‘We Prefer to Be Killed Rather than Convert’

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Last weekend, Pope Francis went to Korea and remembered the lives of 124 martyrs — men and women beheaded in 1791 for refusing to submit to mandated Confucian rituals.

In Rome yesterday he reflected on the visit:

“The Republic of Korea,” said Pope Francis, “is a country that has had a remarkable and rapid economic development,” which he attributed in large part to the industry and discipline of the Korean people. “In this situation,” he continued, “the Church is the custodian of memory and hope: a spiritual family in which adults pass the torch of faith that they themselves have received from the elderly on to the young people,” of the new generation, so that, “the memory of the witnesses of the past becomes new testimony in the present and hope for the future.”

The Holy Father went on to say that the beatification of 124 Korean martyrs and the celebration of the sixth Asian Youth Day were concrete signs of this dynamic at work in Korea and all throughout Asia. “Dear brothers,” he said, “in the history of the faith in Korea we see that Christ does not erase cultures, does not suppress the pilgrimage of peoples, who, through the centuries and millennia, seek truth and practice love for God and neighbor. Christ does not abolish what is good, but brings it to fulfillment.”

The Pope also addressed the particular role of lay people in bringing the Gospel to Korean shores and fostering the growth of the Church in the country. “The Church took root in Korea and grew largely because of lay people, who saw the attractiveness of the Gospel and sought to live like the first Christians, in equal dignity and solidarity with the poor,” said Pope Francis in the English-language remarks read following his principal Italian-language address.

And today we do have new testimony, new witnesses, who speak to faith and hope and dignity. From the ongoing terror in Iraq, bold courage, via the Catholic News Service:

MANCHESTER, England - A group of 11 sick, disabled and elderly Iraqi Christians — including an 80-year-old woman with breast cancer — defied terrorists who ordered them to convert to Islam or be beheaded, saying they preferred death to giving up their faith.

The united resistance prompted the Islamic State extremists to drop their demands and order the Christians to immediately leave their village of Karamless after first robbing them of their possessions, according to one of the survivors.

Sahar Mansour, a refugee from Mosul, told Catholic News Service in an Aug. 18 e-mail that the group turned up at Ankawa refugee camp, where she is living, after they were released by the Islamist fighters. They had remained behind in Karamless because they were too weak to flee when the town was overrun by Islamic State militants the night of Aug. 6-7.

Mansour said she met the 80-year-old woman with cancer, who gave her name as Ghazala, in Ankawa Aug. 18 and heard her account of their escape.

“When the people of Karamless fled from the village they (the elderly) were alone,” Mansour said. “She (Ghazala) told me when they woke up in (the) morning they were surprised when they saw nobody in the village.”

Instead they were “afraid and terrified,” she continued, when they met masked fighters from the Islamic State, who ordered them to go home and remain indoors.

Mansour said Ghazala told her that on Aug. 16, the terrorists assembled the group “and told them either to convert or to be killed by sword.”

“Ghazala told me that all the people told the terrorists that ‘we prefer to be killed rather than convert,’ ” Mansour said. She said Ghazala added that members of the group scolded the terrorists for ignoring Islamic sacred texts that forbade forced conversions of non-Muslims.

Mansour said the elderly told the militants that the Islamic State had nothing to gain from the conversion of a group of sick, disabled and elderly people.

“When ISIS heard that they told the people to leave Karamless immediately, without taking anything, to leave with only with the clothes they were wearing,” she said.

“ISIS took all their money from all of them and their gold,” Mansour said, adding that one person had the courage to ask the terrorists to return some of their money so they could buy food for their journey to the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.

The group of five men and six women later arrived at the Kalak checkpoint, the gateway to Kurdish-controlled territory, in two cars. There, they were allowed to contact relatives already in refugee camps, who were taken to meet them, Mansour said.

Ghazala was reunited with her brother, and she is receiving medical treatment for her cancer.

What’s life without truth? Ghazala knows who she is and where her true homeland is.

“What would you die for?” Pope Francis asked during his homily at the beatification of the Korean martyrs. People are being asked that question today. We’d benefit by not looking away. We can’t afford to keep looking away. 

(Have you read The Global War Against Christians?)