Only a few days after Egyptian President Sisi visited President Trump in the White House, Moslem fanatics in Egypt set off bombs in two crowded Coptic Christian churches on Palm Sunday. The explosions killed almost a hundred people and wounded many more. As a result, Christian leaders have cancelled all services for today’s great feast of Easter.
During the past few years a friend of mine has worked to compile daily accounts of attacks on Christians all over the world. It is hard to read these accounts of varying brutality that occur practically every day. Most of the attacks are carried out by fanatical Moslems. Christians are beaten, raped, robbed, tortured, and murdered mainly because they are Christian. No individual offenses were levelled against the worshippers who had come together in Egypt.
Last year at this time I mentioned that members of the Islamic State murdered four nuns of the Missionaries of Charity working in an elder care facility in Aden, Yemen. Last year on the day after Easter, Taliban suicide bombers murdered over 65 Christian worshippers in Pakistan and wounded over 300. The only crime of those people, like so many thousands of others brutally persecuted in recent years, was that they were Christians.
What is so bad about Christianity? Why do extremists, both secular and religious, hate it so much? Maybe I should ask, why do they fear it so much?
Even after the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday, his subsequent Ascension forty days later, and the incredible events of Pentecost, St. Peter did not fully understand the implications of the Resurrection. Only after a personal vision convinced him that Jesus died and rose for all, did Peter see the light. He said,
“Now I really understand that God is not a respecter of persons, but in every nation he who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. “*
I have come to believe with Peter that God is not a respecter of persons, and that anyone who does right is acceptable to God. Still, I like being a Christian, especially a Catholic. There are many things I like about it but most of all I like a religion that believes in and holds out hope for resurrection, for a life after death.
I like to think that the worshippers bombed in Egypt or the four nuns murdered in Yemen are living a new life, and that they are not just rotting bodies being picked apart by vultures. It also strikes me that in reading accounts of them they, like tens of thousands of other Christians who have also been brutally persecuted, had already given up their lives in the service of others. Like Jesus, they went about doing good and healing.**
For Christians Easter, coming as it usually does at the outset of Spring, will always be a sign of new life.
The word "Easter" comes from a Germanic goddess of spring. Latin peoples used the word pasqua from the Jewish pasch or passover. When the Germanic peoples were converted, the Church wisely associated the word for Springtime with the feast of the Risen Lord. All around us new life is springing from the dead of winter. As the last traces of snow disappear, the crocus miraculously pushes its way up through its winter tomb.
*Acts of the Apostles 10: 25-37.
**Deacon Michael Nabil Ragheb, a 29 year old husband and father, was one of those killed in the Egyptian bombing. His uncle described him:
“Michael was very diligent. He was top of his class in university, where he graduated from the Faculty of Pharmacy with distinction. He was also a graduate from the Coptic Theological College. He was successful, both in his working life and spiritual life. He was a son of the Church from childhood onwards and was a very obedient, humble and honest person. Since 2006 he served at Mar Girgis as a deacon, teaching the children in Sunday school." (Thanks to Tom Davis, creator and editor of "Today's Martyrs".)