The assassination of four Missionary of Charity sisters taking care of geriatric patients (all of whom were also brutally murdered) touched me very deeply. I have been very close to the sisters right around the world since I was a seminarian decades ago. Their martyrdom at the hands of Islamicists is a challenge for us all to follow. They lead the way. We ask their intercession that we might be converted to the Lord, walk in His presence, and also be on our way. We are all so very unworthy.
Meanwhile, I’ve never once met a Franciscan Friar in Rome or in the region of the Custody who wasn’t tough as steel, exactly the opposite of what soft Catholics in the West think about Saint Francis. The Franciscan Friars of the Custody of the Holy Land are always in harm’s way, and that is particularly true today in Syria, what with ISIS death-squad freakoids bringing the joys of demonic Islam to all. Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who is more the Catholic Pope to those throughout that vast region than is the Bishop of Rome (much to his consternation, I’m sure), said:
“Almost all [of our Franciscans] have clearly expressed the view that it is only right to remain in the villages, without consideration for the number of parishioners or the danger involved. A shepherd does not abandon his flock and does not ask whether his sheep are worth much or little, or if they are numerous or young. For a shepherd, all the sheep are important and he loves them all the same way.”
I pray, dearest Father Pierbattista, that in the grace of God I sincerely agree with your anguished expression of solidarity with Jesus’ Mystical Body now making up what is lacking to the sufferings of Christ as time marches on (see Colossians 1:24). I pray that those in your charge remain strong in their resolve of charity, the glory of which was seen on the Cross of Calvary.
And to my readers: I wish I could relate to you two extended conversations I had with Father Pierbattista at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, which had a profound influence in my own priestly life. But I cannot. Not now, anyway. But, I can say this. If I remember correctly, three Friars, I think from France, Germany and Austria, had to drop their lives, literally, on the spot, and take my place at the Custody.
This was catastrophic for them and the Custody at the time. I mean, imagine any priest entrenched in pastoral, administrative or academic duties involving countless others just being ripped out of that life in a second, having to get on the very next plane to Tel Aviv. I fear that one or more of these ultra-talented friars may have made their way to Syria, and are now facing ISIS death marauders.
I carry this with me, and so should those who were responsible for that fiasco that risked disturbing the Status quo of the custody (something which would have had immediate effect throughout the region). I feel left behind, and yet in solidarity with those facing this violence.
Our Lord permits what He permits so as to bring from the midst of darkness and earthquakes and the blasphemy of Calvary the greatest manifestation of love the world will ever know, we witnessing the glory of the only begotten Son of the Father bringing us from grace to grace, and who will come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire. Amen.