As a child, I eagerly consumed the heroic stories of martyrs, holy men and women who died for their faith.
“Mommy,” I would ask wide-eyed, placing my book aside, “do I have to die, too?”
As I grew to adulthood, I realized attacks on Christianity in our country were less life-threatening and more politically oriented.
It is important for Christians to stand up for themselves in the face of intolerance in the U.S. But we should also heed the example of those Christians who endure so much more for the faith than we do.
In recent weeks, one man has been showing Christians how to act. A man who came face to face with martyrdom – which is more than many Americans could ever fathom.
Last week, Catholic priest Father Tom Uzhunnalil met with Pope Francis after 18 months of captivity in Yemen. Pictures captured the humble missionary kneeling to the ground in order to kiss the pontiff’s feet following his rescue.
In 2016, Fr. Uzhunnalil survived a terrorist attack, reportedly organized by ISIS, at a residence for the elderly run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Four nuns and 12 others were killed. Following his abduction, rumors claimed the Indian priest was crucified by ISIS on Good Friday. But, as he later said, he miraculously wasn’t tortured by his captors.
According to reports on Sept. 13, he greeted Pope Francis and revealed he had “prayed every day for him, offering his own suffering for his mission and for the good of the Church.” While he was “not able to celebrate the Eucharist” physically, he repeated “all the words of the celebration” every day “in my heart,” he told Pope Francis.
Accompanying Fr. Uzhunnalil at the pontifical meeting, the archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, spoke for the priest. “After this terrible experience, the essential message that Father Tom would like to convey is that ‘Jesus is great and loves us,’” the cardinal said.
That is essential: After captivity and witnessing his friends killed for their faith, Fr. Uzhunnalil exemplifies seeking joy in suffering – suffering that can be offered for a greater cause. His message is to remember love when faced with hate. To never forget that God is always present.
If we can live each day with that message in our hearts, how we choose to react on the outside predictably falls into place.
Media Coverage of Persecution
While Americans may not witness it themselves, Open Doors USA calculates that there are thousands of attacks on Christians. On average, each month, 322 Christians are martyred for their faith and 214 “churches and Christian properties are destroyed.” On top of that, Open Doors estimates 772 “forms of violence are committed,” including beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests, and forced marriages.
American Christians have a moral obligation to stand up for the persecuted, beginning by informing themselves. Unfortunately, many in the media often overlook or disregard those suffering for their faith.
The genocide committed by ISIS provides the most recent example of the media’s lack of coverage on the issue, especially among the broadcast networks.
Both ABC and NBC reported when the Obama administration first charged ISIS with genocide in 2016. But none of the three broadcast networks mentioned when the Trump administration formally declared ISIS was “clearly responsible for genocide” in August.
According to a 1948 United Nations document, genocide “means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” including killing, causing serious physical or mental harm, preventing births, and kidnapping children.
Earlier this year, the broadcast networks covered the Egypt Palm Sunday bombings for which ISIS claimed responsibility. But those reports never included the word “genocide” once. Similarly, in 2016, the networks refrained from saying “genocide” in their reports on the Easter bombing in Pakistan targeting Christians – and made the same omission in other reports of Christian persecution.
In August 2016, the Media Research Center discovered that, in the past two-and-half years, the evening news shows reported on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia only 60 times. Of those 60 reports, just six used the word “genocide.”
Since then, several politicians and other advocates have condemned the media for their reluctance to say the G-word. We should too. And we should encourage the media to cover the issue more. Share the stories that are reported. Contact journalists and networks.
After his release from captivity, Fr. Uzhunnalil himself stressed, “every day, I felt Jesus next to me, I always knew and felt in my heart that I was not alone.”
That’s how much Jesus loves the persecuted. That’s how much Jesus loves us. That love demands a response – our response.