Recently, the world's attention has rightly been focused on the seemingly unending, yet ever and exponentially increasing story of sorrow that is the modern Middle East. The other day, we had word of yet another beheading by the "Islamic State" - this time of a British captive. Meanwhile, at home (appropriately on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a feast so resonant with associations with the Holy Land), we took up a special collection at Mass for humanitarian assistance to the persecuted Christians in the region.
The sufferings of those ancient Christian communities have received some attention in the media and were mentioned by the President in last week's speech, but the attention and the West's response so far have hardly seemed proportional to the crisis they are experiencing. In Sunday's NY Times, Ross Douthat noted some of the factors which may account for this.
(To read Douthat's account, go to "The Middle East's Friendless Christians" - http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/14/opinion/sunday/ross-douthat-the-middle-easts-friendless-christians.html?&hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=c-column-top-span-region®ion=c-column-top-span-region&WT.nav=c-column-top-span-region.)
It is, of course, the case that there are some Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere who seem to have allied themselves - in spirit if not in action - with Israel's enemies. Christian anti-semitism needs to be named and condemned just like anyone else's anti-semitism, especially when, as now, anti-semitism is on the rise. Israel's right to defend itself against its enemies in the region and among the chattering elites of the world deserves to be acknowledged by all people of good will and, a fortiori, by Christians, who have such a special debt of relationship to the Jewish people. As the Second Vatican Council, following Saint Paul (cf. Romans 11:29), dogmatically taught, th Jewish people remain God's beloved people, for God's gifts and call are irrevocable (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 16),
That said, the human community should be able to extend its concern to more than one constituency at a time and to care about all persecuted communities being exposed to contemporary ethnic cleansing.
Today, the Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. Traditionally, May's sorrows have been numbered at seven - Simeon's prophecy, the flight into Egypt, the 12-year old Jesus being lost in Jerusalem, Mary meeting jesus on the way of the cross, the crucifixion, Jesus' being taken down from the cross, and Jesus' burial. As Queen of heaven, Mary can obviously no longer experience sorrow in the strict sense. But she remains involved in and concerned for the sufferings and setbacks of the Body of Christ, the Church, as it continues to journey through this vale of tears. In that symbolic sense, surely, we can speak of the sufferings of contemporary Christian communities in the modern Middle East as having a special place among her sorrows