Jerome Novotny OMI – It has been about two months now since one of the great moral voices of the world has died – Archbishop Desmond Tutu. As the first black Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, he worked to bring an end to the racist policy of apartheid. And when that dehumanizing system of discrimination was finally dismantled, he worked to bring forgiveness and reconciliation between the white and black populations of his country so that there could be a future of peace for all people in South Africa.
Contrast this to modern-day dictators like: (1) Russian Vladimir Putin ordering troops into two Russian-backed separatist territories in Ukraine and hinting at the possibility of a wider military campaign to take over all of Ukraine. On his own, Putin signed decrees recognizing the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics and directed the Russian Defense Ministry to deploy troops in those regions. Not only ordering the Ukraine invasion, Putin has put Russia’s nuclear forces on ‘special alert’. Those words were widely interpreted as signalling a threat to use nuclear weapons if the West stood in his way. However, Ukraine nor the rest of the world views the so-called republics as anything but Ukrainian territory. Condemnations of Russia’s invasion and actions ring out around the world. Will the world stand strong or will evil again be allowed to reign?
(2) Another modern-style dictator: Chinese Xi Jinping‘s assault on Hong Kong, military threats against Taiwan, and his disregard for the human rights of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The world was shocked to see all the restrictions by the communist regime placed on athletes, coaches and people attending the recent 2022 Winter Olympics held in China. They even threatened to arrest anyone who would dare to criticized China and its human rights policies. Sad results followed. The world witnessed people from democratic countries worldwide, as well as athletes and coaches bow their heads, keep silent, and do as they were told. Democracy bowing to Communism. Wow! What a legacy to hand down to our future children. Remember: The Olympic Games are an international sports festival, whose ultimate goals are to cultivate human beings, through sport, contribute to world peace, the betterment of the world and unite people across the world.
(3) In North Korea we encounter an immature dictator, Kim Jong-un, who threatens Asia and world stability by firing missiles over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. He’s like a little child playing with his toys. This is extremely dangerous because one failure or accident could lead to a nuclear war in Asia. His rhetoric that he will use the missiles to destroy his enemies, primarily America and its allies; is intensifing the level of tension. This weak dictator claims to be a god, but in reality, a weak leader who intentionally starves his own people by placing all monies into nuclear development.
Crimes against humanity are considered among the gravest human rights abuses under international law. The specific crimes against humanity documented in this report “Break Quote taken from Their Lineage, Break Their Roots“ include imprisonment or other deprivation of liberty in violation of international law; persecution of an identifiable ethnic or religious group; enforced disappearance; torture; murder; and alleged inhumane acts intentionally causing great suffering or serious injury to mental or physical health, notably forced labor and sexual violence. Additional reading: China: Crimes Against Humanity in Xinjiang.
The sense of justice that burned within Archbishop Desmond Tutu could be seen in his life. It is one thing when we hear people talking about equality, justice, and love. But when we actually see people living out those values in the everyday choices they make, then we start to pay attention. We listen to such people, and we follow such people. That is what happened to young Desmond Tutu during the racist policy of apartheid when he encountered a white man who greeted him and showed him love and respect because of his belief in Jesus.
A Christian wants to listen closely to Jesus’ words. It makes sense that if we only love those who love us back and only do good to those who do good to us then there is nothing noble or heroic in that. The truth of Jesus’ words resounds in our hearts. It makes us want to be the type of people who can love even our enemies and do good even to those who wish us harm. In the core of our being, we want to be people who forgive, who bless others, and who love unconditionally.
However, as we try to live Jesus’ words, we come face-to-face with our human weakness. As much as we may want to forgive, we find ourselves holding on to petty grudges or carrying out prejudices to an extreme level. As much as we may want to do good to others, we fear that we will be taken advantage of. So few people take up the challenges of Jesus’ words because of pride and fear. And when we see others holding back, we are tempted to do the same.
Is it really possible to live the words of Jesus? Is it really possible to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who mistreat us? Is it possible to turn the other cheek to those who strike us and give money to those whom we know can never pay us back?
In the Gospel of Mark 10:25 we read: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” The disciples asked, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus answered, “For men it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” Translated into today’s crisis in Ukraine, the solution to the problem resembles the eye of the needle and it appears to be impossible for man to solve it without some type of conflict. However, “All things are possible for God.”
The fact is that, no matter how much we may admire Jesus’ words and aspire to live up to them, it is impossible to do so with our human hearts. Only those who know the love of God and have received that love into their hearts can then show such unconditional love to others. Only those who have experienced God’s forgiveness can then turn around and forgive others. Only those who know that they are accepted by God just as they are can then love their neighbors without judging them. Only those who understand that all they have comes from a generous God can then give abundantly to others.
Psalm 3 tells us to trust in God under Adversity. The first time I read it, the message seemed to reach out to a larger audience. The second time I read it slowly and replaced the personal pronoun “I” with “We”. Then, uniting myself with the Ukrainian people, I read it a third time. Now I understood what God was saying to me. Trust implies a firm belief in God. The Psalm reads, we cry aloud to the Lord and He answers us from His holy hill and Mark supports this with “All things are possible for God.” Do we really believe Jesus’s Words? If so, is it possible that God cannot hear our cries for help! There are 1,440 minutes in one day. How many minutes have we cried aloud to God for help with the Ukraine crisis?
Today, we come face to face with Jesus and His love for us. If we are to be people who love, who forgive, and who trust in God, we have to follow the example that Jesus shows us in the Eucharist. We have to make ourselves small so that we can give ourselves as a gift to others. That is what happened to many others who saw in Archbishop Tutu someone who was willing to live the gospel in an uncompromising way. It is what Saint Mother Teresa did every day on the streets of Calcutta. It is what we must do if we are to transform this world through the love of Christ.
We commit ourselves to pray and to spread the truth about the gift of life, in order to remind everyone that we can, as St. John Paul II taught: “Human life is precious because it is the gift of a God whose love is infinite; and when God gives life, it is forever.”