Tag Archives: Religious Freedom

The Crucifix as a Passive Symbol

While doing some research recently, I came across reference to the crucifix as a “passive symbol” by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in its 2011 decision in the Lautsi v. Italy case.

The context was the Grand Chamber’s pronouncement that the Italian law requiring the display of crucifixes in classrooms did not infringe on the rights of parents to ensure that the education of their children is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions. According to the Grand Chamber, the display of the crucifix, unlike compulsory religious instruction or religious oath- taking, did not require action, prayer, or reverence from those who view it. Hence, according to the Grand Chamber, “it cannot be deemed to have an influence on pupils comparable to didactic speech or participation in religious activities.”

(The Grand Chamber gave other reasons for its decision. For a more thorough discussion of the Lautsi case, please see “The Case of Lautsi v. Italy: a Synthesis” by Gregor Puppinck in Issue 3 of the 2012 volume of The BYU Law Review, available online.)

Whether the Grand Chamber realized it or not, the phrase “passive symbol” in relation to the crucifix is rich and deep in meaning. In more ways than one, the crucifix is indeed a passive symbol – although it is passive, like all other symbols it communicates meaning.

The crucifix tells the story of a God Who, out of love for humanity, freely became Man and allowed Himself to suffer the worst cruelty that humanity can think of. On the Cross, Christ rendered Himself powerless. He Who is God deliberately refused to display His omnipotence to a hostile crowd who was daring Him to show that He is Christ by coming down from the cross and saving Himself. Christ passively, albeit freely, suffered and died.

The crucifix shows Christ madly in love with us, yet too helpless to coerce us to respond to His love. He could only hope that the sight of Him nailed to the cross would move us to love Him in return.

This is His way of winning us over, because He wants us to love Him freely and without coercion.  Indeed, we can and do reject His love. With or without realizing it, perhaps the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights was on to something more when it ruled that the mere display of the crucifix “cannot be deemed to have an influence on pupils comparable to didactic speech or participation in religious activities.”

Ironically, perhaps it is precisely the self-effacing love that the crucifix symbolizes that makes some people uncomfortable at the sight of it. For we can be incapable of responding to such love which begs to be repaid with love.

The crucifix depicts the apparent defeat of God and at the same time is powerful proof of His love for us. The sight of a crucifix and the meaning it conveys can be disturbing, consoling, or inspiring.  Christ may be passive on the crucifix, but the sight of Him there does not leave people indifferent.

Because of these, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights correctly referred to the crucifix as a “passive symbol”. The image of a God Who allowed Himself to be treated the way He was treated communicates a lot of meaning.

Rocky Balboa, John’s Gospel, and the New Evangelization

“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place…it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it.”

These words were uttered by Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Balboa, a final chapter to the famous Rocky movies. Balboa is speaking these words to his grown son, who is struggling to find his place in the real world as an adult. His son blames Rocky’s success as the main reason why living his life is too hard. Rocky’s words are extremely relevant to living life as a Christian in today’s world.

With all of the trending news lately, which in our culture will be forgotten in a couple of weeks, there is a lot of talk about how hard it is to be a Christian today. Same sex marriage is now to be recognized in all 50 states. Bruce Jenner has been given an award and a TV show because of his transformation into a woman. The Little Sisters of the Poor are required to provide contraceptives as part of their health insurance. Christians are being forced from their homes, persecuted and killed for their faith. If you claim to be pro-life, people label you as anti-woman. If you claim to support marriage as being between a man and a woman for the procreation and education of children as well as the mutual betterment of the spouses, you are labeled hateful or discriminatory.

So no, being a Christian in today’s world is not all sunshine and rainbows. The world is full of mean and nasty people, broken people. The world is a mean and nasty place, and that is nothing new. The world, after all, is not Heaven. The world, after all, rejected God made man in the Person of Jesus Christ.

There are two things we need to be focusing on in the midst of all of this. First and foremost, we need to remind ourselves that none of this is new. It is so easy to get bogged down lately with what seems like a constant barrage of attacks and punches thrown at the Church and her teachings. Our news feeds are filled with so many people who disagree with us. That paired with the emotional anger behind a lot of these issues make it seem like things are only going to get worse and life as we know it is over.

Once again, none of this is new. Not now, not 40 years ago, not 2000 years ago. Jesus came into the world and the world preferred darkness to light (John 3:19). It did then and it does today. But, Jesus reminds us that we are not of this world no more than He was of this world. (John 17:14) Jesus reminds us that we are called to be light for this darkened world.

