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August - September 2001



During his recent June pilgrimage to the Ukraine, John Paul II beatified 27 Catholic martyrs, among them a married Greek-Catholic priest and father of six martyred by the Nazis for assisting persecuted Jews. The other 26 comprised bishops, priests, nuns and the father of a family, all of whom paid with their lives for resisting Stalin's plan to abolish the Ukrainian Catholic Church by forcing Greek-Catholics into the Russian Orthodox Church. "I was prepared to suffer every kind of abuse out of fidelity for the Pope," said 84-year-old Bishop Sofrom Dymyterko, who survived two brutal years of imprisonment under the KGB. Such as these were the "Church of Silence"; the oppressed Catholics of Eastern Europe ignored and abandoned for decades by their affluent brethren in the West. Even today and despite the publicity generated by such regular beatifications, decadent Western Catholics, happily enslaved by the tyranny of the superficial, remain but vaguely aware of the tyranny of pure evil that tormented tens of millions of their fellow Catholics throughout the last century. Consider this astonishing summary of what they endured in Albanian prison camps, as recounted by a Jesuit in Robert Royal's The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century:

Most of them were beaten on their bare feet with wooden clubs; the fleshy part of the legs and buttocks were cut open, rock salt inserted beneath the skin, and then sewn up again; their feet, placed in boiling water until the flesh fell off, were then rubbed with salt; their Achilles’ tendons were pierced with hot wires. Some were hung by their arms for three days without food; put in ice and icy water until nearly frozen; had electrical wires placed in their ears, nose, mouth, genitals, and anus; burning pine needles placed under fingernails; forced to eat a kilo of salt and having water withheld for 24 hours; boiled eggs put in their armpits; teeth pulled without anaesthetic; tied behind vans and dragged; left in solitary confinement without food or water until almost dead; forced to drink their own urine and eat their own excrement; put in pits of excrement up to their necks; put on a bed of nails and covered with heavy material; put in nail-studded cages which were then rotated rapidly....

As one commentator put it: no less horrible than the sheer conception of these torments is the fact that men were found who could be paid to inflict them without fainting. Catholics and other Christians endured similar tortures, mostly perpetrated by Communists, in countries right across the globe. And yet, incredibly, very few renounced their faith. Hated as Christ was hated before them, they died willingly for Him, and often, faithful to His example and teaching, with forgiveness and blessings on their lips.

The atrocities continue unabated today. A 432 page report recently issued by Aid to the Church in Need estimated that 200 million Christians are presently suffering for their faith throughout the world, with 165,000 put to death last year alone. Violence against Christians is most pronounced in Indonesia, East Timor, India, Egypt and Sudan. A human rights watchdog recently accused the Sudanese government of maltreating Christians in the south, including clergy, who have been "imprisoned, flogged, tortured and assassinated for their faith." With the Islamic government in Khartoum having declared a jihad against the mainly Christian south and the death toll after 18 years of civil war now at around 2 million, a U.S. government official was moved to say: "I would argue that there's a genocide going on." An event, of course, not unknown in Islamic history. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Turks carried out a holocaust against the Christian Armenians of proportions unseen until the Nazis came to power. Islam seems to have taken up where Communism left off. Last March, the Latin Bishops of Arab Regions confirmed once more that the Christian communities in Arab countries must often worship "in catacomb conditions", and in some countries even endanger the life of the faithful. Proselytism in Saudi Arabia is punished by the death penalty.

In light of such perilous conditions and stupefying bravery, it is hard to know whether to laugh or cry when, as happens from time to time, I am praised for my supposed "courage" for plain-speaking. As far as I'm aware, in Britain neither unspeakable tortures nor the gallows yet await righteous critics of the faithless and politically correct. And yet the West is heading in that general direction. As indicators of suffering, the Aid to the Church in Need report also included legal sanctions and more subtle forms of discrimination against Christians in Europe. While we pray that we might never be put to the test like the red martyrs, the enacting of so-called "hate crime" legislation in many countries might require us to be truly brave, sooner than we think. The fact is that there are shades of personal sacrifice involving disparate persecutions and degrees of courage. The late Father John Hardon often preached about white martyrdom; the preserve of a long-suffering Catholic remnant, left amid the ruins of a faithless Church to defend the truth before a neo-pagan world. Gaol sentences and fines recently handed out to Christians in Sweden, Germany and Canada, for merely publicizing Biblical passages condemning homosexuality, are surely a foretaste of the 'dry' persecutions to come. These to be diabolically complimented, it would seem, by continued apostasy within the Church and further marginalising of the orthodox; a familial persecution more agonizing still.

It is because of the catastrophic consequences for souls and civilisation of a weak Church on her knees before the world, obsessed with human rights but not much interested in God's, that I for one speak out. Yet that some suggest I'm brave for simply stating the obvious, even though we supposedly enjoy hitherto unheard of freedoms and tolerance in Church and State, is a measure of how anxious people have become about saying what they think and thus how far we have already entered into this phase of 'dry' persecution - not to mention how vital it is that readers take every opportunity to gather new subscribers to ensure Christian Order's survival as an outlet for truth!

"In the history of salvation," writes Cardinal Ratzinger, "it is always Good Friday and Easter Sunday at the same time." In his brief meditation herein, Father McHugh develops that idea. It is an uplifting and comforting thought; one to inspire real courage and deep joy whatever the colour of martyrdom sent to try us.

Regina Martyrum, ora pro nobis


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