Protecting our brothers and sisters

“We have become used to the suffering of others. It doesn’t affect us. It doesn’t interest us. It’s not our business.” Pope Francis said these words when he visited the small Italian island of Lampedusa in 2013, mourning the deaths of many immigrants who perished in the Mediterranean Sea, trying to make their way from North Africa to Europe. 

His words then still sting our ears now (or they should). God calls us to not be like Cain, who famously asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9).  We thank God that in the Fall River Diocese we have so many who answer that question with a resounding, “yes.” We even have an organization called “My Brother’s Keeper” here in our diocese (based out of Easton and Dartmouth) which lives out that filial love for its neighbors — as its website (mybrotherskeeper.org) states, “Because we serve in Christ’s name, every donated good is checked for quality to ensure that each item we deliver is new or in like-new condition, providing people with renewed hope and a sense of value. Our delivery vehicles are unmarked to protect the privacy of those receiving our help.”

During these days in which Christians and other innocent people are being killed in Libya, Syria and many other countries, while others are being enslaved, it is easy to forget about these brothers and sisters of ours. We are distracted by the weather or by some minor celebrity’s antics or other trivial matters back in the U.S. This edition of The Anchor reminds us of terrors our fellow Catholics are undergoing in the Central African Republic, something hardly ever mentioned in the American media, but not forgotten by Pope Francis, who is determined to visit them later this year.

Whatever happened to those girls kidnapped in Nigeria? We might feel like there is nothing we can do for them, but we can still pray and make sacrifices for them, asking God to give them the Spiritual help that they need, while also praying for the conversion of their captors.

Pope Francis, echoing the constant teaching of the Church, reminded his assembled congregation at St. Martha’s House on February 17 that there is a connection between all attacks on human dignity. He had begun his homily by speaking about the martyrdom of the Coptic Christians killed by ISIS in Libya, but then moved on to how anyone can say “yes” to evil. We are all “capable of doing good, but we are also all capable of destruction; destruction great and small and even within our own family.  [We are capable of destroying] our children,” not allowing them to grow “in freedom, not helping them to mature; eliminating our children.” He thus brought up the topic of the barbarity of the killing of children in the womb through abortion, a barbarity we are too accepting of in our society.

The pope’s remarks at the beginning of this editorial bring to mind another tragic situation that we often are too willing to tolerate — that of the suffering of undocumented immigrants. We are concerned (and rightfully so) about the sufferings of our fellow Christians in the Middle East, wondering either how the situation can be resolved so that they are protected or how they can escape from there with their lives (in many ways this is similar to how compassionate people in the 1930s and ’40s worked to see how Jewish people could escape from Hitler), but how can we say that people fleeing from being murdered by gangs run amok in Central America should just stay there and reform their countries? Yes, good people down there need to work to make their nations better, but sometimes, when the choice is staying and dying or leaving and living, the latter option is the one that is selected. On the page before this one you can read about one bishop’s pastoral accompaniment of immigrants and his reminder to all of us that we are called upon by God to be mutually changed due to our encounters with these brothers and sisters of ours.

On the page facing this one, Father Landry reminds us of our responsibility to do almsgiving (during Lent and throughout the year), not just with our money and other resources (although if we do have these, God calls upon us to share them), but also with our time and our very being (in imitation of Christ’s giving His very Self for us). So, in our Lenten prayer we can also think about how we can give some of our time, talents and treasure to help promote human life, from people facing persecution and death (whether at the hands of ISIS or gangs or dictatorial regimes or doctors in clinics) to people who have lost their liberty (captured by terrorist organizations and/or human traffickers) to people whose dignity is disrespected (the poor, the mentally ill, victims of prejudice, etc.).

As we are reminded in the homily on page eight, God has given us the Ten Commandments and He is always true to His side of the “bargain” of our relationship with Him (there is no greater bargain that you could get at any store). Living out the Ten Commandments reminds us that other people’s lives (and the threats to them) ARE our business. May our meditations on Christ’s sufferings during this Lent help us to see how we can respond to the indignities He continues to endure in so many people. 

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts