Though I could start a second blog for more controversial subjects, I really don’t have the time. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been active. A subject dear to my heart had me boiling over last month, the frequent and dastardly persecution of Christians around the world. It was a weekly, if not more frequent, occurrence that Christians were being killed or raped or forced to flee their homes and churches. I didn’t see much of a response from either our government, other western governments, religious leaders, especially Roman Catholics from the Bishops up to the Pope. Oh you had the usual condemnation, but only rhetorically and tepid rhetoric at that.
I decided to write a letter of frustration to His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, my bishop and most prominent American Catholic religious leader. I’m going to share my letter to the good Cardinal and his reply back. He replied almost immediately.
Before I get to the letters, let me just say that I was reluctant to post them on this blog, Ashes From Burnt Roses. Part of the mission of this blog is to be controversy free, and that certainly means avoiding politics. I insist on that first as a refuge from the grind of politics and hot button issues, but also to establish an environment for amicable discussion of literature and arts. Upon reflection, I don’t think this subject is stridently political, and I can’t imagine it being very controversial, unless you’re one of those who takes part in or derives joy in the persecution. Still there is a small element of the political in this, and for that you will have to excuse me.
Here is my letter to the Cardinal, dated October 10th, 2013. I believe I mailed it the next day.
As a parishioner of St. Rita’s on Staten Island, I am blessed to have you as the head of our dioceses. Since your leadership goes beyond our local issues, I wanted to make an appeal to you on the international crises of Christians being persecuted and killed across the world, but especially in Islamic countries. It is heartbreaking that every week we have another incidence of some horrific attack on Christians.
I am praying for peace. I am praying for the end of this madness. I am praying for these jihadists to come to their senses. But praying doesn’t feel enough when our leaders are not speaking out. The president of our country doesn’t seem to be speaking out. Even our Holy Father doesn’t seem to be speaking out. Both have made some overtures in the sense of condemnation, but when the slaughter happens week after week these little condemnations become to feel hollow.
My appeal is for some coordinated effort to put pressure on the heads of these countries to stop the violence. Where are the international efforts to isolate these countries? We have a strategy to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Good. But shouldn’t an equally important strategy exist to isolate these countries as well? Where are the economic sanctions? Where are the appeals in the United Nations to hold these countries accountable? I don’t see anything being done about the slaughter.
And if you think I’m just being overly agitated over this, now a respected Vatican analyst, John Allen, has written a book on the issue, titled, The Global War on Christians. He was quoted in a CNA interview as saying, “I don’t think it takes any religious convictions or confessional interests at all to see that defense of persecuted Christians deserves to be the world’s number one human rights priority.”
I know this coordinated effort is beyond your power to make happen. So my practical appeal is for you to use your bully pulpit and influence to get the leaders of our country, the other Cardinals to influence the leader’s of their respective countries, and even our Holy Father to press this issue further. We need to continue our prayers, but we need action too. I humbly ask for you to do whatever you can and make this a priority.
Sincerely, in Christ
PS. I am aware of your recent visit to the mosque on Staten Island, and that was good. But we also need for Islamic leaders to aid in this coordination. Perhaps whatever Islamic contacts you have can also help in this coordination.
The good Cardinal then replied back, his letter dated October 17th, 2013. I’ve blanked out my last name here but it was typed in.
Dear Mr. -------
Thank you most sincerely for your letter of October 10, 2013. Your thoughtfulness is deeply appreciated.
How grateful I am, Mr. -------, for your kindness in bringing your concern—one that I certainly share—to my attention. The persecution of and attacks on Christians across the world, especially in Islamic countries, is a serious matter which must be given careful attention by our government and religious leaders. You can be certain that I am as involved as possible--as is the Vatican.
With prayerful best wishes to you and your loved ones for a blessed fall, I am,
Faithfully in Christ,
Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan
Archbishop of New York
His handwriting is very nice, way better than mine. Well, there you are. No specifics but I trust he's doing something.
And then on November 11th, at the fall meeting of US Bishops, Cardinal Dolan gave a speech urging prayer and action against worldwide Christian persecution.
.- Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, urged his fellow bishops to be advocates of Christians persecuted for their faith around the world, encouraging prayers as well as action on their behalf.
“We bishops, as shepherds of one of the most richly blessed communities of faith on the planet, as pastors who have spoken with enthusiastic unity in defense of our own religious freedom, must become advocates and champions for these Christians whose lives hang in the balance, as we dare not allow our laudable battles over religious freedom at home to obscure the actual violence being inflicted on Christians elsewhere,” Cardinal Dolan told the bishops’ assembly Nov. 11.
and then further down:
In his address to the assembly, Cardinal Dolan said one million Christians have been killed for their faith in the first years of the 21st century, which he called “a new age of martyrs.” Citing the Pew Research Center, he said that over 70 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with restrictions on freedom of religion.
The cardinal invoked Pope Francis’ Sept. 25 general audience, in which the Pope asked Catholics whether they pray for persecuted Christians.
“When I hear that so many Christians in the world are suffering, am I indifferent or is it as if a member of my own family is suffering?” the Pope asked. “When I think or hear it said that many Christians are persecuted and give their lives for their faith, does this touch my heart or does it not reach me? Am I open to that brother or that sister in my family who’s giving his or her life for Christ?
Cardinal Dolan said these words must be answered both as individuals and as bishops. Supporting persecuted Christians should be “a defining element of our pastoral priorities,” he said.
In light of these grave global challenges, Cardinal Dolan made several suggestions for action.
The bishops should encourage “a culture of prayer for persecuted Christians,” both in private prayer and in liturgical intercessions, he said, noting that prayers after Mass for the conversion of Russia helped shape Catholics’ awareness of the victims of communism.
He encouraged the bishops to make others aware of the suffering of other Christians through their columns, blogs, speeches and pastoral letters. Bishops can ask pastors to preach on the topic and to launch study sessions and activist groups. They can also encourage Catholic media to “tell the stories of today’s new martyrs.”
The cardinal also stressed the importance of supporting organizations that have done “heroic work,” such as Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Catholic Relief Services and the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. He also praised the work of Protestant groups.
The bishops can insist that U.S. leaders listen to persecuted Christians and make their protection “a foreign policy priority,” he added, observing that this has not been a high priority for presidential administrations of either major political party.
I hope my letter had some impact, though I bet the cardinal had this speech in mind before my note. But who knows? One advocates and pushes and sometimes things fall into place. I shall have to frame the letter and hang it in my study. The only other non form letter I ever received from an official was from President George H.W.Bush back in 1992, and that’s hanging in my study.