As Catholics and other Christians prepared to enter the final days of Lent, word came from across the world that four Missionaries of Charity, Blessed Mother Teresa’s Sisters, were brutally murdered in the country of Yemen by ISIS. The Sisters run a hospital for the elderly and disabled. All the patients are Muslim and have been extremely grateful for the loving and compassionate care of the Sisters. Sixteen staff and volunteers were also killed, and the Salesian priest who served as chaplain was kidnapped. The terrorists desecrated the chapel before they fled. As I write this, the priest has still not been found.
We are blessed to have four Missionaries of Charity living in St. Patrick Parish in Spokane. They minister to God’s people, regardless of faith or religious affiliation, both here in Spokane and in Pasco. The day after this tragedy occurred, Sister Lumen MSC called to inform me about what had happened. She mentioned that this wasn’t the first time Sisters were martyred in Yemen. In 1997, three Missionaries of Charity were killed there for simply living the Gospel.
Living the Gospel is the vocation of every Christian. And Lent is the season of reflection calling forth deeper prayer, generous charity, and humble penance in the lives of believers. All of these actions prepare us for Easter, the celebration of the Risen Christ, who triumphed over sin and death. This is the Good News and our promise of salvation, which St. Peter reminds us is the goal of faith.
Yet, how are we living our Catholic faith? Does our belief in Jesus Christ guide our decisions, our choices, our very lives? Does Sunday Mass take priority in our weekend schedules? Do corporal works of mercy even enter into our weekly activities? Are our days so filled with distractions that we never take the time to pray the words, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening”? Do we look to our world, towns, and our families as places to be Christ for one another? These questions are not left to be answered just by those willing to join the Communion of Saints as martyrs. I suspect the Sisters, staff and volunteers knew their lives were at risk, but did not expect to lose them simply by giving witness and serving those in need.
Much has been written and said about Pope Francis’s reasons for calling the church to celebrate an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. At the heart of our Holy Father’s message is his hope to direct our intentions and actions “on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s actions in our lives ... a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective.” Giving witness to our faith: How are we doing?
As we prepare for Easter, in the safety and beauty of Eastern Washington, let us not forget those whose suffering is joined to the passion and death of Jesus Christ. May the renewal of our baptismal promises on Easter Sunday lead us to give witness with the courage of the martyrs and saints.