The Catholic Faith continues to bear witness to Christ’s Love in the most hostile of lands

The Catholic Faith continues to bear witness to Christ’s Love in the most hostile of lands A woman is assisted at the site of a car bomb blast outside the Syriac Orthodox Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Qamishli, Syria. Photo: CNS
Covid-19 has achieved in a few short weeks what colonial powers and cultural Marxists couldn’t achieve for the last 1,600 years writes Dr Michael Kinsella


There is a violence to the virulence of Covid-19. Its capacity to wreak financial and societal upheaval is now well-established in the Western world where we, alas, all too often dismiss the reality of a threat until it arrives at our doorway – or our parish. This pandemic is an inflection point in history for the Church and the world. No reasonable appeal by governments for calm and compliance, nor public relations campaigns to help ‘flatten the curve’, should lessen our sense of vigilance and preparedness – both spiritually and existentially – for what comes after the virus has abated (if indeed it does). Covid-19 may yet become endemic – it may remain with us indefinitely, as per the flu, through community transmission or until a ‘cure’ is found. In all, then, the legal, political, cultural and spiritual ramifications of Covid-19 are likely to be even worse for humanity than the virus itself – especially in the suffering and persecuted Church.

The idea of no public celebration of Holy Mass this year for Easter was, for many Catholics across the world, utterly terrifying and dispiriting. In Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), many of our cherished benefactors have begun to worship God in fulfilment of their Sunday obligation by watching livestreams of Mass across the country. This has helped them greatly at a personal level but, though there are beautiful graces associated with spiritual communion, it is not a long-term solution as there is no substitute for Christ Himself in the Holy Eucharist. Many of ACN’s benefactors have spoken of how afraid they are that this crisis may continue for many months ahead – fearful, especially if they become ill with the virus, that they will not have access to the sacraments in which they have expressed their love and devotion to God in life nor access to their churches in death. Churches where they have been baptised, made their confirmation, been married and have bid farewell to those closest to them are at present are, effectively, closed.

Thus, we have seen how to worship itself is now framed as a public health risk (and indeed a public order risk) – but the risk to spiritual health is not so often recognised let alone respected. Tens of thousands of Catholics across Europe lived their final days without access to what, as the Catechism so beautifully expresses, is the Source and Summit of Christian life: The Holy Eucharist. Truly, the words of St Pio of Pietrelcina, or Padre Pio as he is affectionately known, have a moving significance in these curious days, “The earth could exist more easily without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” So many thousands of Catholics have had to bid their final farewells to their loved ones via video-link and, then, upon their death, could not even have a family funeral but were interred hastily or cremated. In Ireland, the practice of the ‘wake’ – so ingrained in Irish custom that it is part of the essence of being Irish – is now also banned for the time being.

Historically and contemporaneously, the Church is no stranger to epochal times (“for this world, and the lust of it, is passing away’ I John 2:17).” What makes Covid-19 so sobering is that so much of what we, as a nation and as a Church, have focused on for so long has been found to be dangerously, ruinously unimportant or outright destructive: ultimately, our humanity is not sourced in, defined by nor defended through constitutions, ideologies, the economy, consuming or leisure – how rapidly the vapidities, inhumanities, and hypocrisies of these pursuits have been exposed. It is by Christ, and Christ alone, that our society, civilisation and very humanity, and by extension, all of humanity, is and will be healed.

Where, then, does this leave us? Governments, correctly, continue to provide advice and enforce compliance for the common good in relation to social distancing, hygiene practices, and social isolation. As Christians, however, we are called  to prayer also – for it is through prayer that we prepare for this world and for the next. However, helped by the rampant folly if not connivance of ideological extremists and apparatchiks within the Irish government who kept Ireland’s borders open for far too long in the earlier days of this crisis, Covid-19 has achieved in a few short weeks what colonial powers historically and more recently cultural Marxists within Irish political and cultural life couldn’t achieve for the last 1,600 years: the total elimination of public Catholic worship within Ireland. Given we cannot at present publicly worship, the incalculable importance of prayer within our homes, for the very survival of the Church within Ireland, hasn’t been made as startlingly clear since the penal times.

This is not just a testament to the magnitude of the threat the virus poses existentially but the conditions under which the suppression of faith more generally has been achieved in the suffering and persecuted Church – and it is precisely to the suffering and persecuted Church that ACN has been called to help. The great fear of so many Catholics is that societies conception of how, where, when and with whom we worship is now a political reality that is being quite literally policed throughout Europe – yet this is, and has been for centuries, a daily reality for hundreds of millions of Christians across the world. Video evidence of police across Europe breaking up Mass due to Covid-19, even those held within compliance of local ordinance, have emerged but this, again, is a daily reality within countries like China and Saudi Arabia – save, if one is caught, the penalty is far worse than a fine.