Take courage. Be not afraid. Have faith. Live in hope.

How often have we heard these or similar phrases? Taken directly from the Scriptures, Popes and Saints have said them time and time again. These words from Christ are not a flowery idea, but said for a reason. If Jesus tells us to not be afraid, then that obviously means there is something out there that will cause us to fear. If we are told to live in hope, that means there will be times when we are faced with despair. If we are told to have faith, then that shows us that our faith will be put to the test. It was true for those in earshot of Jesus when He spoke those words and it is true today.

The second thing we must focus on is what are we to do about all of this?

We are not meant to simply point our finger at the world and condemn it and blame the world for making it so hard to be a Christian (John 3:17). We are not meant to be knocked down by the world and kept there. Instead, like Rocky says to his son, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward…how much you can take and keep moving forward.  This world is not our home; we are here on a journey.

On this journey, we will encounter those who agree and disagree with us about the different teachings of the Church. (This is not new either, see John 6). Many of those who disagree with us will be respectful and maintain friendships. Others may treat us poorly, try to force us into changing our mindset, “defriend” us. They may be mean and nasty to us; we mustn’t return the favor. Instead, we are called to love and share the good news.

We need to think of new ways to spread the good news so that it doesn’t come across as bad or negative. When the world throws a hard punch at us for being Christian, we take it and keep moving forward. Rather than throwing a hard punch back, rather than telling someone that a certain lifestyle is sinful (because, let’s be honest, that means nothing to many people), it is important to show the positive alternative. Share what is good about marriage. Talk about the dignity and purpose with which God has created each human being; be a witness to the joy that comes from following Christ.

So, yes, the world can be viewed as a mean and nasty place. It can, at times, knock us to our knees. This is nothing new. We are called to follow Christ’s example, including getting up when we are knocked down as we carry our cross. When we are “whipped” and “hit” by the world, we do not return blow for blow. Yet we must get up and keep moving forward on our journey. Holiness and joy are attractive. Negativity, fear, condemnation, and judgement are not. After all, it’s not about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. Thanks, Rocky.

 

America: Individually Set Apart for Holiness

There is a trend among American Catholics that worries me. I periodically hear the argument that the traditional American emphasis on individuals promotes a sense of self-importance, greed, or pride that distances us from our God, our faith, and the development of true virtue and humility. I hear many Catholics, understandably, fearing that a system focused on the individual develops a sense of hubris. They desire, instead, a system that focuses on the collective whole, one that cares about the common good of man as a member of a larger community.

So, given the recent ruling by the Supreme Court on religious liberty which made me proud to call America “home”, and that it is the eve of Independence Day, I decided that it is the proper time to address this attack on the country I hold so dear.

Rather than view the American emphasis on individuals as a prideful perspective that promotes hubris, I believe the American emphasis on the individual is not only compatible with our faith, but is incredibly Catholic. If anything, I may go so far as to say “the most Catholic” perspective. I argue that it lends itself to the Catholic understanding of God and fully allows us to express and live our faith.

Why? Because, when we stop and look at it, we must agree that God is all about the individual.

We know that God “calls us by name,” suggesting that He knows us as individuals with individual abilities, likes, interests, dislikes, and personalities.

We know that each one of us is “uniquely made,” and that God gives us each our own talents and gifts, which He calls us to use. These unique gifts God gives us is why Catholics emphasize the importance of discerning vocation. Only in discerning your unique calling can you add to the kingdom of God on earth by using the talents bestowed upon you to better your life and the lives of those around you.

We say over and over again that God has a plan for your life. If so, that plan must be unique and individually based – no two people live the same life or have the same experiences.

We know that God interacts with and changes the world through individuals. He individually called Moses, Jonah, Noah, and Abraham to lead His people in different times and ways. He didn’t ask for volunteers, and He never spoke to a whole nation of people. He went directly to the individual and used the person to speak to the people.

We know that God focuses aid on individual people as well. He heals one person at a time. In scripture, we never hear of mass healings. Rather, Christ always individually attends the ill and heals the individual person of their ailment.

We know that God tells us to go out and visit the imprisoned, counsel the doubtful, heal the sick, clothe the naked, and feed the hungry. He also never says anything about a collective whole doing so. He never suggests that charity come in the shape of a government program. Instead, every time Christ approaches the subject of helping mankind, He says, “you go visit the poor, you feed the hungry.”

