This article originally appeared in Catholic Voice and is reproduced with permission of publisher.
Over the past three months we have witnessed the convergence of two modern manifestations of Antichrist – the murderous hatred of Islamist terrorists against Christians and the implacable indifference of secularist governments and media concerning the persecution and slaughter of Christians. The perpetrators remain nameless and the religious inspiration of their depraved acts remains unacknowledged.
What could be the reasons for these omissions?
Over the past three months users of social media have been horrified by photographs and videos posted by Islamic State terrorists showing the crucifixions, beheadings and shootings of Christians and victims from other religious groups. There are also reports of Muslims committing mass rape, their captivity of over 3,000 Christian and other religious minority women to be sold as sex slaves and enforced female genital mutilation.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-appointed Caliph of the Islamic State, and his murderers, are responsible for systematically eradicating 2,000 years of Christian culture in Mosul and Northern Iraq, among the world’s most ancient Christian communities. The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need has reported that 45 churches in Mosul have been desecrated and converted into mosques.
I’m sure that none of us thought we’d see news reports about Muslim terrorists painting the Arabic letter ‘ن’ on the property of Christians to identify them for persecution and ethnic cleansing as ‘Nazarenes’. Once identified the Islamic State gave Christians three choices and a deadline – to convert to Islam, to pay extortionate protection money every year or to face execution. Hundreds of thousands of Christians chose to remain faithful to Our Lord Jesus Christ and fled for their lives. They now live as homeless refugees in the safe-haven offered by the Kurdish semi-autonomous region.
One of the most moving photographs I’ve seen shows a young Christian girl in the rubble of her parish church in Mosul kneeling before a ruined sanctuary and violated tabernacle. I’m in no doubt that if Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s terrorists had caught this young girl they would have murdered her for this simple act of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. This is an act of devotion that we make most days, a freedom that we take for granted in the West.
The Most Reverend Amel Nona, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul was injured during the Islamic State’s attack on his city. He has seen his people murdered, the survivors driven from their homes and his cathedral desecrated and occupied by the Islamic State. He now lives in exile with his people in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. He has issued a warning to Christians in Europe about the dangers to our Faith presented by Islam as reported in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera:
‘Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer in the near future. I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead. But my community is still alive.’
‘Please, try to understand us. Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here. You must consider again our reality in the Middle East, because you are welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims. Also you are in danger. You must take strong and courageous decisions, even at the cost of contradicting your principles. You think all men are equal, but that is not true: Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.’ (Translated by Rorate Caeli)
Faced with violent persecution the early Christians had a name for the destructive forces aligned against the Church and the Catholic Faith, and that name was ‘Antichrist’. The word ‘Antichrist’ comes from the Greek antichristos, which simply means ‘against Christ’. According to St Paul one of the characteristics of antichrist is ‘lawlessness’, which conveys the dreadful reality of a person or group of people given over to sin and totally hostile to the presence of Christ in the world (2 Thess 2:3-9).
Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman also recognised that cultures could become ‘antichrist’, because of their institutionalised hostility and intolerance towards Christianity. He wrote that these antichristian forces are not just human initiatives and choices but are also the result of demonic influences.
Over the past three months we have witnessed the convergence of two modern manifestations of Antichrist – the murderous hatred of Islamist terrorists against Christians and the implacable indifference of secularist governments and media concerning the persecution and slaughter of Christians. The one thing that Islamist terrorists and secularist countries have in common is a shared hostility to the presence of Christians in the world, expressed through the active aggression of terror and the passive aggression of inaction.
The Christians of the Nineveh plain have been completely deserted by President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron, who were reluctantly forced by media reports to provide minimal protection to the non-Christian Yazidi sect stranded on Mount Sinjar. For over three months the patriarchs of Iraq’s Christians have pleaded with the US, EU and UN to protect their people from Islamic State terrorists, only to be ignored. At the same time as the Yazidi people fled for their lives, 100,000 Christians were driven from their towns and villages. According to Patriarch Sako his people are ‘trying to survive in parks and public places’ but their ‘slow genocide’ has been completely ignored by western governments and media.
This toxic mix of Islamist terrorism and secularist indifference is resulting in the escalating persecution and murder of Iraq’s Christians. Now that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has seen that the West doesn’t care about Christians his murderers will continue to extinguish all trace of Christianity from Iraq.
