The "Missions" speaker at St. Joseph Parish in Austintown this weekend was Fr. Bridling, a priest from the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri in Nigeria. I was amazed by the spirit of joy in his voice as he celebrated the Mass with us, as this man has seen harder times that I will even know.
During the homily, he explained that Muslims settled into northeastern Nigeria in the 1500s and that is the predominant religion in the area. 2% of the population is Catholic. While there has long been tension, the comments made by Pope Benedict in a 2006 speech ignited things with some radical Muslims in the area:
<<In September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI provoked outrage in the Muslim world with a speech given at the University of Regensburg in Germany. The lecture, entitled Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections, explored the historical and philosophical differences between Islam and Christianity, and the relationship between violence and faith.
During his address, Pope Benedict quoted a 14th Century Christian emperor: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
The pontiff then added that violence was "incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul".
The remarks were interpreted as an attack on Islam and sparked angry protests in Pakistan, India, Turkey and Gaza.>> (From BBC news)
The Muslim radicals bombed the Churches, homes and public places Christians visit. A few Churches were rebuilt, then bombed again in 2009. Now, the diocese has depleted funds, but the people are "steadfast in their faith and are determined to live it," said Fr. Bridling.
While I do recall the news story from Pope Benedict's speech, and knew that it "upset" many Muslims, I guess I just pictured (relatively peaceful) protests in the streets.... I hadn't thought about people DYING -- nor that they continue to die. Fr. Bridling said that the "Boko Haram" anti-Christian radicals still terrorize people and have been kidnapping young Christian girls. How scary it must be to walk to the store, take a walk, or be at Church. But how deep the faith of those Nigerians who have not denounced their Catholic beliefs, yet live it - despite possible death.
These stories are the kinds that our teens hunger for each day. They want to see how the early Christian story relates to today. (Anyone else see the unfortunate parallels with the persecuted Christians in Rome?) Teens need to learn of the realities around the world and think about our connection in this universal (or catholic) Church. What do they feel about this story? What can be done?
I now picture myself trembling in the Upper Room, like the Apostles after the Resurrection but before Pentecost. Would I be hiding out, afraid for my life? Or, am I filled enough with the Holy Spirit to go forth and share the Good News? Do I take the Eucharist truly to heart to become the Body of Christ in the Church to live it in the world, no matter what the cost?
It is easy to wonder here in the relatively peaceful United States of America. Even when I lived in the South with some people who were anti-Catholic, they were at least Christian and not threatening my life. I travel from home to work, the store, restaurants and Church without fear of bombs, fires or kidnapping. How much do I take that for granted? I have much to pray about.
Much to think about.
Here are a few Scriptures for reflection:
Be strong and steadfast; have no fear or dread of them, for it is the LORD, your God, who marches with you; he will never fail you or forsake you. (Deut. 31: 6)
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)
Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God.
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
for he has said, “I will never forsake you or abandon you.”
Thus we may say with confidence:
“The Lord is my helper,
[and] I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?”
(Hebrews 13: 5b - 6)
Now who is going to harm you if you are enthusiastic for what is good?
But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you.
Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.
Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,
but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned,
those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.
For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.
For Christ also suffered* for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous,
that he might lead you to God.
(1 Peter 3: 13 - 18)
Over one hundred times we read "fear not" or "Be not afraid" in the Scriptures.
I suppose that God and his selected Biblical scribes knew our human tendency to fear.
And our need to be reminded that "for God all things are possible” (Matthew 26),
so why be afraid?
Thank you, Fr. Bridling,
for not only giving me the opportunity to financially and prayerfully support you and your fellow Nigerian Catholics,
but for challenging me to reflect on my faith and to show my appreciation for religious freedoms
by living my Christianity!
Cindee Case, MAPS
Director of the Diocese of Youngstown Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.