Most of all, we know that God desires a unique relationship with His people. He doesn’t want a vast relationship with His people the way a king or politician relates to the masses. God longs to know each and every one of us as a Father and friend, to know us for who we are as ourselves, not who we are as a nation or a group.

Indeed, everything, from the way God chooses to reveal Himself to us, to Biblical roots and teaching, points to the individual as the greatest good. God even created us in a singular way. When we return to Genesis, we see that God created everything in groupings until Adam:

“And God said, ‘let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth … let the earth bring forth living creatures…’ “ et cetera.

Only when God created Adam did he do so singularly. We don’t hear tell of the multitude of people God placed in the Garden. We only hear of man in terms of Adam and Eve. They aren’t just one of the many men that God created the way that robins are a type of the many birds God made. No, Adam was the man that God created, set aside from the moment of creation by the fact that he was the only one of his kind.

Indeed, God is all about the individual.

Therefore, it seems that the greatest good will come to man when man follows suit and allows the individual to flourish as God desires. In exploring history, the greatest wealth and human health and flourishing has come from the American experiment, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

There is a reason that America holds fast to its religious traditions. There is a reason that the Christian faith has not disappeared from the American landscape the way it has in Europe. It is because, try as they might, progressives cannot deny that America’s founding and the foundation of our faith are intimately related. They are not distant cousins, they are close siblings, born of the same ideology: that man is a good, and that there is a higher good that we, as men, can participate in, are called to participate in.

That the Christian faith still finds expression in America, that people still consider Sunday a “church day” is a reflection that America still values the things that God values.

America values freedom: the freedom of man to pursue fulfillment through the gifts bestowed on him by God, without asking permission of another man. Put another way: the freedom to serve God as only God and man see fit.

America values the common good by promoting the individual: the idea that when the individual flourishes, so too does society.

America sees people as God sees them: that the individual must never be subservient to the collective because the individual is a unique person who has never existed before and will never exist again.

America’s emphasis, not only on Religious Freedom, as recently upheld by the Supreme Court, but on the importance of the individual is what allows Catholics to truly live their faith in America in a way we cannot elsewhere. Our country gives us the great ability to be both fully American and fully Catholic, something that not many other countries can claim. We do not have to have politics and faith butting heads, because when we truly embrace the founding ideology of America, we can have a meshing of philosophical ideals that allows us to grow in holiness, not just spiritually, but in the practical and physical way intended for us by God as individuals.

So, this 4th of July I will proudly sing America, The Beautiful, and wave my American flag. I’ll don my red, white and blue regalia and thank God for a nation that allows the individual the opportunity to become as holy as he should.

Free to Exercise

There Peter was, chained, with two guards on either side of him. More guards were standing watch outside the gate. His crime? He was a part of a religious sect that followed the teachings of a man named Jesus, whom they profess had risen from the dead.

According to the laws of Rome, Peter’s crime was not so much he and the other believers held Jesus as a god – for Rome had many of them; but that the so-called ‘Christians’ would not pay tribute to Caesar as god. Rome saw itself as a mother that knew what was best for her children, including how and what would be considered proper worship.

It is good during these last few days of the Fortnight for Freedom to keep this thought in mind. What does it mean that we have – as the Bill of Rights points out at the top of the list – ‘free exercise of religion’? This says more than just a right to worship freely, but we are free to publicly exercise that which we profess.

Unfortunately, the United States government is trying to redefine that very freedom by stringently determining what groups are considered religious and which are not under the Health and Services (HHS) Mandate. The mandate’s definition of religious organizations is the basis for what organizations can declare exemption from a healthcare provision that employers must include abortificient and contraceptive ‘care’ in their healthcare plans.

The HHS regulation exempts “religious” organizations only if they meet four criteria:

  1. their primary purpose is the inculcation of religious values,
  2. they primarily employ people who share their religious tenets,
  3. they primarily serve people who share their religious tenets, and
  4. they are organized under the section of the Internal Revenue Code used by churches per se.

What this means, groups such as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s Missionaries of Charities would not be defined as a religious organization, because they – and most Catholic charities – have always provided their services to anyone – regardless of faith or lack of faith – that finds themselves in need. Catholic institutions employ many people of other faiths because of the skills they offer to assist the works of charities; not because they share in the same ‘religious tenets’.

Under such definition, it is true, Mother Teresa and her works of charity are not ‘religious’ at all, and would be forced to provide medicines and procedures (contraceptives and abortion-related procedures) that go against her religious beliefs. Her religious freedom to act according to conscience would indeed be suppressed.

