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Living Hope: Lessons from a Persecuted Christian in the Middle East

Father Bazi (image via Facebook)
An Iraqi Catholic priest attributes his courage to God’s living within him.

One of the most moving moments of my year came the Saturday morning I interviewed Father Douglas Bazi. It was just before he would celebrate Mass in the Chaldean rite, just yards from the White House, in a Catholic chapel, at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C. Born in Iraq, he prayed the Mass, including the Our Father — “The Lord’s Prayer” — in the language Jesus spoke, Aramaic. He did so after explaining to me that religious faith is not just about worship, as some politicians have been wont to say in recent years. “It is not just about just worshiping God in the churches, but showing our Christianity outside the churches,” he told me. It’s about risking your life if that’s what circumstances call for, because that is the call of the gospel.

Father Bazi wanted to be a pilot growing up, but when he saw another follow the call to the priesthood, he realized it might be his own calling as well. He has always loved people, he tells me, and the great privilege of his life is to be an “instrument” of God in helping others do the same. He is so hesitant to talk about himself in these terms, so humbled is he that God would choose him for love in this way.

It so happened that I found myself in the position of apologizing to Father Bazi, about Americans’ going in and out and not necessarily helping the Christians in their plight in his homeland. And to Father Bazi in a particular way, who has himself suffered, tortured at the hands of Islamic militants during a nine-day captivity in 2006. I thank him, too, for doing what so many of us wonder whether we would ever be able to do.

He says two things in reply: “When people tell me, ‘You are really living the real faith,’ I explain to them that we are simply following our path.” Looking me in the eye, he says, “You would do the same.” His point is that it is not he, but God in him, God living within him. It’s such a counter to those who would manipulate faith in violent ways, claiming God would have them do evil. It’s a reminder that God can do amazing things if we trust Him to. That faith is “the most important thing,” as Father Bazi puts it.

You’re reminded listening to him how crucial it is that Christianity be a leaven in the Middle East region if peaceful coexistence is ever going to have a chance. It’s a reminder that the persecuted often have a whole lot more they can do for us than we can do for them, notwithstanding the awareness, education, advocacy, and support of the kind that the Knights of Columbus have been providing in a heightened and focused way in recent years with their relief fund for his people.

“I never blame God for what has happened,” he tells me, echoing so many conversations I’ve had now with Christians who have faced the reality of Islamic extremism face to face. “Who am I to complain about myself? Who is going to give me a right to complain to God? I’m not saying that I deserve this. But this is the cost to be Christian, to follow Jesus is not just carrying the cross.”

“Jesus was smart,” Father Bazi reflected. “He said, ‘Carry the cross and follow.’ ”

“Jesus was smart,” he reflected. “He said, ‘Carry the cross and follow.’ ” Follow means action, he explained. Follow means perseverance. Follow means trust. And, clearly reflecting on his own time of torture as well as on the uncertainty that so many who have fled the Islamic State from Mosul are living, he said: “When you are living through that bad event or tragic experience, the only thing that can make you survive is faith. In that moment, you will not remember how many certificates you have” or other accomplishments or credentials. He explains that you won’t question why you’re there, or where God is. Rather, you will realize that in your faith He has made you “bigger than the situation.” He recalls only desiring for his family and friends not to suffer in the same way or because of how he was suffering.

Father Douglas Bazi chose love. And if more of us do that and encourage and support those who do, some of the mire of anger and accusation that we’ve seen so much of might be alleviated. We might find ourselves rising above it and leading something beautiful. Father Bazi made me walk away feeling not in any way responsible for his situation but rather overwhelmed by his gratitude. He seems to have not an ounce of bitterness about him: someone who doesn’t present himself as anything special, anything more than a created being loved by His Creator, walking in trust the walk set out for him. Here at home we could do more of the same.

 — Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and an editor-at-large of National Review. Sign up for her weekly NRI newsletter here. This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

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