When one looks at the liturgical calendar, one sees a message the Church is attempting to instill within us. Right after we erupt with jubilation over the birth of Christ, we meditate over the first martyr, St. Stephen. He reminds us that this joy has a price, and that price is higher than we could possibly pay. After that, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents; the innocent children murdered by King Herod in his vain attempt to stop the infant Messiah’s reign. When we talk about this feast day in America, one cannot help but think of the Holy Innocents murdered in the womb due to abortion. We try to hide from the world that the abortion regime in America is among the most radical on the planet, far more barbaric than the “heathen” European nations we like to mock. We should continue speaking up for those innocent children, but I think we also need to think of another group of innocents today.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the story of the Holy Innocents is how little it is mentioned in other contemporary literature about this incident. Only the Gospel of Matthew mentions its account. This has led some to believe this event never happened, that it was simply a literary myth used by Matthew to show what a cruel tyrant Herod was. (This was a man who murdered his own sons after all.) For those who accept such reasoning, I’d like to offer a counter narrative. We don’t need to look to ancient history to find real events happening nobody is talking about. We only need to look to today.
As John Allen has meticulously accounted in his book The Global War on Christians , we are seeing a real war on Christianity in the world. Not the fake war that is waged in America over whether or not secular stores should say Merry Christmas, or the silly debate over what we should name the tree in the town square. A real war where both the state and society are attempting to exterminate Christianity from their region. For most of these individuals, confessing Christ is their crime.
Yet if you read or listen to the contemporary media reports today, you will hear nothing about it. Tell people that Christians are the most persecuted group in the world today, and they will laugh at you. It is far more worthwhile in America to spend this holiday season arguing about what a long-bearded reality TV star said about homosexuality. This is the conduct of an ostensibly Christian nation. We Catholics are little better. Most of these are our brothers in faith, and yet most of us aren’t even aware of this situation, and even those that are aren’t really doing anything about it. (Present company included.)
What explains this stunning lack of empathy for others, especially our brothers in faith? Why is this story seldom reported? The answers aren’t very encouraging. For starters, do we really consider them our brothers? If we walked into their Churches, their customs and liturgy would be alien to us. We would find more in common with Protestant worship services. One of the tendencies of our culture is to value conformity above all else. We look down on other cultures and traditions not the same as ours. We frequently stigmatize those who do things differently as the dreaded other. Most of these Catholics are not of the Roman Rite, ergo we can’t really imagine their existence.
Another reason this story is not reported on is these individuals don’t have the bully pulpit we in the West take for granted. They haven’t had a papacy struggle several centuries to gain its independence from the secular authority, and then flourish for over 1,000 years in relative peace. As Pope Francis has demonstrated, when the Bishop of Rome speaks, he gets the attention of the world, even if he doesn’t get their respect or obedience. Most of the patriarchs in the Middle East haven’t had this benefit, to say nothing of bishops in the Orient, some who have to keep their status a secret.
A final reason for this silence is that in America, there is little to be gained by exploiting them politically. The political left obviously does not want to identify with the backwards third-world heathen who is dying for a man they despise. The political right in many places of the world helped create this situation, even though they didn’t intend it. (In areas like the Middle East, where democracy spreads, Christians are the first casualty.) Even many of the leading Catholic voices in America championed shaping the world these individuals now face violent martyrdom in.
While this explains the reason why it isn’t reported, why aren’t we Catholics in the know doing more? I think there is a tendency to gauge how much we identify with a cause by how much money we are donating to it. Here, money won’t fix the problem, though I’m sure it helps. The big problem is that most of these Christians have no voice here in the West. To cultivate that voice is hard work and will take years, and will first take convincing people of the reality of the problem. Considering those options, that other charitable cause sounds like a far more efficient use of my time.
That these realities (including our lack of empathy) exist is hard to deny. Yet we must still overcome these realities and forge a new one. We might not be able to do much, but perhaps we can do something small and go from there. Let’s spend the new year by designating one day a month as a day of prayer and fasting for these unknown innocents. Let’s take whatever opportunity we can to get informed about their plight and make their plight known to others. The Holy Innocents were perpetually remembered because one tax collector decided to tell their story to the world. Maybe our work can help future generations know the story of today’s Holy Innocents.