This year, due to the reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, in many parts of the Catholic world the faithful will not be allowed to partake in the Holy Week ceremonies; the liturgical celebrations will be carried out behind closed doors. While the world has been occupied with the spread of the coronavirus—especially since it appears to be the only tragedy covered by the mainstream media—one “pandemic” which has been all but put on the back burner should remind us of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. It is the story of those who will never be able to attend Mass in church: the unforgotten Christians who have been and continue to be persecuted by Islamic jihadists.
In the village of Auno, 20 kilometers from Maiduguri, Nigeria, five people were killed by jihadists last Saturday. While the victims’ religious affiliation has yet to be determined, Islamists in northern Nigeria almost always attack Christians. Gunmen from the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) stopped some vehicles around 5:30 p.m. and attacked the drivers and passengers with machetes as they fled into the bush. “We have so far recovered five dead bodies and 14 people with severe injuries all from machete cuts,” militia leader Babakura Kolo told the AP.
As reported by Aid to the Church in Need, the nonstop massacres of Christians which are met with impunity by the Nigerian government prompted Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto, in a January 3 report, to express his disgust with the government: “The only difference between the government and Boko Haram,” he said, “is that Boko Haram is holding a bomb.” The Nigerian government is “using the levers of power to secure the supremacy of Islam, which then gives more weight to the idea that it can be achieved by violence.” Yet these are just a few of many Christian killings that hardly even make it to social media.
This past Sunday in the city of Nzerekore, Guinea, a Muslim mob burned down churches and killed at least three people; on March 20 in Kovankaya, Turkey, the elderly mother of a priest was kidnapped and murdered. And if Islamists are not successful in killing those who profess Jesus Christ, they do their best to impede their worship.
In Karimun, Indonesia, according to the January 24 report by AsiaNews, St Joseph’s Catholic Church was in dire need of renovation as it was unable to accommodate its 700 faithful, having been built in 1928 to accommodate 100 people. Despite having all the permits, the project was “opposed by a small group of young Muslims who threaten[ed] action against public order…. Local Catholics are critical of [the] Karimun district chief who, bowing to extremists, has turned against the project even though it has all the required permits.”
On his site, Raymond Ibrahim posted information about a memorial for the 21 Christian martyrs who were murdered by ISIS for refusing to renounce their faith. It was inaugurated on February 15, 2015, in Sirte, Libya. (The BBC had falsely reported that 13 of these now-slaughtered Copts were “released.” Such downplaying of Muslim persecution of Christians is, of course, standard for the BBC and the mainstream Western media.) The monument consists of 21 kneeling statues, each fashioned after the appearance of one of the martyrs, with a large statue of Christ behind them, his arms open in an embrace of salvation. This memorial stands in the Egyptian village of Al Our where many of the slain Coptic Christians came from.
Although many Catholics will be physically deprived of assisting at the Holy Week celebrations, culminating in Our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday, let us not forget those who have already been deprived because of their insistence on remaining faithful to Christ’s teachings. It is of such endurance and patience that Benedict XVI reminded us during a General Audience on February 4, 2009, when he spoke of St. Paul’s martyrdom and heritage.
In citing the Epistle of St. Clement to the Church of Corinth, we read: “Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and the west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. Thus was he removed from the world, and went into a holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience.” (1 Clem 5:2). The patience of which Clement speaks is an expression of Paul’s communion with the Passion of Christ and of the generosity and constancy with which he accepted a long journey of suffering so as to be able to say “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Gal 6:17).
We, too, can spiritually undergo the Passion of Our Savior. And if we’re willing to make that extra effort to persevere, then we shall definitely be able to enjoy—as do those who have been martyred for the Faith—the fruits of the Resurrection.
Fr. Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He was born in New York and holds a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. He is the author of Islam: Religion of Peace?—The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up (Westbow Press, 2018).