Tag Archives: hope

Je Suis Catholique: A Catholic Response to the Charlie Hebdo Attacks

by Patrick Angiolillo

In the wake of the horrifying attacks in Paris that occurred at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters on January 7, as well as those others in the ensuing days, we have seen the swift response from the world, not least of all from the people of France themselves.

Immediately following the tremendous events of that day, leaders the world over spoke out against the form of radicalized, fundamentalist religion that led the Muslim gunmen to commit their heinous act of violence. Pope Francis, along with French bishops, as well as French Imams, and hosts of political leaders from different countries have voiced their sorrow and rage in reaction to the terror attack. The hacktivist group known as Anonymous even released a video in which a speaker, hidden by a Guy Fawkes mask, declared war on radical terror organizations like Al-Qaeda. The group claims to already have shut down a French terrorist website.1

While these reactions all share a deep opposition to the acts of violence witnessed, the particular response from different figures is, understandably, quite different. The hacktivist group has already begun their campaign to shut down terror websites, just as political leaders and government agencies have already mobilized their respective responses to the attack.

Religious leaders, however, have a different kind of role in the matter. Fr. Federico Lombardi of the Vatican Press Office expressed, in a matter of hours after the attack, the pope’s—and the Church’s—opposition to this example of the radical use of religion: “Whatever may be the motivation, homicidal violence is abominable. It is never justified: the life and dignity of all must be firmly guaranteed and guarded; any instigation to hate refuted; and respect for the other cultivated.” Indeed, he added that the pope said he “joins the prayers of the suffering and wounded, and of the families of the dead.”2

A religious leader or a religious group has a different responsibility in the aftermath of crises like the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Religion itself, and, as we see today, Islam in particular, has been abused by the ideologizing forces of terror organizations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS (or ISIL). The leaders of these religio-poltical groups use religion—use God—in order to justify their twisted agendas. Pope Francis summarized the phenomenon this way: “Religious fundamentalism, even before it eliminates human beings by perpetrating horrendous killings, eliminates God himself, turning him into a mere ideological pretext.”3

What, then, is the responsibility of the world’s religions, and of world religious leaders in the wake of such attacks? How does our Catholic faith play into this puzzle? Continue reading Je Suis Catholique: A Catholic Response to the Charlie Hebdo Attacks

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Remembering the Power of the Apocalypse

By Pat Angiolillo

With the troublesome crises and conflicts erupting the world over, it may seem like something more than violence is brewing in today’s world. Without declaring that “the end is nigh,” I think it is evident to faithful persons of many stripes that evil forces are indeed at work in the world and become all the more apparent in times of war and conflict.

What may be fodder for fanatics and doomsdayers is, I think for the most of us, simple evidence of persistent hatred and violence in our broken human world. It should come as no surprise to anyone that such crises generated by political and religious strife have long been a staple in the human narrative. Ancient peoples record histories upon histories of violent conflict between political powers and, with less frequency, between religious ideologies. Indeed, the Bible itself is home to such histories—conflict between warring Hebrews and Canaanites, between Israelites and Philistines, between Hasmoneans and Hellenists.

Continue reading Remembering the Power of the Apocalypse

My Most Beautiful Cathedral

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Whenever I feel a little distant from God, because I haven’t been praying well, or I haven’t been focused on my faith, my heart and mind drift back to the way I felt when I first learned about Vietnamese Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan — and his experience with the Eucharist during his imprisonment.

Cardinal Van Thuan spent thirteen years in prison, nine of which were spent in solitary confinement. NINE. The first time I ever even heard of the cardinal was reading his own words about the Eucharist in his re-education camp, and his words remain for me some of the most chilling and most inspiring I have ever read:

The Eucharist became for me and for the other Christians a hidden and encouraging presence in the midst of all our difficulties. Jesus was adored secretly by the Christians who lived with me, just as happened so often in other prison camps of the twentieth century.

In the re-education camp, we were divided into groups of fifty people; we slept on a common bed, and everyone had a right to 50 centimeters of space. We managed to make sure there were five Catholics with me. At 9:30pm we had to turn off the lights and everyone had to go to sleep. It was then that I would bow over the bed to celebrate the Mass by heart, and I distributed communion by passing my hand under the mosquito net. We even made little sacks from the paper of cigarette packs to preserve the Most Holy Sacrament and bring it to others. The Eucharistic Jesus was always with me in my shirt pocket.

Every week there was an indoctrination session in which the whole camp had to participate. My Catholic companions and I took advantage of the breaks in order to pass the small sack to everyone in the four other groups of prisoners. Everyone knew that Jesus was in their midst. At night, the prisoners would take turns for adoration. With his silent presence, the Eucharistic Jesus helped us in unimaginable ways. Many Christians returned to a fervent faith-life, and their witness of service and love had an ever greater impact on the other prisoners. Even Buddhists and other non-Christians came to the faith. The strength of Jesus’ love was irresistible.

