ISIS Brings New Springtime to Christianity

crown of thorns and hands isolatedThroughout the history of the Church, mass martyrdoms and persecutions have always given way to remarkable rises in Christianity, a phenomenon that will occur once again in spite of the atrocities of ISIS.

In an article appearing on Aleteia, Tom Hoopes, a writer in residence at Benedictine College, is reminding the faithful of the prophetic words of St. John Paul who looked ahead at the Third Millennium and said, “The Church has become once again a Church of martyrs.”

Recalling how the martyrs had built the early Church despite the “trials of history”, he asked, “Will this not also be the case of the century and millennium now beginning?”

Yes, and we’re seeing that prophecy play out in the headlines almost every day. If we take the time to read these stories more closely, more prayerfully, the first thing we’ll notice is that the martyrs of today bear an almost eerie resemblance to those of Rome who went to their death while singing the praises of Christ.

Consider the case of Yousef Shoukry, one of the 21 Egyptian Christians who were slaughtered for Christ on a beach in Libya earlier this month. When his brother Shenouda watched the video of his brother’s martyrdom, he told Sophia Jones of the Huffington Post that he saw “a heavenly light shining on his brother’s face, even after he was decapitated.”

Hana Aziz, brother of Mina who was martyred alongside Shoukry that day, also took solace in the faith he saw on display in that otherwise grisly video.

“To the last moment, the name of Jesus was on their lips,” he says. “As they were being martyred, they were calling God’s name, saying, ‘God, have mercy on us.’ The entire village is proud.”

Jesus carrying crossSimilar stories were heard about the other martyrs who died alongside Shoukry and Azia on the beach that day, how faith-filled they were, how much they loved their families, how gentle and kind and giving they were.

“You can hear in their stories the echoes of the first millennium of martyrs: ‘See how they loved each other’,” Hoopes writes.

Compare this to the ugly hate being spewed by members of ISIS, such as ISIS spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani who told followers to find disbelievers in Islam and “Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.”

The contrast could not be more stark.

“For one thing, martyrdom paints an unmatchable picture of the horror of the enemies of Christ and the beauty of Christianity,” Hoopes writes.

The first thing martyrs show the world is that “we are a people of love, standing against hatred,” Hoopes says. And, as history has long proven true, “Love wins that fight every time. Decisively.”

Martyrdom also brings unity among members of the Church. When it comes to life or death, nothing unifies the fractured faithful like martyrdom.

“We finally find we can stand together when we have to stand at the foot of the cross,” Hoopes writes.

This is a prime example of what Pope Francis called “the ecumenism of blood” when he spoke about the Egyptian martyrs.

“Their only words were: ‘Jesus, help me!’ They were killed simply because they were Christians,” the pope said. “It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ.”

Hoopes predicts that the Middle East will soon learn the lesson that the atheist communists learned after they attempted to destroy the faith in their countries. Today the faith is rising rapidly in the once-communist Eastern Europe even while it wanes in the West.

“It is the logic of the cross: Faith, hope and love grow stronger by sacrifice. When our brothers and sisters die for their faith, we remember that we can’t live without it.”

The witness of today’s martyrs will not be lost, he says.

“The Church will rise up stronger from their sacrifice. We will show the world once again that love conquers death.”

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