Flight into Egypt
3 Feb 2013
Today we celebrate the patronal feast of our Archdiocese, Our Lady of the Flight into Egypt. In Matthew’s Gospel, the escape of the Holy Family from Bethlehem to Egypt takes place shortly after the visit of the Magi, the wise men from the East. An angel of the Lord warned them to get away ahead of the terror and horror that Herod would inflict on his own people in having all the baby boys under the age of 2 years slaughtered in an attempt to have Jesus killed.
And so began the persecution of Christ; persecution that not only continues today, 2000 years later, but which is in fact escalating in our modern world.
Pope Benedict in his World Day of Peace message last year said “At present, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith; particularly in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Holy Land. Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers. This situation is unacceptable, since it represents an insult to God and to human dignity; furthermore, it is a threat to security and (world) peace.”
Rupert Shortt in a book called “Christianophobia: a faith under attack” published in December last year says that it’s estimated that there are 200 million Christians living under threat today. 70% of the world’s population now live in countries where the state or social forces curb the religious freedom of their citizens.
There is a serious risk that Christianity will disappear completely from the Holy Land; be eradicated from it’s very heartland. It’s estimated that between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the Mid-Eastern region have left or been killed over the past century. That region today has both the lowest concentration of Christians (about 4% of the region’s population) and the smallest number of Christians (about 13 million) of any major geographic region.
To put those numbers in another perspective, Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country, is home to more Christians than all 20 countries in the Middle East-North Africa region combined.
In the three hundred years following the death and resurrection of Jesus, Christians were persecuted fiercely by the Romans and they were killed in great numbers. The theologian Tertullian, in the third century, wrote “If the Tiber River rises above its banks, if the Nile does not overflow, if the skies are not clear, if the earth quakes, if famine or pestilence come, the cry goes out from Rome, ‘The Christians to the lions.’”
The International Bulletin of Missionary Research estimates that over 110,000 Christians will be killed for their faith this year; that’s about 300 a day; one every 5 minutes. If current trends continue, they estimate that by 2025, an average of 210,000 Christians will be martyred annually. It’s estimated that there were 45 million Christian martyrs in the 20th century. More Christians have been killed for their faith in the last 100 years than in the previous 1900 years.
This data and the relevant research is not secret; it’s readily available on the internet. There are some really horrifying video clips on YouTube of Christians being killed savagely and publically because they were followers of Jesus Christ. It’s not my place to speculate on why the media and governments give so little attention to the persecution of Christians, but it certainly begs the question.
How many of us I wonder would be prepared to die for our faith? Probably more than we realise. It’s not of course a problem facing us in South Africa because the practise of our faith is protected by the constitution and the law.
The law allows us to practise our faith but doesn’t protect it.
We have laws in the country that completely contradict what we believe to be morally acceptable; abortion would be a good example – legalised 19th years ago. Respect for human life starts in the womb; when we treat the unborn child with contempt, we risk devaluing all human life.
We see in our world today, in society, in government and regrettably even within the highest ranks of the Church, tangible, obvious disrespect and indifference to the blueprint God has given us in the Ten Commandments, for a happy, peaceful world, The Commandments are designed for our own protection. We disobey them at peril to life and soul.
While we may not risk physical death for practising our faith, our souls are under severe attack and should we become complacent and allow the evil around us to mould or influence our lives, our values and our beliefs, we risk spiritual death.
Our Holy Father has declared this a year of faith; a year in which we are called to rediscover and renew our relationship with Christ and his Church. Pope Benedict says “The Year of Faith is an opportunity for each and every Catholic to renew their baptismal call by living out the everyday moments of their lives with faith, hope and love. This everyday witness is necessary for proclaiming the Gospel to family, friends, neighbours and society.”
It’s in the everyday things that we witness to our faith; not just attending Sunday Mass. We witness when we say grace before meals (all meals in all places), in the sign of the cross; recognition of the dignity of every human person; teaching our children about Jesus and creation, respect for our environment; fairness and honesty in everything; a loving, generous and forgiving heart; discipline in our passions and relationships; respect for our bodies in what we eat and drink. And never being afraid to acknowledge that we are disciples of Jesus Christ and that his name is holy.
In our homes, at work, school, university or college, retirement centre and even in the gym and our recreation, we are witnesses to our faith.
This is our faith and we are proud to proclaim it.
As we approach Lent, we could be giving some thought to how we can be more effective witnesses in this year of faith.
We should not take for granted the religious freedom that we enjoy; the joy of being a public witness for Christ. In our prayers we could remember those many thousands who will die for doing just that.
Deacon Les 2 Feb 2013
Suggested further info: search ‘christian persecution’ on these sites: