where religious freedom is cherished take our faith for granted. Let us pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Iraq and every place where Christians are persecuted. Let us pray for the souls of their tormentors too. May they begin to understand that God gazes on us all and waits for us to turn our hearts to Him.

UPDATE: To Send Supplies to the Christians of Iraq.

A Statement and a Prayer (A Few Words for Wednesday)

Today is a High Holy Day for Marines like me. On this day in 1775, the Continental Congress agreed to form two battalions of Marines. The committee that decided this met at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, over beers of course, and the Continental Marines were born.

So those of us who have earned the title Marine, have two birthdays, the second of which we all celebrate today. I’m thankful that I was blessed to be a Marine. But I also know that my time in the service, and those of my brother and sister Marines, has left me with an unsettled feeling about the wars we have been called on to fight of late. Coming up on 10 years in Afghanistan? Sheesh.

Sigfried Sassoon (that’s him in uniform above) is regarded as one of the best “war poets” of all time. He served bravely during World War I, and was awarded a medal for gallantry. But he also experienced the horror of total war, and this in a war that destroyed an entire generation of the “best and brightest” of Europe.

Below are thoughts of Sassoon’s that were published in the English newspapers in 1917. They caused quite an uproar at the time. But the salient points he raises should, in my humble opinion, be raised again today.

Sassoon’s Public Statement Of Defiance

I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.

I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerity’s for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being practised on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realize.

Later in life, Sassoon converted to Catholicism. It is difficult to readily find any of his later Catholic poems (you can find most of his war poems easily) but I did find this one to share. This is the prayer of an old soldier. Someone who has seen the world at its worst, despite it’s best intentions, and has found solace at the foot of the Cross.

A Prayer in Old Age

Bring no expectance of a heaven unearned
No hunger for beatitude to be
Until the lesson of my life is learned
Through what Thou didst for me.

Bring no assurance of redeemed rest
No intimation of awarded grace
Only contrition, cleavingly confessed
To Thy forgiving face.

I ask one world of everlasting loss
In all I am, that other world to win.
My nothingness must kneel below Thy Cross.
There let new life begin.

Semper Fidelis

From the Time Capsule: The Making of a Chinese Nun, circa 1917.

Here is something I stumbled upon recently. It’s from the year 1917, when even in the United States women didn’t have the right to vote yet. I have been to many places in the world, and although as a culture we Americans like to think we have really come “a long way” and solved all the major problems, many of the women of the world still live in the way this young Chinese Catholic nun describes. Tell us a story Father Truarrizaga.

The Making Of A Chinese Nun by Rev. J. M. Truarrizaga, O.F.M.

The roads by which Chinese girls reach Christianity are often devious and full of danger. But not only do many of the rescued and converted children become fervent Catholics, but a few of them choose the religious life. Sad, indeed, is the early history of Shensi’s native nun, but a special Providence protected her and she is now safe among the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.–J.M.T. [Read more…]

What to Teach the RCIA Class about the Saints?

This coming Sunday, (and the Monday evening following) I’ve been asked to teach the RCIA Catechumens and Candidates from my parish a class on the Communion of Saints. What should I tell them? What questions should I be prepared for? What do you think they want to know? What would you like to know if you were them?

Aside from the dry, formulaic, and dare I say it, boring (!) presentations on the saints that many have endured, what would you suggest?

I’m excited about the saints, because as you know, I think they are hards corps. So I don’t think I’ll bore anyone to death, but I don’t want to scare anyone either (the horror!). And I’m humble enough to admit that I don’t have all the answers either.

So shoot me your suggestions in the comm box below. And I promise an “after-action” report when I’m all finished (including how many people I put to sleep).

Thanks for your help!

Thanks to Cat Stevens (Music for Mondays)

One of my old “friends” from my teenage years was British singer-songwriter Cat Stevens. I spent hour upon hour listening to his music on my stereo. I loved his acoustic guitar and his hopeful, spirit-infused lyrics. His dark good looks didn’t hurt either.

Now Cat Stevens is 62 years old. He famously converted to Islam in 1977 after he nearly died in a swimming accident off the California coast. He goes by the name Yusuf Islam and until 2006 largely abandoned a commercial singing career. I do not share his religious beliefs. But that in no way diminishes my love of the sweet, soul-searching music he made as performer Cat Stevens. Come, give a listen.

Father and Son. The other day, I was cleaning our kitchen and pantry, listening to his old music on Pandora radio. “Father and Son” came on and I  meditated on how  – as the mother of adolescents – our lives have a way of circling back on themselves.

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Morning Has Broken. Here is another gem, from 1976, giving praise to God’s creation.

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Remember Moonshadow? For me, this song has always reminded me to feel the presence of Christ, no matter what my circumstances. “Did it take long to find me? I asked the faithful light. Did it take long to find me? And are you going to stay the night?”

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Another Saturday Night. Compare the sentiments expressed here to those of today’s some performers today. The narrator wants to spend an evening with a girl, someone he can talk to, someone he can share his life with.

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Where Do The Children Play? I’ve always been fond of this song. It talks about how we are industrializing the world, and leaving few places for children to play. This song feels truer than when he sang it in his 1976 world tour.

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Here he is in 2006, at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, singing Peace Train. I don’t share this man’s religious views, or his politics. I do share his belief that poverty can beget violence, and his prayer for a world where all God’s creatures may live peacefully. I’m reminded what Pope John Paul II once said: “War is a defeat for humanity.”

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YIMC Bookclub: Wise Blood

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I’ve been having a rollicking good time reading Flannery O’Conner’s Wise Blood. I’ve finished the first seven chapters and the cast of characters is setting us up for the the main event.

Did you know director John Huston, the voice of Gandalf the Grey in the animated The Hobbit, adapted this novel to film?.

So far we’ve met our “hero” Hazel, of Eastrod Tennessee (for sound effects, read this as Tannersee), and everyone he meets pegs him for a preacher. He hates that, by the way, and has a brilliant idea to be a preacher (after all) for “The Church Without Christ. As Hazel grapples with this idea though, his thoughts can’t seem to escape the impossibility of such a thing.

But look, I’ve been real busy lately and although I am enjoying this book (my first taste of Flannery), I haven’t been able to think much on it and write about it.

But I found that Roy Peachey, of The Catholic English Teacher blog has posted a link to a couple of podcasts he found given by Amy Hungerford of Yale University. So head on over to Roy’s blog and check out Ms. Hungerford’s lectures in the interim.

And while you’re at Roy’s place, see what else he has to offer. You’ll be glad you did. But absolutely do not watch the John Huston film until you’ve finished reading the book. I’ll know if you did.

After the dust settles around my area, I’ll punch out my impressions of Wise Blood shortly. I can’t wait to see what Hazel, Enoch Emery & company have in store for us.