The other day, Holy Father Francis made more than 10,000 couples engaged to be married more blessedly happy.
The Zenit News Agency report by Junno Arocho Esteves said, “Love was in the air in Vatican City as an estimated 25,000 young people, all of whom are engaged couples preparing for marriage, met with Pope Francis for a special St. Valentine’s Day audience.”
Philip Pullella writing a Reuters report hyperbolically wrote, ”Signs of affection were as common as signs of the cross in St. Peter’s Square on Friday as couples from around the world attended a special Valentine’s Day gathering with Pope Francis.” Pullella referred to it as an “unprecedented event,” which it truly was.
The Vatican had invited only 25,000 persons to the special audience but, Pullella said, “as news of the gathering spread, couples of all ages, including many elderly who have been married for decades, flocked to the square.” The Reuters version of the story that appeared in many newspapers around the world was illustrated with the picture, by Tony Gentile, of a blood-red, heart-shaped balloon flying as Pope Francis began the audience.
Zenit’s Esteves said, “The event, which was promoted by the Pontifical Council for the Family, was filled with music and dancing prior to the Holy Father’s arrival.”
Several couples asked the Holy Father questions about the challenges of Christian couples getting ready to marry.
Zenit reported: “Nicolas Pecino and Marie Alexa Gaggero, a couple from Gibraltar, asked the Holy Father about the difficulties of commitment for the rest of their lives. ‘Many feel that the challenge of living together forever is beautiful, enchanting, but very demanding, almost impossible.” They asked the Pope to give them some words of enlightenment.
The Holy Father replied, wrote Zenit’s Esteves, “that in today’s fast paced world, many couples are afraid of making a definitive choice in life, contributing to a mentality that brings couples to ‘stay together until this love lasts.’”
Pope Francis said, “Love is more than just a feeling or a psychophysical state, but a relationship that grows like the construction of a house.”
“Just as the love of God is stable and forever, so we would want the love that is the foundation of the family to be stable and forever. We cannot let ourselves be overcome by the ‘throwaway culture’,” the Holy Father said.
He reminded the engaged couples that Our Lord Jesus is a model for true love, fidelity and self-giving.
Worldwide persecution of Christians
In Piazza San Pietro the couples and future makers of happy families, hugged and kissed. Other Christian lovers all over the world happily celebrated what some now call “Hearts’ Day.”
But not the Christians in China, the Middle East, India, Pakistan, Egypt and other states of Africa. Even in some of our fellow-Asean member countries, Christians spend Valentines Day—and every day for that matter—sorrowfully.
That’s because they are, at the very least, legally discriminated against. At the worst, they are killed, injured, raped, and burned alive inside churches.
February 14 last week was a day of sorrow for some in Washington, DC, and all over the world who heard the testimonies of experts who spoke at the US House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Africa, Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations and at a UN Human Rights hearing.
The former Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq and Jordan, Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, said, “Flagrant and widespread persecution of Christians rages in the Middle East…” He saw the persecution with his own eyes when he lived in Baghdad from 2006 to 2010.
“This tragedy is all the more egregious when one pauses to consider that these men and women of faith, have been living at peace with their neighbors for untold generations.”
With changes of regimes, religious minorities that had previously enjoyed some amount of protection under the rigid law and order enforced by deposed rulers are now subject to maltreatment by the Muslim majority. Christians of Egypt fled their homes when the Islamists there took power.
Archbishop Chullikatt said because of conflicts between strong factions “Christians are caught in the crossfire.” He also referred to the “new, shameful tradition” of bombing Catholic and other Christian churches on Christmas Eve in the Middle East.
The Pew Forum has found that Christians suffered some form of harassment in 139 countries between 2006 and 2010, the largest of any other group.
Other speakers spoke of violence against Christians in Indonesia, Vietnam, Nigeria, Myanmar, Sudan and Eritrea, among others.
Forms of persecution mentioned were: in India and Pakistan, laws against conversion, in China restrictions on worship, in Malaysia a court ruling prohibiting Christians from using the Arabic way of referring to God (Allah), and in many other countries the denial of education and employment.
Foremost Human Rights issue today
Author and journalist John L. Allen, Jr., told the subcommittee why he believes the “Global War on Christians” is the foremost human rights issue of this, the 21st, century.
Allen, Zenit reported, addressed the issue of why he thinks “the worldwide persecution of Christians is so often wrapped in silence.”
Allen thinks, Zenit reported, that “narrative”—how media tells the story—is a problem. He said, “In the West, we are conditioned to think of Christianity as an all powerful, all controlling, wealthy, vastly influential social institution, which makes it very difficult for ordinary Americans to get their minds around the idea that Christians can actually be the victims of persecution.”
“The demographic and practical truth is that the typical Christian in this world is not an affluent, American male pulling up to church in a Lincoln Continental,” Allen said. “The typical Christian in the early 21st century is a poor woman of color and mother of four in Botswana or a poor, Dalit [Untouchable] grandmother in Orissa (India).”
Allen wrote the book The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution.
Zenit said Allen “points out that underlying the global persecution of Christians is the reality that, demographically, more than two-thirds of the world’s 2.3 billion Christians now live outside the West.”
“We’re not talking about a metaphorical ‘war on religion’ in Europe and the United States, fought on symbolic terrain such as whether it’s okay to erect a nativity set on the courthouse steps,” says Allen. “But a rising tide of legal oppression, social harassment, and direct physical violence, with Christians as its leading victims.”
In The Global War on Christians, Allen exposes the threats facing the world’s population of Christians and offers investigative insight into what is and can be done to stop these atrocities.
Allen is an associate editor at The Boston Globe. He is also Vatican analyst for CNN and National Public Radio. He is a former senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. Among other books, Allen wrote The Rise of Benedict XVI and All the Pope’s Men: The Inside Story of How the Vatican Really Thinks.