To understand how grossly errant this policy is, let us compare it with an example from history.

In the years following the writing of the Declaration of Independence, Napoleon was conquering Italy. There is a little known story about his ‘governance’ that is well documented in our own religious institute’s history. By decree, Napoleon ordered the closing of all religious institutions in Italy, including those in the city of Verona, the home of our Foundress, Saint Magdalene of Canossa. She was still working out her plans to begin a new religious congregation that, much like Mother Teresa focused on the welfare of the sick and dying, and education of the poor. But of course, she needed a place in which to carry out her works of charity and to house and prepare her followers for this work. Napoleon had made himself a guest of the Canossa palace, and Magdalene understood that she would need approvals from his government in order to obtain the abandoned convent of Saint Joseph for her works.

It is interesting to note, that despite the fact that Magdalene’s works of charity were clearly based on religious principles, Napoleon was able to appreciate them as a benefit for the society. Her request for the acquirement of the convent of Saint Joseph’s was approved for her works of charity, and thus, May 8, 1808 the Canossian Daughters of Charity – Servants of the Poor was born in an abandoned convent of Saint Joseph’s in Verona, Italy.

Napoleon, who obviously had no regard for religious (demonstrated by the decree of 1806, ousting religious from their convents), was able to recognize the good in a young woman’s works of charity, and grant her the approval to open a house to fulfill them. How is it that the United States government cannot see the harm of restricting religious from equally acting for the good of society through their works of charity, according to their good conscience?

This is what we are up against. Solely because we by conscience cannot restrict our services and hiring practices to those who share our own religious tenets, we are not recognized as ‘religious’ organizations.

In these last days of the Fortnight for Freedom, we must pray – and pray hard – that our freedom to exercise faith in the service of the least of our society will be upheld and protected by law. Otherwise, what guarantee will there be from preventing in the future our freedoms from being further reduced to a point where we, like Saints Peter and Paul whom we celebrate today, will have to pay a very high price to follow Christ?

We are on Day Nine of the Fortnight for Freedom. Join us in prayer and reflection on the gift we have in religious freedom.

Check out the USCCB website for opportunities during this Fortnight.

Well worth reading, Archbishop William E. Lori addresses the Religious Liberty Observatory of the Italian Ministry of External Affairs and the City of Rome on Religious Freedom.

Related Post: I Dare You!

Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us!

Saint Magdalene of Canossa, pray for us!

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/profile_sr_lisa-e1313147535417.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Sister Lisa Marie Doty is a Canossian Sister. She enjoys giving retreats and vocational talks to teens and young women in the Sacramento Diocese, and on-going formation to her Institute’s Lay Canossian Associates. She is also the local vocational director for her religious family. In her spare time, she enjoys graphic design, playing with new media, taking walks and making rosaries. Her website is Nunspeak.[/author_info] [/author]

Freedom and Fort Nights

During this fortnight for freedom, it is worth reflecting on some words of wisdom by Blessed Pope John Paul the Great: “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” It is because our government is choosing the former (the “right” to do whatever we want) at the expense of the later (the ability to simply do what is right) that the bishops have united and launched this fortnight for freedom campaign. Now, the campaign is aimed specifically at the Obama administration’s tyrannical HHS Mandate, as well it should be. The freedom of religion—which includes freedom of conscience—is perhaps the most important of our liberties, excepting perhaps only the right to life [1]. There are several ways in which our freedom is under attack, including:

  • The HHS mandate which tramples on employers conscience rights and forces them to provide insurance which will cover contraception, sterilization, and even some kinds of abortion
  • The increasing hostility of what Mr Mark Shea would call the “gay brownshirts,” which largely consists of a “gay” couple suing a photographer, bed-and-breakfast, or baker for refusing to provide service to them for their “weeding”/honeymoon, and then a federal judge siding with the “gay couple” (often in the face of local laws) and leveling hefty fines or court orders that the photographer/baker/innkeeper provide his respective service. [2]
  • Taxes continue to be collected for distribution to Murder, Inc.
  • The conscience rights of pharmacists are violated when they are forced to provide contraceptives—including abortifacent contraceptives—or risk losing their jobs; this coercive power against conscience is given legal sanction in some states [3], and also now by the HHS mandate mentioned above.
  • Catholic charities adoption services are often told that they must either start placing children for adoption with “gay” couples or close their doors, despite their arguments that this is a) contrary to Catholic moral teaching and b) that this is not to the benefit of the children [4].
  • On the other side of things, the Church is being forbidden from carrying out a few works of mercy—feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, and especially harboring the harborless—on account of their being illegal immigrants.

