On the back wall of St Columban's chapel in Dalgan Park, Navan, Ireland, hang 24 photographs of Columbans who have died violently while on mission. Twenty three were Columban priests and one was a Columban Sister.
You only notice the photographs as you leave the chapel - the very chapel from which those young men left for foreign missions to build up the local Catholic Churches and to evangelise those who did not know Christ.
Some of those killed were unfortunate victims of robbery or a kidnapping that failed, but some were ‘martyrs' in the true sense of the word; they were killed because they were Catholic priests.
Columban priests have been martyred in China, the Philippines and Korea. Irish Columban Fr Cornelius Tierney, who died after rough treatment at the hands of bandits in China in the 1920's, summed up the situation when he wrote that it was “a part of the bargain that one made when going to China”.
I would imagine that it was an unexpected bargain, not sought out in any mission country, but accepted in faith as a possible consequence of living in volatile and sometimes dangerous circumstances.
It may surprise readers to know that today Christians are being persecuted for their beliefs in many parts of the world.
Notable author John Allen Jr in his recent book, 'The Global War on Christians', asks the question that many other commentators are asking: why is the western world, the so called Christian West, not protesting, not bringing attention to the systematic persecution of Christians in the world?
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, a well-known British writer and member of the House of Lords, protests the 'ethnic cleansing' of Christians in the Middle East.
We see evidence of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Mosul in Iraq, where people have celebrated Easter from apostolic times until 2014, when ISIS took over and no Easter ceremonies were permitted for probably the first time in nearly 2,000 years.
Once again Christians are being overwhelmed. The ideological forces of fascism and communism in the 20th century has seen thousands and tens of thousands of people of all faiths murdered and terrorised.
Whether such Christian people are 'martyrs' in the strict sense of the word by dying for their faith is difficult to discern, but their faith in Jesus Christ leads them to follow His example, ending in the same conclusion. The example is that they may be treated badly or even killed. They may spend years in prison. But they will continue to live according to their understanding of their faith and what Christ means to them.
God bless you.
Fr Gary Walker SSC
|LISTEN TO: From the Director - Part of the bargain
(Duration: 3:19mins. MP3, 1.52MB)