Brad Rozairo, OMI – Every year on the third Sunday of October we celebrate World Mission Sunday. At mass that Sunday, as Catholics we recommit ourselves to our common vocation through Baptism to be missionaries through participation in the Eucharist, prayer and by making a monitory contribution to support the evangelizing work of the church in the missions.
Pope Francis released the Message for the 2022 World Mission Day, which will be celebrated on Sunday 23 October on the theme “You shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Bible teaches us about persecution against Christians and how they bore witness to Jesus Christ. In his message, our Holy Father says that “something similar still happens in our own day. Due to religious persecution and situations of war and violence, many Christians are forced to flee from their homelands to other countries. We are grateful to these brothers and sisters who do not remain locked in their own suffering but bear witness to Christ and to the love of God in the countries that accept them”.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, by the end of last year, more than 89.3 million people were forcibly displaced, of whom 27.1 million were refugees who were forced to flee because of ongoing persecution due to their beliefs or religious affiliations. In January 2022, Open Doors, which is an international NGO advocating on behalf of persecuted Christians, released its annual World Watch List. Usually, North Korea remains at the top of the list, but since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in August 2021, the top of the list was taken by Afghanistan. More than 6 million Afghans have been uprooted from their homes and country by conflict, violence and religious persecution.
We have heard many sad stories of religious persecution in different parts of the world. A few years ago, two gunmen, allegedly Islamic extremists, attacked a Missionaries of Charity convent and nursing home for elderly and disabled persons in Yemen. Four of the victims were sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, the community founded by St. Teresa of Kolkata, better known as Mother Teresa. Following the attack, Pope Francis denounced the violence and described the victims as “today’s martyrs.”
In India, the rise in persecution has been highly disturbing to the Christian community, as Hindu extremists aim to cleanse India of the presence and influence of believers. According to AsiaNews, last year, four families were beaten and kicked out of their village simply because they were Christian. It happened in the district of Kandhamal, the area of the Indian state of Orissa already infamous for the serious persecutions of 2008. A Catholic priest who is helping the families file a complaint with the local police station says that “they have not yet been able to return to the village. And it is serious that some Christians are still being persecuted simply for their faith in Jesus Christ.”
In China, the grip of the Chinese Communist Party on Christianity has been tightening lately. Government officials have been asked to collect the personal data of worshippers. Minors are not allowed to educate themselves on religious matters. Religious symbols such as crosses and church structures are being destroyed by force and authorities have been removing Bible apps and Christian WeChat public accounts. Three years ago, under the pretext of “keeping stability”, three underground Catholic churches were raided and suppressed by Chinese authorities, and a priest was forced to end a Christmas mass. There is no doubt that Christians in China are subject to high levels of persecution and the Chinese church is in a crisis.
Those who follow Jesus are called not only to proclaim the Gospel but to bear witness to it by the way they live their lives even amid persecution. In his message, Pope Francis says that when the risen Christ commissioned the disciples to be his witnesses, he also promised them the grace needed for this great responsibility: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). It was precisely following the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples that the first act of witnessing to the crucified and risen Christ took place. The Holy Spirit, who is always the “protagonist of the mission” gave wisdom, strength and courage to the weak and fearful disciples.
Today, it is the same Spirit that invites every Christian to be a missionary and work for God’s people, and bear witness to Christ. This might sound very challenging, but it is our vocation as Christians. May our participation in the Eucharist, personal prayer & meditation and the works of charity we perform enable us to take up the challenge and to step into the unknown for the sake of Christ Jesus.