A Real Example at Christmas

A Real Example at Christmas By KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ for The Stream

Getting to know people who are persecuted for their religious faith is life-changing. To meet people whose everyday life involves the real possibility that they might be kidnapped, tortured or killed simply because they are Christian, Yazidi or Uyghur Muslim gives you a whole new perspective.

We don’t often come to know any of these people — they seem a world away. Maybe we make an occasional donation around this time of year. But meeting these people changes things.

Neighbors in the Faith

Upon receiving an award for his work on religious persecution from the Catholic Near East Welfare Association in New York City on Dec. 13, Carl Anderson, who until recently was head of the Knights of Columbus, talked about his work with Christians in Iraq who fled so-called Islamic State genocide.

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“We have much to learn from our fellow Christians in this region, who are some of the oldest Christian communities on the planet,” Anderson said. “How they face danger, persecution and even genocide with courage, fortitude and fidelity.”

“We should get to know them better,” Anderson implored. “We should do more to mainstream them into the life of the Catholic Church — and especially the Church in the United States.” He said: “We should make them not only brothers and sisters in the faith, but we should also make them true neighbors in the faith. And to do that, we must not only ask, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ we should also ask, ‘Am I truly their neighbor?’ That requires time and real encounter.”

The Depths of Mercy

In 2015, I was sitting next to Anderson’s colleague and our mutual friend Andrew Walther at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, not far from Pope Francis. The pope said: “The word ‘mercy’ is composed of two words: misery and heart. The heart indicates the capacity to love; mercy is that love which embraces the misery of the human person.”

At that Mass, Walther decided to devote his efforts to working with those persecuted for their faith. I don’t know if it was the pope’s words that directly inspired him, but whatever it was, it worked. On his deathbed, just before being put on a ventilator for complications from leukemia, he was discussing edits to a video on the plight of Christians in Nigeria.

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