Living on a Prayer

Christmas mass at the Mar Shemoni church in Bartella, Iraq, December 24, 2016. (Reuters photo: Ammar Awad)
Learning from the persecuted

Saint Patrick’s Day this year marks the one-year anniversary of a little bit of a miracle. It was on March 17, 2016, that then–Secretary of State John Kerry surprised the world — and not least, the activists who were pleading for this action — by recognizing that Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria are, in a particular way, targets of genocide. It was an exercise in truth-telling, one that has since been wrapped up in all sorts of electoral and post-election political-media frenzies.

I’ve come to think of Saint Patrick’s Day as a springtime Thanksgiving Day because of it. It was only a few days earlier that Father Douglas Bazi, a Chaldean priest from Iraq, celebrated a small Mass in Aramaic — the language that Jesus Christ spoke — at the Catholic Information Center, about a stone’s throw from the White House. As we prayed, even though the erratic nature of U.S. foreign policy in his part of the world had contributed to many people’s having to flee their homes (at best), he was filled only with gratitude. Having spent some time in terrorist captivity, he could have been bitter and had harsh words for us. Instead he exuded gratitude for the Americans who care what happens to his people. At the time, he was running a parish filled to the brim with people who had left Mosul rather than convert to Islam, living in temporary housing on Church grounds, trying to look ahead to an uncertain future.

Despite Father Bazi’s gratitude, his presence and testimony prodded contrition. How many of us take political positions without ever looking people in the eye who might be most severely affected by their unintended consequences? I remembered publishing and writing myself all sorts of commentaries in defense of the war in Iraq not so long ago, without ever giving someone like him a call. “What do you want? What do you need?” There were bipartisan contributions to the road to genocide – and evil is its true cause, of course. But we are a people with many opinions and distractions and short attention spans. And encountering people both at home and a world away who might otherwise be lost and forgotten goes a long way toward humanizing and broadening our political opinions and charitable contributions and prayers. It also might make us a beacon of hope for these people.

And it’s not just the victims of genocide in the Middle East, of course, who still see the United States as a light where lives and good can flourish and radiate. Melinda Henneberger from the Kansas City Star just went to Sudan, hosted by the Sudan Relief Fund. Even churches can’t protect the people seeking safe havens, because the churches themselves are targets. One priest recounted an attacker’s promise to crucify a Christian who got in his way.

As for the Saint Patrick’s Day miracle, a joint statement from human-rights advocates for religious minorities in the Middle East reports: “One year later, nearly all of the survivors of the ongoing genocide remain uprooted from their communities, either as refugees or internally displaced persons. Without security, aid, and economic revitalization, these communities may never be able to return and rebuild. To date, few, if any, of the survivors have received assistance from the American people through U.S. government and U.N. programs.” There’s more that must be done.

And remembering our own history might help us focus our minds and inspire in us some of the gratitude that seems to be second nature to Father Bazi, despite some of the worst of man that he’s seen and known and lived through. (He’s also seen some of the best in the face of evil.)

A new book on some of the Catholic history of New York begins with the images of missionary priests to what would become the capital of the world. George Marlin and Brad Miner describe Mohawks as being “impressed” by the “courage” of Jesuit Isaac Jogues, whom they dubbed “the indomitable one,” although his neck was eventually “hacked through with a tomahawk on October 18, 1646.” He was described by one historian as having “that peace which the world knows not of,” despite having fingers cut off, among other sufferings. If the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church, as Tertullian said, we have a rich past and present and could afford to mark “Paddy’s Day” with not only corned beef, Guinness, and parades, but prayer, and action of the sort that gives honor to those who do not have the religious freedom we enjoy — even with current challenges and controversies – and the God the major monotheistic faiths profess to live for.

— 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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