Pope Francis: We Cannot Resign Ourselves to a Middle East without Christians

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

One of the remarkable things about last week’s coverage of the synod on the family in Rome is that there was popular media interest, and even before the working document that caused widespread misunderstanding.

It shouldn’t take a miracle to get today’s big event in Rome some coverage as the pope is focused on Middle East Christians, particularly in Iraq and Syria:

“We are witnessing a phenomenon of terrorism on an unimaginable scale,” he began today’s consistory. He continued: “Many of our brothers and sisters are brutally persecuted and driven from their homes. It seems that an awareness of the value of human life has been lost; it as is if people do not count and can be sacrificed to other interests. And unfortunately all this encounters indifference on the part of many.”

He emphasized: “We cannot resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians, who have professed the name of Jesus there for over two thousand years.”

(Text comes from Vatican Information Service’s English translation via e-mail.)

As for the synod on the family, its closing message included welcome, compassion, and that balance of “truth, justice, and mercy” the pope had been trying to strike in many of his public comments.

Pope Francis, I think, is sometimes more than happy to see an overemphasis on mercy, knowing that it’s often harder for people to believe.

Pope Francis ended the synod Sunday by celebrating the life of Paul VI, the pope who prophetically saw much of what we were doing to ourselves and begged us to pay attention. Now Pope Francis, in a very different style, makes his own pleas. And, yes, on many of the same issues as Paul VI: for the sake of women, men, human life, families, the poor, and peace. Like Paul VI did, he urges Catholics to take seriously the missionary mandate in the Bible.

In his apostolic exhortation (you’ll remember Francis had one of those late last year), Evangelii Nuntiandi, Paul VI wrote:

for the Church, the first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentically Christian life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time given to one’s neighbor with limitless zeal. As we said recently to a group of lay people, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” St. Peter expressed this well when he held up the example of a reverent and chaste life that wins over even without a word those who refuse to obey the word. It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelize the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus — the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity.

The world hasn’t exactly been overwhelmed by that witness in recent decades. That’s what Pope Francis is urging, that’s what he’s modeling. As he faces all sorts of decisions about governance and reform and emphasis and communication, it’s worth an ecumenical prayer that he has some success and he’s not alone. There’s a big Church out there to follow his lead in living faithful to the truth, justice, and mercy of the Gospel of Christ. It’s about encountering Christ and His Gospel; it’s seeking to lead people in real religious faith, not ideology. That, too, can be hard for us to see and believe. 


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