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Icon of St. Justin, Martyr

Yesterday, June 1st, was the memorial of St. Justin, martyr, a philosopher and orator of the second century A.D.  St. Justin converted to Christianity after witnessing the heroism of many Christians who were martyred by the Romans.  Inspired by their faith, St. Justin employed his oratorical skills to philosophically debate his new faith with pagans.  He’s considered one of the first great Christian apologists.  He was beheaded in 165 A.D. in Rome for refusing to believe in pagan gods and give up his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

As one reads about the lives of the saints – from the Apostles, to hundreds of popes, bishops and priests, to consecrated women, and to regular folks who were persecuted and martyred for having a strong and unwavering faith – several thoughts and images usually cross our minds.  It’s easy to visualize and cringe at the torture they endured for their faith.  We ask ourselves if we would have had the same courage, strength and faith that they had if we had been in their sandals.  Struggling to imagine the persecution and savagery directed at those who followed the Way of Jesus and chose to die rather than reject Him and kowtow to other beliefs, we say to ourselves, “Thank God I don’t live in those times!”

But, we do live in those times.  Christian persecution, especially Catholic persecution, is very much alive and well here in the 21st century.  For the most part, we Americans aren’t exposed to it domestically.  But, if we tune in to the not-so-mainstream media, or take a moment to search on the internet, we can have our eyes opened to atrocities committed to Christians around the globe.

According to opendoorusa.org, 340 million Christians (that’s 1 of every 8 in the world) live in hostile cultures that experience high levels of persecution and discrimination.  Many readers of this blog are from those countries.  In third place behind the U.S. and (depending on the year) the United Kingdom or the Philippines, is India in number of hits this blog receives.  China ranks sixth, and Nigeria, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Pakistan are all in the top 20.  I have to assume those are Christians rather than Christian-haters who are looking for inspiration.

It’s interesting to look at the basis for the persecution of Christians in those countries.  Christianity in India is in trouble.  India is predominantly Hindu, and has a national religion and culture that asserts that one must be Hindu to be Indian.  All others are openly persecuted.

China’s authoritarian government has mandated that every form of religion must be subordinate and submissive to the philosophies of the state.  Churches have been razed, and those which have not have had all crosses and other religious symbols removed.  The Church has gone underground and state authorities have been arresting and imprisoning bishops, priests and seminarians.  

In countries like Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon, extremist groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State seek out, rape and murder innocent believers, and burn villages that have Christian populations.  

And in many predominantly Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia, a multitude of laws are designed to discourage the practice of the Christian faith for fear of death.

For those of us who live in countries where freedom of religion is a protected individual right it is easy to be myopic and overlook or discount what is happening in other parts of the world.  We might easily feel their problems don’t affect us and admit that there is nothing we can do to help them.  But, we’re wrong.  The least we can and should do, but, yet, the most effective, is pray for those millions of souls who are keeping the faith under such horrific and unimaginable conditions.  Pray that they never lose their faith.  Pray that they find the courage to continue to be disciples and evangelize in small ways.  Pray that the day will come when they are free to practice their faith without any fear of persecution.  Pray that they will one day be able to openly give praise and glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit without fearing for their lives.  

When you take time each day to offer petitions for the usual cast of characters for whom you normally pray, won’t you take another couple seconds and offer up a prayer for those who will be persecuted that day? 

“Heavenly Father, I offer this post today for all those around the world who are persecuted for their faith in Your Son, Jesus Christ.  As readers check in from those countries, please let them know that we are praying for them; praying for their strength, patience and perseverance, and praying for their deliverance.  As with all the martyred saints, may their examples of keeping the faith inspire the rest of us.  Amen.”

(Christian Persecution: Then and Now was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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