A few days ago, I was on a panel at the In Defense of Christians National Leadership Convention on Capitol Hill discussing “Building Bridges between Eastern and Western Christianity.” The first question was about obstacles that get in the way of such bridges, leaving persecuted Christians out in the cold, with their very existence in the birthplace of Christianity in jeopardy.
Reflecting on this question later, I started thinking about Donald Trump (it must have been the cable news in the background). Donald Trump is the biggest obstacle.
I don’t mean Trump himself (to his credit, in the Cleveland debate in August, he actually talked about Christians being beheaded). What I mean is our limited attention spans here in the West.
We are bombarded by so much, and we’re so easily distracted, that there isn’t a lot of room for depth.
And so when the pope talks about hospitality to refugees, there’s a sudden awareness of something — with an image of a boy washed up on the shore — but without any context or understanding.
In that case, the most fundamental context is something Pope Francis talked about earlier this month during one of his morning homilies. That is: What people did to Jesus Himself has during the course of history been done to His body, which is the Church.
The biggest obstacles today are silence and ignorance and indifference — the lack of acknowledgment on the part of American Christians that when a Coptic Christian in Egypt is beheaded, that’s a piercing of the Body of Christ. If I am a Christian, then that Coptic Christian is my brother in a spiritually intimate way.
Christians have a responsibility. Christians in the media have a particular responsibility. We need to be telling more stories, showing more faces, profiling people who are helping.
We need to encourage and reward good journalism about persecution of Christians.
We need to pray together. I should be praying at Maronite churches, and Lebanese Catholics should be getting to know Our Lady Queen of the Americas here in D.C. There needs to be more of a palpable awareness of the diversity in the Body of Christ and the reality of the Body of Christ. Only then will we better tend to healing. Only then can we support and strengthen one another. Only then will we open our hearts and homes.
I often go back to what Pope Francis said during his first summer as pope, when he went to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa.
God is asking each of us: “Where is the blood of your brother which cries out to me?” Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: “poor soul . . . !” and then go on our way. It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged.
How many times a day — especially if we live in urban centers — do we say “poor soul” and walk away?
Pope Francis went on to say: “In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!”
We are all responsible for our sins of omission and commission. What are we doing? What are we not doing? If we are not examining our consciences, we are part of the problem.
The biggest obstacle is silence. The greatest barriers are indifference and ignorance.
When Pope Francis comes to America a few days from now, he will give us the opportunity to reflect on our lives and redeem our politics.
When Pope Francis comes to America a few days from now, he will give us the opportunity to reflect on our lives and redeem our politics. He comes for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia — the eighth of these meetings started by Pope John Paul II — to help renew family life. Like the Church in Cuba, which he will visit first, the domestic church of the family is suffering throughout the world. It faces a crisis in the West, where people don’t want to get married and don’t know how to stay married. The Supreme Court didn’t start this fire with its ruling in Obergefell this June; it has long been burning.
Whatever religion you practice, or even if you practice no religion, let Pope Francis remind you who you are. We Americans are a people with a responsibility to others, a people that cares for others, and we have the skill to juggle more than one issue at once. There is a resolution in Congress to declare what is happening to Christians in Iraq and Syria genocide. Urge your congressman to support it. Take a look at the relief efforts that the likes of the Knights of Columbus and Aid to the Church in Need coordinate and support. As the Syriac patriarch of Antioch put it in Washington, D.C., a few nights ago: These people feel abandoned.
The pope is coming to America so that no one will feel abandoned. Even the most powerful. Know your power.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. She is co-author of the new revised and updated edition of How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association. Lopez is a co-founder of Catholic Voices USA, which has been working with the World Meeting of Families and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in preparation for the pope’s visit.