Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli
In our day, Christianity is disappearing from its birthplace in the Middle East. In countries from Lebanon to Sudan, Christians face persecution and martyrdom every day. Two hundred million Christians currently live under persecution. Each year, more than 100,000 Christians are violently killed because they are Christian.
The statistics are staggering. A century ago, Christians made up 20 percent of the Middle East. Today, the Middle East has become the killing fields of Christians, with jihadists dumping their massacred bodies in unmarked graves. Christians in Syria once numbered close to two million. Almost a third of them have been displaced. In the last 10 years, Iraq, the home of one of the oldest Christian communities, has lost half its Christian population. Iraq’s province of Nineveh has been emptied of its Christian population. In the entire Middle East, Christians now make up only 5 percent of the population.
The barbaric incidents of kidnappings, rape, beheadings, forced slavery and crucifixions in the Middle East are making their way into the news. Children mutilated and crying. Women covered in black from head to toe and chained. Men in iron cages paraded through the streets and then burnt alive. Videos posted on the Internet by ISIS boasting of their brutality. So much violence, so much destruction!
Not just Christians, but Muslims who refuse to swear allegiance to ISIS are facing the same end. Mosques are destroyed as well as churches. The rise of Islamic extremists, bent on imposing their way of life, has swept away cities, towns and villages in a tsunami of bloodshed. It is now impossible to keep count of the dead.
Faced with such horrors, world leaders seem indecisive. Some appear unable even to name the reality of what is happening right before their eyes. Diplomacy has not stopped the carnage. Human rights matter little to extremists whose world view leaves no room for tolerating those whose faith and way of life differ from their own. The occasional story on the front page of a newspaper or in a TV news report catches our attention and then we return to our normal life. Is all of this too much for us to take in? Is it simply easier to switch the channel from the brutal news to a situation comedy? Isn’t it less painful to turn the radio station to some soothing music? Can we really absorb the pain and suffering of so many? Closing our eyes and remaining silent: is this the rational response to the agony of so many on such a wide scale?
Pope Francis has called us to move out of our comfort zone and to face the horrible sufferings of others. In his 2015 message for Lent, the Pope says, “Usually, when we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does): we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure… Our heart grows cold.” Pope Francis labels this attitude so prevalent today “the globalization of indifference.”
Has the Holy Father hit the nail right on the head? Is this why the world keeps silent when Christians, Muslims and other religious minorities are being slaughtered and whole towns and villages wiped off the map? Are we simply indifferent? Faced with such brutality, should we not be angry? Should we not feel a deep hatred for the heinous crimes against humanity in our day, so advanced in science and technology?
Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel once remarked that anger is creative. It can give rise to poetry and to music. Just anger can certainly motivate to action. Seeing the Temple in Jerusalem being turned into a den of thieves, Jesus himself became angry and overturned the money-changers tables. Hatred also has a positive value in some cases. Hatred of evil leads constructively to the eradication of evil. But as Wiesel states, “Indifference elicits no response.” (Elie Wiesel, Millennium Lecture, April 12, 1999).
For Christians, there is no room for indifference. When we belong to the Church, the Body of Christ, we are one with Christ the Head and all other members. “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy” (1 Cor 12:26).
For anyone of us to recognize evil and to remain indifferent is to acquiesce to evil. If we choose to be indifferent, we separate ourselves from Christ who identifies himself with the suffering and persecuted. However, when, in faith, we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, he changes our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, hearts that beat with the compassion of Jesus himself (cf. Ez 11:19).
Countries and societies may indeed be indifferent only inasmuch as their citizens are indifferent. Leaders remain indifferent when those who elect them and support them are indifferent. In a word, indifference is not a dark cloud overshadowing the goodness of humanity. Indifference is the choice of individual persons. Its remedy is also a matter of personal choice. “The globalization of indifference” can be dismantled, therefore, by “the particularization of love” — one heart at a time.