In recent months, Pope Francis has come back time and again to the thought that Christians—and Christianity—are still being persecuted in the world that all of us sinners live in. It conjures up tales of the Middle Ages and the long ago, when martyrs were made from those who went about bravely professing the Christian faith against “fire and sword.” It is hard to fathom that this is the case in our supposed modern world. Yet, this is the case in the Middle East today. This has been brought to mind recently with the news of the kidnapping of two nuns and three other Assyrians from a girls’ orphanage in the area now controlled by ISIS, the supposed new entity of the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”
Two nuns, Sister Miskintah and Sister Utoor Joseph, members of the Chaldean Daughters of Mary religious order that ran the orphanage in Mosul, Iraq, had returned to inspect conditions there two weeks after the terrorists overran and seized control of the locality. According to a report in The Tablet, the sisters were abducted along with three other women, Hala Salim, Sarah Khoshaba and Aram Sabah. They have not been heard from since last Tuesday, July 1st. (Unfortunately, there has been no word—so far—of their whereabouts or wellbeing.) Since the seizure of Mosul, over two weeks ago, more than 10,000 people have fled, turning it into a ghost town. The assistant to the Catholic archbishop of Mosul has said that “inaction becomes complicity with crime and abuse of power. The world cannot turn a blind eye to the tragedy.” The archbishop (Yohanna Petros Moshe) could only—and simply—plead “Save us!”
For the nuns to be kidnapped like this, not too long after the kidnapping and murder of the Dutch Jesuit priest, Frans van der Lugt (also in Syria), is incomprehensible not just to civilized society (such as it is) but most of all to those with religious sensibilities. For all the bad press the Catholic Church has gotten in recent years, people have either forgotten or simply ignored the day-by-day work of the innumerable religious—priests, brothers, as well as nuns—who minister throughout the world against great odds and at great personal danger in order to proclaim and present the Prince of Peace to an always weary and jaded world. Oftentimes, news reporting will cover the big names or major personalities when it comes to covering things of a religious nature. But when it comes to nuns—the true faces of compassion for the suffering masses—religious bigotry and persecution becomes suddenly, glaringly real.
There are nuns of every imaginable order live lives of humble service throughout the world today, bringing their Savior to those who need saving and caring, nurturing (as well as empowerment) to those who have no voice and no hope. And miraculously, they do it with meager resources and with whatever assistance they can get. What keeps them going is their faith in their vocation and in their God and in the people that they work so hard to love and serve.
The words of that Christmas hymn that is so evocative is so appropriate now. Just transpose “fathers” to “sisters,” and you have the truth about these nuns who serve wherever danger is present and faith is not; the sisters, who are “living still in spite of dungeon, fire and sword…our sisters chained in prisons dark, were still in heart and conscience free…And through the truth that comes from God…we will love both friend and foe in all our strife, and preach thee, too, as love knows how, by kindly deeds and virtuous life. Faith of our sisters! Holy faith! We will be true to thee till death!”
Let us pray that in doesn’t come to that. Instead of death, let there be service and life—and love. These nuns from the orphanage—and all nuns—live the life of service and love every day. They teach that lesson—we must learn it. As Pope Francis often says, nothing else will save us.
Joseph McAuley is an assistant editor at America.