Bishop's Blog

Martyrdom in the Middle East

On Monday, 30 June 2014, the Feast of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church, Pope Francis reminded us that today is still the time of martyrs.

"How is it that this seed of God's word grows and becomes the Kingdom of God, it grows and becomes the Church?" He identified two sources that accomplish this task: the Holy Spirit and Christian testimony or witness. When historical circumstances call for strong witness, there are martyrs - the greatest witnesses! The Church is watered by the blood of martyrs. This is truly "the beauty of martyrdom: it begins with testimony day by day, and may end with blood, like Jesus, the first martyr, the first witness, the faithful witness".

Examining the history of the Church, which grows, guided by the blood of martyrs, Pope Francis encouraged consideration of today's many martyrs. "If in Nero's persecution, there were many, today there are no fewer martyrs, persecuted Christians". The facts are well known and we should think about " the Middle East , about the Christians who must flee from persecution, about the Christians killed by persecutors" .

The week prior to the Feast of the First Martyrs, members of the ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) captured parts of Iraq and declared a new caliphate and began going through the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and marking the homes of Christians with the Arabic letter :Nun."

"Nun" stands for "Nazara," from "Nazarenes," a word that refers to Christians.

The implications were clear. Christians were offered three choices: convert to Islam; accept the dhimma contract - involving the payment of a poll tax and various strict social and religious restrictions, accepting secondary subserviant status; or the sword. In short, convert, pay or die. Many Christians opted for a fourth 'choice' - to leave.

For the first time in 2,000 years Mosul is devoid of Christians. The religious cleansing is wide ranging. Christians were forced to leave their homes. ISIS took down all the crosses from churches. They blew up the tomb of the prophets Jonah. An orthodox Cathedral has been turned into a mosque and some Christians were crucified, others beheaded.

Louis Raphael Sako, the Patriarch of Babylon and the Chaldean, has written an open letter appealing for help: "The Christians of Mosul, horrified, have fled the city with only the clothes on their back. Their churches have been profaned ... As for the church, she finds herself completely alone, more than ever .... We are equally shocked and indignant by the absence of a vigorous position taken by Muslims and their religious leaders, not the least because the actions of these factions represent a menace for the Muslims themselves.

In fact speeches are good for nothing, so too declarations that rehash condemnations and indignation; the same can be said for protest marches. In addition, while appreciating the generosity of donors, we would say that donations and fundraising too will not solve our problems. We have to demand a large scale administrative (governmental) operation on an international level. There is in fact the necessity for a position of conscience to this simply human principle: the demand for real actions and solidarity because we are before a crisis of our very existence, confronting the fact that "we will be or we will not be".

Our suffering brothers and sisters wonder why we don't speak out? Why is the Western media so silent about this crime against humanity? Why are governments, their own and those in the Western world, sitting on their hands? We must do something to express solidarity in heart and action.

Our first response must be, of course, to pray; to raise up with one voice a ceaseless prayer, imploring the Holy Spirit to send the gift of peace to the Middle East.

I would also encourage you to join with Christians and others in urging your Member of Parliament to encourage the Government of Canada to do even more for the Middle East - by providing Canadian emergency and reconstruction assistance, by making it easier for our country to accept refugees, by participating in international efforts to foster justice and peace in the region, and by insisting on respect for freedom of conscience and religion , as well as the rights of all minorities, including religious minorities.

In particular, we need to lobby Minister Chris Alexander to give the same Priority Processing status to Iraqis as he has done for Syrian refugees. Syrian cases are being processed at the Case Processing Office Winnipeg in approximately three weeks while all other applications are currently backlogged. If the government accelerates the process, Calgary Catholic Immigration Society will find sponsors through parishes for Iraqis that don't have relatives in Calgary but have some connection and want to settle here.

Three Canadian Catholic agencies are fundraising for the suffering people of the Middle East. These are CNEWA Canada, CCODP, and Aid to the Church in Need - Canada. Up-to-date reports on the Middle East are provided by Caritas Internationalis on their web site at

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Social Justice Bishop's
Related Themes Peace Suffering

100th Anniversary of Canada's Entry into WWI

Statement by the President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops 
for the 100th Anniversary of Canada's Entry into the First World War 

On August 4, 1914, Great Britain declared war on Germany, which had violated the neutrality of Belgium by invading it. Canada, as part of the British Empire, was thereby brought into what would be the first of two world wars. A few weeks later, the Canadian Parliament enacted the War Measures Act, empowering the government to co-ordinate Canada's involvement in this bloody war which would result in the deaths of some nine million military personnel and seven million civilians over the next four years.

