From the Bishops Our Way to Peace in a Violent World

On March 13, 2008, the body of Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul was recovered where his kidnappers had buried him.  Two weeks before, the archbishop had been abducted just as he finished leading the Via Crucis in a parish in Mosul.  His captors killed his three unarmed companions, took the archbishop into custody and demanded a million dollar ransom. Many international organizations and heads of State spoke out against the violence.  But to no avail.  Within one week, he was dead.


Last year, armed Muslim extremists confronted Father Ragheed Ganni along with three of his sub-deacons after they finished celebrating Mass on Pentecost.  The extremists demanded that they convert to Islam. When they held fast to the faith, they were gunned down.  The death of Archbishop Rahho and his companions, along with the death of Fr. Ganni and his companions, are dramatic examples of what has become a persecution of Christians in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.


The lists of clerics who have been murdered in recent times is astonishing.  In 2003, anti-government rebels in Burundi shot Archbishop Michael Courtney in an ambush.  The previous year, two gunmen outside the parish of Buen Pastor in a working-class neighborhood murdered Archbishop Cancino of Cali, who had been critical of leftist Colombian rebels.  In 1998, two days after Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi blamed the military for most of the 200,000 deaths in Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war, Gerardi was bludgeoned to death at his seminary in Guatemala City.


In 1993, Cardinal Ocampo had accused the long-entrenched Institutional Revolutionary Party of ties to narcotics traffickers.  He was mowed down in the parking lot of the Guadalajara Airport in 1993.  In 1989, soldiers kidnapped Bishop Jaramillo of Arauca while on pastoral visits. They tortured him and then killed him for his public comments against the actions of the National Liberation Army in Colombia.  In March 1980, El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero preached a sermon asking the military to put an end to its repressive tactics in El Salvador's civil war.  The next day, a sniper ended his life.


Again and again, the news alerts us to the presence of evil in our world. Shortly after the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers, Pope John Paul II was asked to explain the presence of evil in the world.  He responded by stating the stark reality that it represented “mysterium iniquitatis.”  Evil exists.  Sin exists.  Why anyone subjects himself to the Evil One and commits horrible acts of violence against his brothers and sisters remains a mystery not fully explained by human freedom.


Each time we pray the Our Father, we voice our own struggle against evil. In the last petition of the Our Father, we pray, “Deliver us from evil.”  Our prayer reminds us of our communal desire to be rid of evil. It also expresses our faith that evil can be overcome.  The mysterium iniquitatis will not have the final word in human affairs.


God is the lover of life.  From the day of Abel to today, He takes no delight in blood spilled in violence.  Through the paschal mystery, God has flooded the world with grace. In Christ who suffered violence and death, God has revealed the strength of His love.  In Christ Crucified and Risen, He offers us the power of forgiveness to heal the wounds of sin.


"…The Church testifies to her hope that human events are always accompanied by the merciful Providence of God, who knows how to touch even the most hardened of hearts and bring good fruits even from what seems utterly barren soil" (Pope John Paul II, World Day of Peace, Jan. 1, 2002).  God touches us with His mercy and love where we need to be healed. He touches our hearts and moves each of us to face the reality of evil first and foremost in our own lives.


On Easter Sunday night, Jesus appears to the disciples and shows them his hands and his side. No mistaking it. This is Jesus who had been crucified.  Jesus is bringing the very disciples who had abandoned him face to face with the evil of their infidelity.  Their sins, together with the sins of each of us, fashioned his death on the cross.

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Jesus’ first word dispels all anxiety and fear. “Peace,” he says to them and to us. He tells us that we are now at peace with God because of him.  He is our peace and our reconciliation. His Cross is the price of our evil; his Resurrection, the cause of our joy.


Jesus breathes on the disciples and says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  The Hebrew word for spirit  (ruach). It also means "breath."  When God fashions Adam from the earth and then breathes into his nostrils the breath of life, Adam became a living being (Gen 2:7).  In Ezekiel’s vision of Israel as a valley of dry bones, the prophet speaks the Word of God and God’s Spirit brings life to those long dead.  The Spirit brings life (cf. Ez 37:1-14).


As Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on his disciples, the Church comes to life.  This is Pentecost in John’s Gospel.  Jesus also mandates his Church to forgive sins.  “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them” (Jn 20:23).  The birth of the Church, therefore, is linked from the beginning with the forgiveness of sins.


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Christ made the Church “the sign and instrument of the forgiveness and reconciliation that he acquired for us at the price of his blood” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1442).  Furthermore, he entrusted the exercise of the power of absolution to the apostles and those who share in their "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:18).  Thus, each time we go to confession, the absolution spoken by the priest is Christ’s word of divine forgiveness.


The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a grace-filled opportunity for us to confront the mysterium iniquitatis.  When we humbly confess our own sins, the Holy Spirit removes the evil of those sins, breathes new life into us and enables us as followers of Jesus to move our world from hatred to love, from violence to peace and from death to life.

Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

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