Feast of SS. Peter and Paul, Prayers for African Martyrs
Last night at a prayer service for Christian Martyrs in Africa, I shared the letters I received and sent to His Excellency, Ignatius Kaigama, the Archbishop of Jos, Nigeria, on the importance of joining together in peace and love as we support our persecuted brothers and sisters in Africa.
In our lesson just heard from God’s Holy Word, we read from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. In the same spirit, let me now share with you a letter I received a couple of month ago:
“My dear brother Timothy: Thank you for your recent expression of concern for my safety. It is in daily peril, especially on Sundays, but my people and I remain together and strong in faith.
As I send you these lines, I watch millions march in Paris and throughout Europe at the horror of the slaughter of journalists by Islamic extremists. I am glad this outrage is causing such worldwide protest, and we here in Africa are spiritual and moral unity with them.
But understand, please, how this only increases our sense of abandonment and isolation here in Africa. Europe and North America rightly abhor the massacre of writers for Charlie Hebdo, but we hear hardly a whimper about our 276 Christian girls, kidnapped, raped, disfigured, and probably soon to be murdered by Boko Haram here in Nigeria, or the ongoing religious cleansing in Sudan, or the continued harassment, injustice, and persecution of Christians in Egypt. Africa is the new coliseum, where we are thrown to the beasts, and the world seems deaf, blind, mute. Please do not abandon us! Do African Christians not matter?”
From my friend, Ignatius Kaigama, the Archbishop of Jos, Nigeria.
Now my reply:
“My brother, Ignatius: At least in this corner of New York City, in the shadow of the United Nations, in the parish where leaders and ambassadors worship, in the city proud to claim as neighbors your good people from Uganda, Ghana, Kenya, Chad, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Eritrea and French speaking Africa; in company with our Jewish friends who, too, are still hounded, and who have been full-throated in condemnation of your persecution; in company with our Islamic neighbors, eager for the protection of Christians, Jews, and their own peace-loving people who are victims of radicals as well; we Christians – – Catholics, Orthodox, Evangelical, Anglican, Lutheran, Armenian — are not deaf, blind, or mute. We hear you! We see what they are doing! We this evening speak up to God, to the unconcerned world, for you and your people.
We are in tears as well for the venom against Christians in the Mideast, where Christian families trace their roots back to the apostles, seven centuries before the arrival of Islam, a religion of peace, that, sadly, in the words of Pope Francis, has been “perverted” by hate by those whose extremism makes their appeal to God murderously illogical and an abomination;
We are conscious as well of attacks against followers of Jesus in India, Indonesia, and Pakistan;
We worry that hatred of Jews hardly lets up, and seems on the rise internationally, and that, as you tell us, Ignatius, your Islamic neighbors are under attack as well by radicals. The bishop in Aleppo, Syria, told me recently, that when their churches are torched and his people wounded, it is often their Islamic neighbors who help them rebuild and heal.
My brother Ignatius: you are aptly named after a martyr literally thrown to the lions in Rome nineteen centuries ago. We gather on the Feast of the Princes of the Apostles, the patrons of the Eternal City, one, St. Peter crucified upside down on a hill called the Vatican across the Tiber of Nero’s Rome; the other, St. Paul beheaded at the opposite side of the city. So we realize, Ignatius, as do you, that such persecution of believers is as old as the wood of the cross, forecast by the prophets of Israel, a warning given us by the Savior Himself.
We know, with you, Ignatius, that God can bring good out of evil, life from death, light from darkness, as we already witness such fruits, seeing all the children of Abraham – – Jews, Christians, Islam – – close in a bond of sorrow and solidarity Pope Francis calls an “Ecumenism of Martyrdom.”
We admit, with you and Africa, Ignatius, that, as the ancient African Church Father, Tertullian, assured us, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of faith,” and that your African soil, so purpled by massacred Christians, will produce an even greater harvest of faithful Christians.
We acknowledge all of this with you and your people of Africa, Ignatius . . . but even such beliefs do not keep us from crying with you, from apologizing that we in a country so rich in religious freedom and friendship, from a city where people, including so many from Africa, come as refugees longing for a sanctuary, a home, peace, security, where bended knee, folded hands, the sign of the cross, and confessing the name of Jesus will not bring fire and sword – – that we of all people have been timid in standing with you against today’s barbarians and shouting: No more! Enough! Stop!
You are not abandoned, Ignatius. Tonight, hundreds of your brothers and sisters, new citizens of their new home, yet never losing love for Africa, and ever mindful that we all have our true homeland in heaven, embrace Africa, and stand with you over the butchered bodies of your people, over the smoldering timbers of your churches, schools, convents, clinics, and hospitals, confident that God cries with us, that Jesus is still on His cross with you, that you and your people are not occasional sound bites or news trailers, but names, souls, brothers and sisters, God’s children, whom we will not and cannot forget.”
With fraternal love,