How should we today understand this event from the perspective of our faith in the Gospel? How should disciples of the Prince of Peace commemorate this violent upheaval in which the lives of so many were sacrificed?

The horrors of war, the dignity of the soldier

Let us first distinguish between the war and its victims. Barely two months after the fighting started, the Bishops of the ecclesiastical provinces of Québec, Montréal and Ottawa deplored the torments of the war in words that still touch us today: "Machine guns have plunged innumerable families into desolation: thousands of women are lamenting the loss of their husbands, mothers are grieving their sons, orphans are weeping for their parents. Cities are reduced to ashes, monuments overturned, hearths left cold, fields ravaged, factories closed, industry slowed, battalions mowed down like wheat, lives in their prime are scattered to all winds. So many ruins, dear Brothers and Sisters, have accumulated in this short time!" [unofficial translation of Pastoral letter on the duties of Catholics in the present war, September 23, 1914].

These words remind us that the horrors of war should never be praised, celebrated or honoured.

However, we should honour the soldiers who, out of the conviction of fighting evil, accepted to suffer misery, pain, injuries, and even death. Their sacrifices, and those of their families and friends, should not be forgotten. These were the first victims of the war. Let us gather and mourn their deaths. Let us grieve their shortened lives. On their behalf, let us make a commitment to build peace.

Since that time, Canadian armies have often displayed great humanity, even in the midst of horrible conflagrations. Over the decades, their peacekeeping role and rescue missions in disaster areas have benefitted many. This is a role we must maintain and enhance.

Sometimes, war invades the hearts of some of our military and pushes them into violence and despair. That is a call for us to support our soldiers, those on active duty and those who are veterans, as well as their families and loved ones.

I also want to emphasize the invaluable role played by military chaplains - those priests, deacons and lay people who accompany our soldiers and their families, giving them advice and encouragement, watching with them, praying with them, crying with them. They are true beacons of hope, especially in the dark areas of engagement and fighting.

Commemorating a war by being committed to peace

For Christians, the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War must be an opportunity to renew our own commitment to peace. Let us ask God to make each and every one of us an instrument of peace. Let us open our hearts to the Spirit of Jesus, whose fruits are "love, joy, peace" (Galatians 5.22).

Let us remember the words of Pope Paul VI: "Development is the new name for peace" (Populorum Progressio, 87). We see this still in our own day. It is often in the poorest countries, in the most deplorable situations, where war breaks out. War is fed by unemployment, hunger, oppression, and despair. We can build peace by building a world with greater justice, where each person can enjoy some of the beauty of life.

In his 2006 message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Benedict XVI affirmed: "The foundations of authentic peace rest on the truth about God and man." These words of wisdom remind us of the deep connection between the proclamation of the Gospel and the commitment to peace.

It is therefore providential that in 2014, 100 years after the start of the First World War, Pope Francis invites the whole Catholic Church to "pastoral and missionary" conversion. Announcing the Good News of Jesus the Saviour has never been as urgent as it is in this environment when war can prove so destructive and deadly. All of us are challenged to be not only faithful disciples of the Prince of Peace, but also his ardent missionaries.

Let us therefore mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War of 1914-18 by renewing our commitment, as part of our great country, to be active witnesses for justice and peace.

+ Paul-André Durocher
Archbishop of Gatineau
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

August 1, 2014

Déclaration du Président de la Conférence des évêques catholiques du Canada
à l'occasion du 100e anniversaire de l'entrée du Canada dans la Première Guerre mondiale

Le 4 août 1914, la Grande-Bretagne déclarait la guerre à l'Allemagne qui avait bradé la neutralité de la Belgique en l'envahissant. Le Canada, pays de l'Empire britannique, se trouvait par le fait même entraîné dans ce qui deviendrait la première de deux guerres mondiales. Quelques semaines plus tard, le Parlement canadien approuvait la Loi des mesures de guerre permettant au gouvernement de coordonner l'engagement du Canada dans cette guerre sanglante qui a entraîné la mort de  plus de neuf millions militaires et de sept millions civils au cours des prochaines quatre années .

Comment aujourd'hui comprendre cet événement dans une perspective de foi évangélique? Comment les disciples du Prince de la paix devraient-ils commémorer ce violent bouleversement pour lequel tant de vies ont été sacrifiées?

