On May 2, in a front page editorial, we reported on, and deplored, the call by Saudi Arabia’s leading Muslim cleric for the destruction of all Christian churches in that region of the world. We warned that, given that cleric’s worldwide prominence, and the recent history of violence against Christian houses of worship in the Middle East, this was no idle threat. That was affirmed last weekend, with the bombings of a number of Christian churches in Nigeria that murdered 45 people and injured hundreds. According to Catholic News Service, the bombings are “widely believed to be the work of Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist group.”
As we prepare to embark this week on the Fortnight for Freedom called by our nation’s bishops in response to America’s own — much more subtle — religious freedom crisis, we are reminded by these acts of terrorism just to what extremes anti-Christian, anti-Catholic intolerance can be taken.
To some Catholics in America, this may encourage a misguided complacency about our own situation: “Well, we have it pretty good, no one’s bombing our churches.”
Instead, it should inspire us to greater action in defense of religious freedom; and perhaps to not a little shame in how easily intimidated we sometimes are in the face of social pressures that cannot begin to compare with the terror, persecution and suffering that our sisters and brothers in Christ endure in other parts of the world — and have endured at other times in history, as our back page feature on St. Thomas More reminds us — because of their courage in living and proclaiming their faith.
With that in mind, let us join in the Fortnight for Freedom activities in our diocese to whatever extent we can; but let us also be sure that this be just the beginning, not the extent, of our activities to defend religious liberty.
Grounding ourselves first, through prayer, in the loving guidance of the Holy Spirit, let us commit to making our voices heard in our communities and social circles, in media outlets, and in the halls of government at every level. Let us be strong and courageous in opposing government efforts to force us, individually and as Church, into actions that violate our Catholic teachings. Let us remind Caesar that it is not in the government’s purview to dictate to faith communities what is and is not part of their religious mission.
And let us be prepared, lay and clergy alike, to face the possibility of greater suffering for our faith in the days to come, beyond the social ostracization that has heretofore quieted the voices of far too many American Catholics in the face of injustices. In so doing, let us remember our courageous sisters and brothers who have, in our lifetime, been willing to accept greater suffering — including even arrest and jail time — for engaging in peaceful civil disobedience to protest unjust laws imposing racial segregation, or to rescue unborn children from death in abortion mills.
Before the current situation comes to that — before we are faced with the stark choice of disobedience to God’s law or civil disobedience of unjust human laws — let us stand up now in defense of the religious freedom that is our natural right, secured in our Constitution, but granted by Almighty God.