Whenever we say the Apostles' Creed, we profess our belief in the Communion of Saints. This should evoke an image of a great society of mutual assistance, in which the saints in Heaven intercede for us, while we help the Holy Souls in Purgatory with our prayers and by the indulgences we are able to gain for them. This dynamic of charity is a reflection of the Divine Charity which characterizes the Life of the Blessed Trinity, and is a practical expression of the theological virtue of Charity, which is infused into our souls in Baptism.
In The Creed in Slow Motion Monsignor Ronald Knox reminds us of a more prosaic meaning. He says that if you were to have asked St Paul what he meant by ‘the Communion of Saints" he would have said that “when one set of Christians is hard up another set of Christians, in a different part of the world, sends round the hat and takes up a collection for them.”
This is what we need to do, quite urgently, for Christians in the Middle East, where whole Christian communities have been obliterated and continue to be eradicated in places like Iraq, Syria and Libya. Christian men, women and children are being tortured and slaughtered. Countless thousands of the survivors have been driven from their homes and are currently living in abject poverty in refugee camps, in fear for their future.
One of the terrible sufferings these poor people have to endure is the dreadful sense of having been forgotten. Four hundred Christians are murdered on one day, and one hundred and fifty Christians kidnapped on another day, and we hear very little, if anything, about it. Most of the media takes very little interest in the plight of persecuted Christians, and the leaders of the world have other priorities.
The Oratory Fathers recently invited Aid to the Church in Need to make an appeal in our church on behalf of the persecuted. This appeal has so far raised around twenty five thousand pounds. As this persecution is an ongoing crisis, it is hoped that we shall continue to raise funds for those Christians who need our help and will continue to need all the assistance we can give for a long time to come.
As well as giving materially, we also need to pray. The extinction of the Christian presence in great swathes of the Middle East is arguably one of the greatest calamities that civilisation has ever faced. Previously, when western Europe was threatened by the Turks, Pope St Pius V, in addition to calling on Christendom to raise an army, instructed all Catholics to pray the Rosary. It is no exaggeration to say that the victory of the Christian fleet at the Battle of Lepanto on 7th October 1571 saved western Christendom from enslavement. The Feast of the Most Holy Rosary was established in thanksgiving for Our Lady’s intervention.
The plight of Christians in the Middle East is desperate. But even on the natural level there is perhaps a glimmer of hope. In the person of Pope Francis, the Church on earth has been granted a Sovereign Pontiff who has captivated the hearts not only of his own flock, but seemingly of the western world and the mainstream media. Since the publication of his encyclical on the environment, the Holy Father has even been acclaimed as a “world leader” by some of the most hard-bitten secularists on the planet today.
We can only pray that the moral authority which even the media and anti-clerical potentates are now attributing to the Holy Father will play in favour of our persecuted Christian brethren. This month, Pope Francis will visit the President of the United States of America in Washington. On 25th September the Successor of St Peter will address a meeting of the United Nations in New York. Pray hard that the Holy Ghost will take possession of that assembly, so that the hearts of the powerful will be moved to take decisive and swift action to save what remains of the Christian presence in the Middle East. Pray that the Paraclete will inspire the Holy Father to find the right words to galvanise that assembly into action.
In this time of great urgency and untold suffering, there is something we can do, as members of the Communion of Saints, to assist those of the saints who are currently suffering persecution, homelessness and death. We can give generously, to an extent that is self-sacrificial. We should aim to turn that £25,000 raised so far into £100,000, and much more as the months go by. And we can all pray. One of the most powerful weapons we have is the Rosary. Pray it every day for persecuted Christians. And may Our Lady of Victories and the great Pope St Pius V intercede for us all.
We would like to encourage readers to make a donation to Aid to the Church in Need, and to consider supporting their work in favour of persecuted Christians on a more continuous basis. Donations may be made through the Oratory (please make cheques out to “the London Oratory Charity” and indicate in a covering note that they are for the Middle East appeal.) You can also donate directly online, at http://www.acnuk.org/donate2.php. Please go to the “Oratory Middle East Appeal 2015” donation category.
Fr Julian Large