Every year on Palm Sunday we gather and listen to the long, gruesome, and painful way in which Jesus our Lord was put to death. His crucifixion was just the beginning of our journey as Christians. Soon afterwards St. Stephen will be stoned, and the apostles one by one will be martyred as the seeds of Christianity are spread throughout the world. These are the roots of our faith. Jesus told us: “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.” (John 15:18)
On Friday March 4th, ISIS attacked a Missionaries of Charity home for the elderly and disabled in the port city of Aden along the southern coast of Yemen. Yemen has been experiencing a political crisis since 2011 and is often described as being in a state of civil war between Shiite and Sunni Muslim communities vying for power. In the midst of these tensions, terrorist groups are now targeting Christians. They want to take over and exterminate any Christian presence. On Thursday of this week, Secretary of State John Kerry designated the terrorist organization’s actions as genocide.
Like the Passion narrative we just heard, the eyewitness testimony of what took place is not for the faint of heart. “They caught Sr. Judith and Sr. Reginette first, tied them up, shot them in the head and smashed their heads. They caught Sr. Anselm and Sr. Marguerite, tied them, shot them in the head and smashed their heads in the sand.”
“They have given their blood for the Church” said Pope Francis in his Sunday Angelus address. ISIS kidnapped the local priest, Fr. Tom. But not before he was able to run to the tabernacle and consume the hosts so that the Blessed Sacrament would not be desecrated. All of the religious articles were smashed and destroyed—Our Lady, the crucifix, the altar, the tabernacle, even their prayer books and Bibles.
Aware of the looming danger, Fr. Tom would tell the sisters every day, “Let us be ready for martyrdom.” These sisters are real martyrs—they devoted their lives to serving Christ in the poorest of the poor and they died solely because they are Christians. Pope Francis speculates that at the moment of their death, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was waiting for her sisters, to bring them to the Lord. I imagine that even more so, at the moment of their death, Christ himself was there to greet them and proclaim, “Well done, good and faithful servants. Come, receive your Master’s joy.” (Matthew 25:23)
As we reflect on the Passion, as we enter into Holy Week, as we take all of this to prayer, let us ask ourselves: How am I, in my life, bearing witness to the faith?