If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.
A group of protesters has stormed parishes in the Diocese of Washington, chanting anti-Catholic slogans and distributing fundamentalist literature.
Three or four D.C.-area parishes have had the protesters stand outside the doors with bullhorns at Mass times and engage Catholics entering and leaving the church. In at least two cases, the protesters have entered the church before Mass began, and had to be removed by local police.
Father Mike Jones, pastor of St. Pius X parish in Bowie, Maryland, wrote in the parish bulletin about the group’s protest at St. Pius. Father Mike described the incident and encouraged his parishioners to follow the Gospel admonition to turn the other cheek:
We don’t have to go to the other side of the world to experience religious extremists. At St. Pius we got a taste of this last weekend. As parishioners and I exited church after our 5pm Saturday vigil Mass, we were assaulted by shouting and hatred being spewed by protesters standing at both our driveways. Armed with megaphones and brandishing signs, these “christians” ranted for more than 30 minutes about everything they view as “evils” of our Catholic faith. They attacked our dogmas, teachings, practices and leaders, including Pope Francis!
Who are they? We don’t yet know. When they drove off after high five-ing each other on their “good job”, I noticed their car had Maryland plates. Someone thought they are members of a fundamentalist bible church in southern Maryland. Earlier in the week they were in front of Bowie High School shouting “repent or else!”
Since this approach clearly does not win any converts, you have to ask, what is the point? As I see it, the point is distraction and division and to that we say NO. Their timing was perfect as we concluded our “Give Love” message series and were being challenged to live and love like Christ. And this is what we must do in the face of hatred, violence, and terrorism…wherever it rears its ugly head. The worst thing we can do (and what our protesters are hoping we do) is shout back, counter hatred with hatred, anger with anger. But if we do this, it only gives legitimacy and publicity for their cause.
Parishioners asked me last Saturday, what should we do? My response, “smile and wave.” If we are being accused of not being ‘true Christians’, let’s prove them wrong. Let’s turn the other cheek, love ’til it hurts and remember Christ’s words in the Gospel, “Woe to you when all speak well of you. Thus they treated the false prophets in the same way.”
An email has been distributed to the 139 parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington, describing the assaults and explaining how to handle any protests at area parishes. According to the Washington Post,
In an Oct. 30 e-mail to the archdiocese’s priests, Bishop Barry Knestout — its top administrator — laid out what had happened and what church staff and volunteers should do if the group reappears.
“From what we can piece together from witness accounts, the group is protesting the teachings of the Catholic Church, Church leaders and the Holy Father,” Knestout wrote in the e-mail. “In all instances, they appeared on parish property with bullhorns and began shouting at parishioners who were going into or coming out of Mass and handed out fundamentalist literature. In two instances, the group stormed the inside of the church just before Mass began and were promptly removed by attentive ushers and off-duty law enforcement. . . . Should you encounter such protesters at your parish, please do not hesitate to contact your local police.”
He continued: “Our pastoral response will be that we welcome everyone to the liturgy, but it is disrespectful to use the Mass as a venue for protesting. If possible, please consider having a priest available to speak with the protesters outside of church.”
The Washington Archdiocese offered a sample message which parishes might employ, if they are visited by this hostile protest group:
“The Catholic Church welcomes all people. There are those who oppose the teachings of the Church and are in need of our prayers. So let us pray for the conversion of their hearts and offer a prayer that they may find peace.”