And all of these name only direct, political assaults against the freedom of religion. They say nothing about the erosion which occurs thanks to pressures from society, from the media, from the academy—in short, from the greater “marketplace of ideas” [5]. There is another type of pressure against living as people of Faith, that is, against our religion and against our consciences: that is the pressure which comes from our own weaknesses, our own concupiscence, the temptations which we suffer for our own reasons.

Our late, great pope’s statement certainly can be aimed against the government which coerces conscience against freedom—the right to do what we ought. But we see that freedom is more than merely having this right: it is our own ability to act on this right, even when society, or even when our own appetites, urge us against it. There is, in other words, a moral dimension to freedom. I would go so far as to say that moral freedom—which starts with the individual—ultimately underlies political freedom, though political freedom (or the suppression thereof) can reinforce or undermine moral freedom.

Our freedom is threatened by those who wish to have a false freedom, the right to satisfy their appetites with no questions asked. The have gained ascension in the press, in the academy, and in the government: but this ascension is in part because of the decline of moral virtue, both as individuals and as a society; and, truth be told, this decline is in part because of the complacency of the Church in America. Catholics so much longed for safety within and acceptance by the larger society that when finally they had begun to earn it, they forgot that the mission of the Church is not to be liked, but to be Christ’s bride and His mystical body; the forgot, despite the emphasis of the second Vatican Council, that to be baptized was to be not only priest and king, but also prophet, to speak the ignored and at times uncomfortable Truth, and to speak that Truth to power; and to be confirmed is to be made a soldier for Truth, that is, to wage spiritual war (against the enemy, Satan) for Christ.

Part of that Truth which we are to proclaim and to fight for is morality—the moral truths according to which we ought to form our consciences. These moral truths will always be out of season with much of society; society is, after all, of us fallen men who are sinners, and thus who fall somewhat short of moral excellence. This is perhaps why morality is so hard to preach, because virtue is so hard to practice. Thus we committed the old Socratic error of relegating assuming that philosophy alone could suffice to inculcate virtue, that education was all which was needed to make men moral—and this during a time when education, and Catholic education, was in a crisis of identity.

But while philosophy may aide in inculcating virtue, it is certainly not enough—for some of the most immoral men are quite educated, or at the least have quite a bit of schooling. Education taken more broadly can be helpful—a part of correctly forming your conscience is to learn what is right and what is wrong and why, and a part of becoming virtuous and morally upright is to heed the warnings of a well-formed conscience. On the other hand, there is also an element of child-like simplicity: if we are to become innocent, we must also become obedient, trusting of God and His authority.

“Fortnight,” or “fort night”? Source.

There is a sense in which the “Fornight for Freedom” is really also a “Fort Night for Freedom” (to borrow a pun from my friend Mr Gregory Turco). Indeed, there are at least two senses in which this is true. There is the childlike sense implied in mistaking a “fortnight” for a “fort night.” Then there is the perhaps more spiritually mature sense of recognizing that this is no mere physical, political battle, but a spiritual one; and the Church is our only Fort in that fight, and the Church is the only army on earth which can storm that enemy’s stronghold.

It is no mere coincidence that the Fortnight for Freedom was begun on the feast day of Sts Thomas More and John Fisher. For they were witnesses to a truth, a reflection of the Truth, against the secular tyranny of their day. And they also won out, by God’s grace, against the enemies which ultimately underlies all such tyranny: our own sinfulness, and the temptations of Satan. Now it is for us to do the same. It is, moreover, no mere coincidence that this fortnight involves some form of fasting or sacrifice, some asceticism; for asceticism is the weapon we use against our own desires, and prayer against the temptation of the devil.

In the second volume of his History of Christendom, the late historian Warren H Carroll mentions an episode between another great saint who was faced with the tyrannical demands of the government of his day: adhere to the Arianizing creed (that is, proclaim as true the heresy of his day), or else. Professor Carrol presents this exchange between the newly elected bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (Asia Minor) and Prefect Modestus, an agent of Eastern Emperor Valens, which took place in AD 371:

MODESTUS: What, do you not fear my power?

BASIL: What could happen to me? What might I suffer?

MODESTUS: Any one of the numerous torments which are in my power.

BASIL: What are these? Tell me about them.

MODESTUS: Confiscation, exile, torture, death.

BASIL: If you have any other, you can threaten me with it, for there is nothing so far whcih affects me.