Pope Francis has publicly deplored the atrocities committed against Iraq’s Christians and other ethnic groups and called for international humanitarian intervention. During his Sunday Angelus address the Holy Father said:
‘The news reports coming from Iraq leave us in dismay and disbelief: thousands of people, including many Christians, driven from their homes in a brutal manner; children dying of thirst and hunger in their flight; women taken and carried off; people massacred; violence every kind; destruction of historical, cultural and religious patrimonies. All this gravely offends God and humanity. Hatred is not to be carried in the name of God! War is not to be waged in the name of God!’
And on the flight back from South Korea Pope Francis discussed with journalists his conditional support for UN action against ‘unjust aggressors’ in Iraq:
‘In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I’m not saying ‘bomb’ or ‘make war,’ just ‘stop.’And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated.’
What is absent from Pope Francis’ passionate appeal and press statement, and the statements from most other European cardinals, bishops and episcopal conferences, is any specific identification of those committing these acts of appalling brutality or any mention that they are being committed by Muslims in the name of Allah. The perpetrators remain nameless and the religious inspiration of their depraved acts remains unacknowledged. What could be the reasons for these omissions?
Faced with Islamic Jingoism Pope Francis and other bishops may be following the example of Pope Venerable Pius XII who made general appeals and protests about the suffering of civilians during World War II but who studiously avoided naming Adolf Hitler and the Nazis regime as mass murderers and criminals. Having witnessed Hitler’s malevolent retaliation against the Jews following the Dutch Bishops’ condemnation of Nazism, it is thought that Pius XII judged that he could protect more lives, Jews and Gentiles, through his ‘silence’.
Pope Francis and the bishops may have concluded that if they specifically name Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Islamic State terrorists Christians throughout the world will face violent reprisals. This caution may be informed by the Catholic Church’s recent experiences of Islamic mob violence following Pope Benedict’s 2006 Regensburg address that decried violence committed in the name of God and Islamic belligerence following the Benedict’s 2011 appeal for Egypt’s Coptic Christians to be protected against murder and arson.
The dilemma for Pope Francis and the bishops is that they may suffer the same fate as Pope Pius XII whose ‘silence’ has been unfairly condemned by many as a failure of moral leadership at best, and complicity in genocide at worst.
A more disturbing explanation of Pope Francis’ and other bishops’ silence about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the religious inspiration of the Islamic State could be that the West’s obsession with political correctness is influencing the judgement of some members of the Hierarchy. One of the fundamental principles of political correctness is to avoid causing offense to ‘minority’ groups at all costs, these groups being defined by ethnic, religious, or sexual identity.
Pope Francis has admitted his unwillingness to cause offence influences what he says about the persecution of Christians. In his interview with a Spanish newspaper the Holy Father said: ‘The persecuted Christians are a concern to me as a shepherd in close contact. I know many things about the persecution, which to speak of is not wise, so as not to offend anyone.’
Of course as Christians committed to obeying Our Lord’s command to love our neighbours and our enemies we must avoid causing offence, but surely not at the cost of speaking the truth, no matter how inconvenient or hard to hear? We should have the hope that members of the hierarchy, more than most, would take to heart the Gospel principle of being in the world, but not of the world (John 17:14-15) and to resist the societal pressures to conform to political correctness.
This tendency towards political correctness among many Catholics regarding Islam is exacerbated by a selective reading of the Second Vatican Council on the relation between the Catholic Church and non-Christian religions. Many make the error of focusing on the positive assessments made in Nostrae Aetate while ignoring the more critical assessments in Lumen Gentium, paragraph 16, and Ad Gentes, paragraph 9.
The Second Vatican Council teaches that the Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in world religions, such as Islam, because she knows that holiness and truth come from the Holy Spirit. The good that is present in Islam offers a preparation for reception of the Gospel and as such is part of the activity of the Holy Spirit. However, since the religions of the world are rooted in human history and cultures, they are a mixture of good and evil and not everything in them is the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, non-Christian religions in themselves do not offer paths towards salvation, because only Our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is the ‘way, the truth and the life’.
The past three terrible months for Iraqi Christians, and other minorities, at the hands of the Islamic State have shown once more that the truths and values found in Islam are commingled with serious errors and evils. The Second Vatican Council teaches that only Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, can free all of humanity from its corruption by the Evil One:
‘But whatever truth and grace are to be found among the nations, as a sort of secret presence of God, He frees from all taint of evil and restores to Christ its maker, who overthrows the devil’s domain and wards off the manifold malice of vice. And so, whatever good is found to be sown in the hearts and minds of men, or in the rites and cultures peculiar to various peoples, not only is not lost, but is healed, uplifted, and perfected for the glory of God, the shame of the demon, and the bliss of men’. (Ad Gentes, 9).