Les horreurs de la guerre, la dignité du soldat

Distinguons d'abord entre la guerre et ses victimes. À peine deux mois après le début des combats, les évêques des provinces ecclésiastiques de Québec, Montréal et Ottawa déploraient les affres de la guerre en des mots qui nous touchent encore aujourd'hui. « La mitraille a jeté dans la désolation des familles sans nombre : des femmes par milliers pleurent la perte de leurs époux, des mères, celle de leurs fils, des orphelins celle de leurs parents. Villes consumées par l'incendie, monuments renversés, foyers éteints, champs dévastés, fabriques fermées, industrie ralentie, bataillons fauchés comme des épis, fleur des nations effeuillée aux quatre vents du ciel : que de ruines, Nos Très Chers Frères, se sont accumulées dans ce court espace de temps! » (Lettre pastorale sur les devoirs des catholiques dans la guerre actuelle, 23 septembre 1914)

Ces mots nous rappellent les horreurs de la guerre, qu'il ne faudrait jamais louer, célébrer ou honorer.

Cependant, nous devrions honorer ces soldats qui, convaincus de combattre le Mal, ont accepté d'endurer la misère, la douleur, les blessures et même la mort. Leurs sacrifices, ainsi que ceux de leurs familles et amis, ne devraient jamais être oubliés. Ils ont été les premières victimes de la guerre. Rassemblons-nous, pleurons leur mort, regrettons leur trop bref passage sur la terre : et, en leur nom, engageons-nous à construire la paix.

Depuis ce temps, les Forces armées canadiennes ont souvent fait preuve de grand humanisme, même au cœur d'horribles conflagrations. Au fil des décennies, plusieurs ont bénéficié de cette valeur lors de missions de sauvetage et du maintien de la paix dans des zones sinistrées. C'est un rôle qu'il nous faut maintenir et relever.

Il arrive que la guerre se transporte jusque dans le cœur de certains de nos soldats et qu'elle les entraîne dans la violence et le désespoir. Il y a là pour nous comme un appel à soutenir nos soldats actifs et vétérans, leurs familles et leurs entourages.

Je voudrais par ailleurs souligner le rôle inestimable joué par les aumôniers militaires – les prêtres, les diacres et les laïcs – qui accompagnent nos soldats et leurs familles, leur donnent conseils et les encouragent, veillent avec eux, prient avec eux, pleurent avec eux. Ils s'avèrent de véritables phares d'espérance, surtout dans les zones obscures d'engagement et de combat.

Commémorer une guerre en s'engageant pour la paix

Le 100e anniversaire du début de la Première Guerre mondiale doit devenir pour les chrétiennes et les chrétiens l'occasion de renouveler leur propre engagement pour la paix. Demandons à Dieu de faire de chacun et de chacune de nous un instrument de paix. Ouvrons nos cœurs à l'Esprit de Jésus dont les fruits se nomment « amour, joie, paix » (Galates 5, 22).

Rappelons-nous par ailleurs les paroles du Pape Paul VI : « Le développement est le nouveau nom de la paix. » (Populorum progressio, no 87) Nous le voyons aujourd'hui encore : c'est souvent dans les pays les plus pauvres, dans les situations les plus déplorables, que surgit la guerre. La guerre se nourrit de chômage, de faim, d'oppression et de désespoir. Nous bâtirons la paix en bâtissant un monde plus juste, où chaque personne peut goûter un peu de la beauté de la vie.

Dans son message pour la Journée mondiale pour la paix en 2006, le pape Benoît XVI avait affirmé : « Le fondement d'une paix authentique s'appuie seulement sur la vérité de Dieu et de l'homme. » Ces mots de sagesse nous rappellent le lien profond entre la proclamation de l'Évangile et l'engagement pour la paix.

Il est donc providentiel qu'en 2014, centième année du début de la Première Guerre mondiale, le pape François invite toute l'Église catholique à une conversion « pastorale et missionnaire ». L'annonce de la Bonne Nouvelle de Jésus Sauveur n'a jamais été aussi urgente que dans ce contexte où la guerre peut s'avérer si destructive, si meurtrière. Nous sommes tous et toutes conviés à être non seulement les fidèles disciples du Prince de la paix, mais aussi ses ardents missionnaires.

Marquons donc le 100e anniversaire du début de la Grande Guerre de 1914-1918 en renouvelant notre engagement d'être, au cœur de notre grand pays, des témoins engagés pour la justice et la paix.

+ Paul-André Durocher
Archevêque de Gatineau
Président de la Conférence des évêques catholiques du Canada

1er août 2014

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Social Justice Bishop's
Related Themes Social Justice Peace

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