MODESTUS: Why, what do you mean?

BASIL: Well, in truth confiscation means nothing to a man who has nothing, unless you covet these wretched rags, and a few books: that is all I possess. As to exile, that means nothing to me, for I am attached to no particular place. That wherein I live is not mine, and I shall feel at home in any place to which I am sent. Or rather, I regard this whole earth as belonging to God, and I consider myself as a stranger or sojourner wherever I may be. As for torture, how will you apply this? I have not a body capable of bearing it, unless you are thinking of the first blow that you give me, for that will be the only one in your power. As for death, this will be a benefit to me, for it will take me the sooner to the God for Whom I live, for Whom I act, and for Whom I am more than half dead, and Whom I have desired long since.

Carroll notes that the prefect (Modestus) and later the Eastern Emperor Valens himself, retired from these conversations rather abashed, and left St Basil alone. Saint Basil was truly and radically free, because he was obedient to the LORD. I pray that for us, it won’t come to these punishments in persecution. But I pray even more that we would be willing to suffer these things if that is what it takes to bear witness to the Truth. Saints Thomas Moore and John Fisher, pray for us! Saint Basil, pray for us!

 

Footnotes

[1] Which is itself threatened in various ways by the current President and his administration and his party.

[2] It also consists of some vandalism of Churches, disruption of the Mass, or even death threats against those who speak out.

[3] You’ll have to scroll down a bit, and the map in question is two years old, so some things have changed.

[4] And somehow, I suspect that the Regenerus study—which shows lots of evidence that the Church is right about this—will continue to be roundly ignored or worse, decried on the patently absurd ground that it was funded by a conservative organization (The Witherspoon Institute), all the while ignoring the axe to grind which is held by the various smaller, more limited, and frankly biased studies which sought to show that there is no difference between “gay” and “straight” parents as concerns the well-being of the children.

[5] These pressures we will always have wit us to some extent or other. They do, however, lack the coercive power of government (or of employers, as sometimes the case may be concerning consciences clauses).

Walls, Pain, Filth

Asia Bibi’s cell is like a tomb, deprived of sunlight. She can see ‘no more than the prison bars, the wet ground and the walls blackened by filth. An odour of grease, sweat and urine pervades everything…It is the smell of death or of despair.’[1]

When it rains outside, it also rains in her cell. Her soiled flimsy blanket, like her clothes, become wet and the ground in her cell turns to mud. She sleeps on ‘a single mattress of braided rope, without sheets or a pillow.’[2]

To preserve the little heat that comes from her tired and sore body she curls up, adopting a fetus position, knees pressed to her chin. She excretes on the floor. ‘No human being can live like this,’ she says, ‘Each day I look deep inside myself for the strength to hold on. I am fighting to keep a bit of dignity.’

A new music video “Free Asia Bibi”, inspired by Asia Bibi’s autobiography, reveals the full horror of Christian persecution in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Arrested for resisting violent pressures to convert to Islam she now languishes in an isolated cell awaiting her appeal against a sentence, condemning her to death by hanging under Section 295c of Pakistan’s penal code.

Hal, from the electro-pop band ooberfuse, who co-wrote the band’s hard-hitting song and music video Free Asia Bibi, said “Asia’s autobiography vividly describes the hellish conditions she has been living in since her arrest on 14th June 2009.

To compound the injustice of an unwarranted death sentence, meted out to appease the angry mob whose rage was fuelled by local mullahs preaching hatred, Asia has spent close to 3 years living in the most undignified prison conditions. Whereas Muslim clerics, like Abu Hamza, responsible for some of the worst terrorist atrocities in the West, enjoy the relative comfort of prison cells with televisions and 50 channels, she is fighting for survival in conditions unfit for an animal.

Cherrie says : “The authorities are caught between a rock and a hard place : if they release Asia there will be riots on the streets. If they hang her there will be condemnation from the international community. By making prison life so unbearable, it seems they are hoping she dies in gaol. She is currently awaiting either death or freedom. It is not too late to save her, either by getting the original verdict overturned or by obtaining a presidential pardon. We can help free her by expressing global public support for Asia Bibi and campaigning for her release.”

Visit www.freeasiabibi.co.uk for more details.

Join the Campaign to Free Asia Bibi – Spread the word & Pray.