Whether it will be permissible or even possible to return to ‘service as usual’ under the continuing spectre of this grave illness – or indeed any communal threat – into the future is uncertain. Ultimately, in these times, if we do right by the Church we will do right by the world – and right now the Church, particularly the persecuted Church, needs prayer and support. In all of this, as we look in hope towards a horizon free of this pandemic, I must stress that spiritual and moral impoverishment leads inevitably to material impoverishment – that any hope of recovery cannot be framed within purely economic terms but must be cognisant of attempting to eliminate the conditions under which the sickness (be it moral or physiological) occurred in the first place. Only then may a true renewal take place, one rooted in a communal recognition of the value of each human, from conception until natural end.

This raises another pertinent menace with regards to Covid-19. Nearly 245 million Christians across the world live in conditions where the public expression of their faith can mean rape, torture and execution. The countries in which they reside are, broadly speaking, Islamist or communist. Under extremist versions of both systems, the total, final and irretrievable destruction of Christianity as a lived, cultural and spiritual reality is a primary aim. To compound this, there are direct reports to ACN from our pastoral workers of Covid-19 taking root within these countries – given the extremely poor health care and social support systems, the potential human catastrophe here is nigh incalculable. These conditions, where even under ‘normal’ conditions the most innocent and vulnerable of Christians are ritually brutalised within these inhumane and extremist legal systems, has meant that their persecution is now not only normalised and encouraged but, terrifyingly, have become extremist expressions of devotion to their respective agendas.

Part of ACN’s special charism is in ensuring that pastoral care is provided to those who are most vulnerable no matter how perilous the environment in which they live and worship – this occurs mainly through generous provision of Mass offerings from our benefactors but also through direct donations. The difference this makes is quite extraordinary. The Catholic Faith, so often pushed to the brink of extinction, continues to bear witness to Christ’s Love in the most hostile of lands. Even in countries such as China, which endures the most violently pestilential regime on earth, Christians bravely continue to practice, preach and teach the Gospel – even to the point of martyrdom. This could not happen without God’s grace expressing itself through the charity of fellow Christians across the world.

At present in Ireland and across the world, we are enduring an emotionally frightening and existentially difficult time. With Covid-19, the health of our life and nation has rarely been more under threat since the Famine (1845–1849), but, as our ancestors did then, we have the opportunity to emerge, by the Grace of God, a humbler, more humane, socially aware and spiritually focused society. However, to repeat, the conditions we will endure over the next few months of limited movement and worship have been the norm for hundreds of years for hundreds of millions of Christians across the world – where access to the sacraments is extremely limited, where attendance at Mass can mean a death sentence, where the simple act of blessing oneself can mean imprisonment and where access to the most basic of educational and health resources is limited, rationed or vetoed solely because these, our brothers and sisters in faith, profess their belief in Jesus Christ as Lord, Saviour and King.

Even as Covid-19 was (and likely still is) causing havoc in China, the Chinese government remained devoted as ever to the destruction and desecration of churches across China. Hundreds of churches are demolished monthly across the country. In times such as these, when government’s helplessness before nature is so easily and brutally exposed, humans naturally take solace in their faith, turning in prayer to God. The Chinese authorities, acutely aware of this, and genocidally jealous of any loyalty outside of that given to the state, increased their policy of harassment, torture and imprisonment of Christians. Tens of thousands of Christians, in spite of the recent Vatican deal with the Chinese Communist Party (or indeed because of it), have also, through their policy of the ‘social credit’ score, excluded access for Christians to banking facilities, jobs, travel, medical care, and employment – even while scores of Christians were dying from Covid-19.

Thus, for whatever reassurances the Government of Ireland may provide to the people, as Catholics we should all remain aware that our ultimate hope is in Christ not in Simon Coveney, that we must seek the intercession of the Virgin, not Leo Varadkar. Remember, the total, final and irreversible destruction of Christianity as a religion, as a faith, as a cultural force and as a lived reality in the hearts, heads, and souls of its citizens is the ultimate goal of so many governments not just in the ‘official’ persecuted Church, but across the Western world also. Covid-19 is, without doubt, an opportunity to deepen the secularist, progressivist, anti-Catholic culture of modern Ireland. This is an aspiration shared by all communists and Marxists, as we find in Ireland today. Man’s hubris stems from the most self-destructive of vanities: in thinking that a cure to an illness gives license to continuing the immoral, destructive behaviour that leads to the sickness itself in the first place. Such folly has continued to have catastrophic consequences for the Church and the world. Until we fully appreciate, and apply the lessons, of this then we condemn ourselves as a Church and as a species to earn the wages of all sin – and sow the seeds for the return of Christian persecution in our own land.

Dr Michael Kinsella is Director of Aid to the Church in Need – Ireland.