THE SPRING OF 2003, I was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Just an amazing experience in so many ways, and here is a snippet.
I was looking for a Catholic church to go to mass one Sunday and found that I was in walking distance of the Vatican embassy.
The priest celebrating mass was a tall, handsome man. He spoke English with an accent and in the chapel that beautiful morning, I felt completely at home.
This priest was a citizen of Sri Lanka, no doubt rotating through Ethiopia for a time, and then off to another part of the world.
I would think we all know what happened in Sri Lanka this past Easter Sunday, and I couldn’t help but think of this priest and how in so many ways we are all connected in this world.
The images from the aftermath of Sri Lanka were almost too much to bear. So many children; too many beautiful children.
The Christian Post described what happened at Zion Church in the city of Batticaloa.
“Today was an Easter Sunday school at the church,” said Caroline Mahendran, a Sunday school teacher, “and we asked the children how many of you are willing to die for Christ? Everyone raised their hands. Minutes later, they came down to the main service and the blast happened. Half of the children died on the spot.”
Pictures of young girls in their First Communion dresses were particularly distressing, as was one mom cradling her son.
Do I have to look at this? Yes, I thought.
We cannot deny the reality of what is going on in our world, even though it is woefully under reported.
According to World Watch International, they estimate 200 million Christians face some type of persecution today. Respected journalist John Allen said that “the low-end estimate for the number of new Christian martyrs every year is around 8,000; while the high-end runs to 100,000. That works out to either one new martyr every hour, or every five minutes.” He called this a “human rights scourge.”
It seems in the aftermath of these atrocities, and we are not talking always about Christian martyrs, blame is assigned to some group or ideology or even a particular person, and then the dust settles, and we move on.
It’s easy to feel helpless at times and this is part of the human condition, not knowing what, if anything, to do.
God grants us the ability to act but the words of Jesus, and his actions as well, are the only way to the “way, and the truth, and the life.”
“But I tell you,” Jesus implored us, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
This does not negate action, but it does give us a better way.
Just as we communicate with our families and friends, those closest to us, we must communicate with the God who created us.
I encounter many Christians of all stripes who rarely pray.
Grace before meals is nice, but is that it? For many, yes. In truth, they’ve never really tried prayer, or given it much thought.
In turn, when prayers that are pleasing to God are answered, then don’t think of this as a “coincidence.”
Also, expand out of the orbit of personal prayer. In other words, pray for our country, our world, those who are neglected or hungry. God may call you in some way to help alleviate the struggles of so many in our own orbit, or outside it.
I was in Ethiopia at that time because of God — no other way to put it.
Jesus wept because of Lazarus; human tears, divine tears. And he weeps today we should have no doubt. But he also has given us hope in a better way, a lasting, eternal way, and really the only way.
Pray for peace with all your heart.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Mike Acheson is director of religious education at Queen of Angels Roman Catholic Church in Port Angeles and St. Joseph Parish in Sequim. His email is [email protected]