LINKS:

Free Asia Bibi – Song

Free Asia Bibi – Youtube

Free Asia Bibi – Website

Related stories:

– http://marianews.com/wordpress/6272/uk-electro-pop-band-launches-campaign-to-support-christian-mother-sentenced-to-death-for-defending-her-faith/

– http://www.pakistanchristianpost.com/headlinenewsd.php?hnewsid=3560

Margeaux Tells Her Story: The Catholic Teen That Took a Stand for Religious Freedom

Guest post by Margeaux Graham, the Catholic teen who refused to miss Mass for a rare academic honor

Desire, doubt, honor, excitement, shock, and disappointment are the emotions preceding discrimination in the modern world. I have felt all of these towards a very unsuspecting organization, the Florida Girls State program sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary.

The Girls State program is a once in a life time opportunity that is only available to high school juniors. Three girls from my school are nominated each year for the opportunity to become delegate.

The previous year’s delegate came to my AP American History class and told us about her experience in the Girls State program. She made it sound very appealing, talking about the friends she made and the various things she learned. She also told us about the a variety of college opportunities that the delegates would get, such as ten points added to scholarship applications, special considerations when applying to colleges, and three credit hours for American government. I knew I wouldn’t be chosen, I am the quiet kid in class, do my work and only answer aloud when called upon. I was certain I would not be chosen.

Well, I got the surprise of my life, my teacher chose me as one of the three candidates for delegate. Though confused as to why she would find me outstanding, I was completely stoked. The next step was an interview with the American Legion Auxiliary.

When it came time for our interview I was very nervous. I arrived at the post with my parents. I knew I wasn’t going to be chosen, I felt completely unprepared, whereas my class mates looked completely ready to face what lay ahead. The first girl to go in was, in my opinion, most likely to be chosen. She is tall, pretty, outgoing, personable, and she had a folder — I didn’t have a folder, I didn’t know we needed a folder, and that alone made me all the more nervous. Next, it was my turn. As I went in I was self-conscious of the fact that my dress had gotten wrinkly during dinner, I felt slightly frumpy (as is normal), and that my voice was a little shaky because I was alone in a room full of strangers. I mustered up all I could to be charming, witty, and above all, worthy to be delegate. They asked me questions and I felt as if I were babbling. I talked about 4-H and the camps I go to, my cows, my dog, my family and my friends. Somehow I made unrelated subjects fit and my words segued into each other, I felt like a slightly eloquent speaker for the first time in my life. The awkwardness eventually returned and my time was done. The next girl went in and I knew she stood a better chance than I did of getting chosen; she is friendly and knows how to strike up a conversation with anyone about anything. Of the three girls there, I knew I was the least likely to be chosen.

When all of the interviews were done we stood in a line as we waited for them to announce who would be delegate. I stood there calmly waiting to congratulate whoever the winner was since it wasn’t going to be me. They started with the alternate. So it was clear who the delegate was going to be and I was perfectly content with that. Our auxiliary leader read out the name “and our delegate is going to be Margeaux Graham!” I was shocked; they said my name, not the name of my class mate, I couldn’t help but smile, it was completely unexpected. The other girls congratulated me while I was still slightly convinced that they had made some sort of mistake and gotten our names mixed up.

I received a packet of information in the mail that told me that the program would last nine days, from a Friday to a Saturday; this of course presented a problem because they said nothing about how we would be accommodated for Sunday worship. I immediately sent an email to which I got no response. The packet also said that I would have to attend an orientation, so I decided to ask whether or not I would be allowed to attend Mass at the orientation.

I learned there would be a “non-denominational, non-offensive” service offered to all of the girls. This immediately raised a red flag so I chose to approach the speaker to inquire what kind of arrangements could be made for Mass. As I approached a girl was already there asking a question so I stood and waited my turn while the Girls State representative very politely answered her. When it was my turn I asked her if there would be accommodations for Catholics to attend Mass. She replied with a very un-apologetic, “No.” I then told my mother and she approached to emphasize missing Mass was not an option, and was met with a very cold and unfriendly response. The representative made it quite clear that I would have to choose between attending Mass and Girls State.

I was shocked and puzzled as to why they would not even discuss a solution to this issue. They were providing a non-denominational service but not making any move to accommodate other religions. I felt that this was discrimination.

We called our local post leader when we got home and informed him of the dilemma. He called the Girls State headquarters and offered to make the arrangements to have a priest brought in during their service and they told him that it was not allowed.

I regretfully typed a letter of resignation, sent it to whomever I thought should receive it, and explained what was wrong with this injustice and how I saw it as discrimination.