In this way, the darkness of the prison became a paschal light, and the seed germinated in the group during the storm. The prison was transformed into a school of catechesis. Catholics baptized fellow prisoners and became the godparents of their companions.

While I feel sick to think of what all his holy man endured, I do love reading and rereading his testimony, especially this portion. It’s a shocking and beautiful reminder of the gift of the Eucharist, and how rich we are when we have God, even if we seem to have nothing else.

At another point on his imprisoned journey, then-Bishop Van Thuan was transported in chains and near complete darkness with 1,500 other prisoners on a ship. He’d previously been imprisoned, but took some comfort in the fact that he remained within his own diocese. Now, he had no idea where he was heading. The first night was one of “terrible anguish,” and he spent much of the night counseling the distraught prisoners, including one man who tried to hang himself.

It is with this context that he later wrote:

Upon my departure from Saigon, Jesus, crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem, made me understand that I had to engage in a new form of evangelization. I no longer acted as a bishop within a diocese, but … going outside, for all my life, to the very limits of my capacity to love and give of myself. …

In the obscurity of faith, in service and in humiliation, the light of hope had changed my vision.

And then, my favorite part:

I understood that at this point, on this ship, in this prison, was my most beautiful cathedral, and that these prisoners, without exception, were the people of God entrusted to my pastoral care. My prison was divine providence. It was the will of God.

Rereading and typing that now gives me goosebumps, just as it did when I first read the words. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can almost see his “cathedral.” I hear him calling it “most beautiful.” Today, as always, I then consider my own cathedral — where I’m called to serve, who I’m called to serve.

All of the above quotations are excerpted from the spiritual exercises Cardinal Van Thuan prepared for St. John Paul II; twenty-four years to the day after he was taken by force from his home, he concluded leading the pope through these exercises. His meditations and witness — while intended for a pope — are accessible to all of us, now published in a book, “Testimony of Hope.” It’s a favorite of mine, and I recommend it for any Catholic’s bookshelf, not to mention the bookshelf of anyone struggling with suffering and searching for hope.

Maybe this comes to me today because it’s a cold, snowy day here in Colorado (yes, in the middle of May). I know for sure that I’m silly for struggling to feel the joy of Easter just because it’s a gray day, and I do know how good I have it. But I believe we all have periods of relative feast and famine along our spiritual journeys. And when I’m hungry for the Truth, I often turn to Cardinal Van Thuan.

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Is there a particular book or prayer that you turn to during your spiritually lean times? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter, or by posting a comment below.

The Power to Hope

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A few days ago, I had the privilege of hearing a survivor of the Holocaust speak. Mrs. Marsha Tishler was only three weeks old when her parents, who were Jewish, went into hiding to avoid being sent to a concentration camp. In order to save her life, Mrs. Tishler’s parents placed her on a doorstep of a farmhouse one night with a note imploring the owners to take care of their baby girl. The homeowners called a town elder, whose sister and brother-in-law agreed to raise the child, even though the elder had recognized her and knew that her family was Jewish. The Christian couple raised Mrs. Tishler for two and a half years until her parents were able to come out of hiding.

What struck me about listening to Mrs. Tishler talk was that even though she was born into a world of hate, the way she portrayed her story was full of love, hope, and beauty. You would think that someone born into the type of society that Mrs. Tishler was born into would have every right to be bitter and angry. Yet, Mrs. Tishler took the hate that the world threatened to drown her with and she found something to cling to that helped her to stay afloat—she found hope. From just a little glimmer of hope, she was able to bring forth the beauty of love and compassion to counteract the ugliness of hatred. The act of kindness by the couple who took Mrs. Tishler into their home gave her the hope that allowed her to transform hate into love.

This transformation reminds us of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus takes the hatred of all those around him and responds with love and sacrifice. In doing so, he transforms the ugliness of the crucifixion into a beautiful act of love. The crucifixion and resurrection, which began as an act of betrayal, becomes the most powerful symbol of hope in our faith. Like Jesus, we are challenged to respond to bitterness with compassion. Jesus tells his followers quite plainly that the world will hate them. The life we are called to live is countercultural, and it is likely that we will experience some resistance. We are called to respond to this hate with love.

I think this is what Jesus means when he instructs us to turn the other cheek when we are struck. It’s not that we are weak for not fighting back—instead, we must have the strength to transform the hatred we are faced with into love. This strength comes from the power of hope. Just as Mrs. Tishler found hope and clung to it, we must find hope in the harshest of circumstances, and allow that hope to empower us to love. Mrs. Tishler was freer than her oppressors because hope gave her the freedom to love, while her oppressors were trapped in the confines of their own hatred. We are called to be signs of hope that will free one another.