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12 April 2015
posted by Canon Dakin on 18-04-2015

Today is called Low Sunday - presumably in contrast to the high of Easter Sunday. In the Latin missal it is called Dominica in albis, the Sunday for putting off the white. In Rome those who had been baptised on Easter night had been wearing during the week the white garments in which they had been clothed at their baptism. They were gathered today in the church of St Pancratius on the shoulder of the hill which rises from the Vatican and is called the Janiculum. They were taken there because Pancratius was a boy martyr, a young Christian who had died for his faith and the message was that they, though young in the faith, were expected to die for it. A message and a situation which we thought belonged to times past. Sadly it doesn’t

 

Last August the people living in a Christian village on the Nineveh plain woke to find themselves surrounded by IS militia. One of them, named Khyria, with forty-five other women were separated and threatened with decapitation unless they converted to Islam. To soften their resistance each one over a period of ten days was publicly whipped. Finally Khyria was held with a sword to her throat: ‘Convert or be killed’. Her reply was that she would rather die than give up her faith. Perhaps for the terrorists it was too much bother. The women were robbed of anything of value - wedding rings, for instance, then allowed to trek to safety in Kurdish territory.  They were virtually martyrs. In this 21st century their story, with variations, is replicated in so many places in Asia, Africa, South America. Would we be prepared to stand with them?

 

David Suchet, Monsieur Poirot, feels in his blood a Lithuanian Jew. At 40 he was a very, very cynical atheist, agnostic. He had been close to his grandfather and wanted to believe his grandfather was still, somehow, existing. He chose to read St Paul. It wasn’t a Damascene moment but he came to believe and was confirmed as a Christian.  He said: “The greatest reason for my faith outside of Jesus, is the fact that Peter, Paul and thousands of Christians were willing to die for their faith. I would not die for a lie. I’d be as scared as anybody facing the knife or the rifle but I could not now deny my Christianity....I cannot deny that. If that means I die, that means I die”.

I could not personally be so confident and I’m not likely to be so tested though my faith is built on the same foundation. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed’ said Our Lord. I have no experience of the Risen Jesus but I trust the witness of Peter and Paul because they gave up everything, even their lives, for the truth of what they were saying. Last year it is estimated that well over a thousand Christians were put to death on account of their faith. We are so numbed by the constant images of violence we see on our screens that the strength of their witness is diminished but persecution goes on relentlessly. There are men and women out there whose courage is being challenged every day. We owe them the support of our prayers and, where possible, to urge the suspension of aid to induce governments to do more to ensure freedom of worship.  

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