I wouldn’t miss Mass for the world, it is that important to me. I am grateful for the all of the people that have shown support towards the issue of honoring the gift of the Eucharist. I can only pray that this means others will have the courage to stand up for their faith and not let the secular society impede on religious practices, no matter what they are.

Another delegate has been appointed and Margeaux has no plans to attend at this time. If an invitation is again extended to her, she has said she will only accept if the other girl can still attend too. The 9-day conference begins June 15, 2012.


To read the coverage of Margeaux’s stand, see these articles at The American Catholic:

Margeaux’s Stand: Catholic Teen Defends Her Right to Attend Mass

Go Margeaux! Victorious in Defense of the Eucharist

Image credit: iCLIPART

For Greater Glory: A Lesson

The story of the Cristiada – or Cristero War – was released today in the United States under the film title, “For Greater Glory“. It tells of the rise to power of President Plutarco Elias Calles and how he becomes obsessed with the idea the Catholic Church in Mexico is a threat as he tries to enforce the anti-clerical articles of the constitution of Mexico* by writing a new and more stringent law, the Calles Law (1926), penalizing clerics for any infraction of the constitution. At first, there is little resistance, but as Churches are closed and priests are arrested and foreign priests deported, a resistance to the government silently begins to build. The film uses the backdrop of the rebellion to tell the story of a boy, José Luis Sánchez del Río (March 28, 1913 – February 10, 1928) and how his faith and courage opens the heart of the agnostic rebel general Enrique Gorostieta to return to the Catholic faith. Some film reviews have called For Greater Glory “simplistic” story telling. But within its story, there are many lessons to be learned. I’d like to share just one.

On the way home from the movie, my Sisters and I were discussing various scenes in the movie, and how impressed we were with the story of young José and the deep courage he had shown. But where did he get it?

One of the opening scenes depicts an eleven year old boy, José, and his friend playing a joke on the parish priest, Father Christopher (Peter O’Toole). José is caught by his father and brought to the priest so that he can make up for his wrong doing. The light-hearted priest plays down the matter of the joke, and the boy is taken under Father Christopher’s wing. Over the days that follow, a friendship forms between the priest and the boy. One day, José asks Father Christopher why he doesn’t go into hiding like many of the other priests. He tells the boy how God will watch over him in His house. The boy continues to insist, only for the priest to conclude, “There is no greater glory than to give your life for Christ.”  These words impress José very much. A few days later, José is up in the bell tower marveling at the view of hills, when he notices government horsemen riding toward his village. He shouts to warn the people and then goes to find Father Christopher to warn him. José urges Fr Christopher to hide, but he refuses. He gives his rosary to José and sends him off. José returns to the bell tower from where he watches as his priest friend is brought out of the church and shot by a firing squad. As the squad prepares, it seems that the priest and José are repeating the words from their places, aware of the others presence, “There is no greater glory than to give your life for Christ.”

The movie goes on to show this young boy as a person of deep moral fiber, courageous and zealous for the things of God. Towards the end of his young life, he is tortured to reveal the base camp of the rebels, and in his refusal they cut the bottoms of his feet. He is then led through the village – his personal via crucis – his feet bleeding, to the spot prepared for his execution. With his parents standing by, he is given the chance to walk away, if only he will say Christ is dead. He continues to say “Viva Cristo Rey!” He is stabbed and topples over, tracing the sign of a cross in the ground with his blood shortly before he is shot to death.

Reflecting on his character, I mused:

  • “What if Father Christoper had gone into hiding?” 
  • “What if – in his moment of confrontation – the priest gave in to his prosecutors and denied his faith there in the square under the watchful eyes of young José?” 
  • “What if others chose not to get involved, risking their personal safety, for the sake of the war for religious freedom?”

The movie doesn’t tell us, but hints at the inspiration in Jose’s life in a simple parish priest who lived – and died – well for Christ.

This lesson is one we all must take to heart. We might not be called to die – as many did in the Cristero War did – for what we believe in. But we can ask ourselves, “Who are the Josés in our lives that might be carefully watching, wanting to do what is right but need someone to show them the way?”

Will the witness of our life and faith be such, that when José must choose, we have helped prepare him to be courageous to do what is right, no matter the cost? Viva Cristo Rey!

___

To know more about José and the other beatified martyrs of the Cristero War.
 
In the United States, now, there is a threat to religious freedom brewing, that would not even allow Mother Teresa and her works of charity to continue.
 
For more information on religious, please visit US Conference of Catholic Bishops website.
 
* The Mexican Constitution, ratified in 1917, was based on a previous version instituted by Benito Suarez in 1857.