I am usually a bit wary when it comes to cries of religious persecution of Christians in the west. Surely we are being not murdered for our faith, or imprisoned and tortured? But in recent days it became clearer to me that, as in such countries where these things do happen, there is a seemingly deep-rooted distrust to people of faith in our society. Of course, having to explain our convictions and occasionally defending them is nothing to be surprised or concerned about, but all too often there is no place for those explanations or defences.
Theologian George Weigel discusses a serious incident in Spain in his column, speaking of ‘student gangsters’ desecrating a Catholic chapel at the Complutense University in Madrid, apparently for no other reason than that it is a Catholic chapel used by Catholic students and university staff. Madrid is the same city where millions of young Catholics will celebrate their faith this summer at the World Youth Days.
From Belgium. Jeroen van Hecke writes about a ‘terrorist attack’ against Archbishop Léonard, committed by some students displaying “especially low intellectual and moral levels”. Strong words, but the fact that pies were smashed in the archbishop’s face for no other reason that that he stands for Catholic faith and teachings is telling. “He deserves it,” said one of the perpetrators, “for all gays who do not dare tell it at home and for all girls who want to undergo an abortion.” Make of that what you will.
Both these incidents are just that, incidents, but they do point out the extent to which a true Christian understanding of life is at odds with modern society’s ideas of the same (what Weigel calls, after Pope Benedict XVI, “the dictatorship of relativism”). And this is something that we Catholics should be aware of and prepared for. We should not only be ready to face the differences these incidents are examples of. No longer can we assume that we live in a free and open society where every faith, philosophy and opinion is equally respected. We don’t, and I don’t think we ever have. Reasoned and intelligent debate is something to strive and hope for, but it rarely is reality. Not if the answers to differences are thought to be found in desecration and attacks.
We must stand prepared: internally to understand, learn from and love Jesus Christ, His Church and our faith; and externally to protect and defend ourselves and that which we call our own from those who wish to see anything that does not conform to the dictatorship of relativism removed.