Blessed are the Persecuted: Thoughts on the Genocide of Christians in Iraq

July 21, 2014

They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?” Revelation 6:10

If you aren’t aware of the ongoing genocide of Christians perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), you need to be. The atrocities committed against our brothers and sisters in Christ, in an area of the globe that has been Christian for almost 2,000 years, are horrific and sobering.

To summarize the situation, ISIS militants are sweeping across large portions of Iraq and Syria, conquering villages and forcing “infidels” to convert or die. These jihadis fear nothing, and they welcome death in the name of Allah. They view with hatred and contempt anyone of the Christian faith, and they are raping, murdering and forcing conversions on a massive scale. And there is no end in sight.

With these bloody persecutions happening as we speak, I would like to offer some brief points for reflection.

1. We must care.

In the comfortable, affluent portions of the world in which many of us live, persecution can seem like a distant abstraction. We certainly feel sorry for those who suffer, but we have no understanding of what it is like to feel the terror and anguish of militants going from door to door, demanding you convert or die.

Yet, as Christians, we must feel compassion for those brothers and sisters who are suffering for the name of Jesus—for they are truly our family. St. Paul tells us that “if one member suffers, all suffer together” and that we must “weep with those who weep.” In a very real sense, we must suffer with them, if no other way than through our prayers and sacrifices on their behalf. The only thing we should never be is indifferent.

2. Persecution can happen to you.

The past few centuries have been filled with bloody persecutions against Catholics. From the mass murders of the Cristeros War in Mexico, to the Red Terror in Spain, to the labor camps of Siberia, Catholics have suffered brutally in recent history. The problem is, we often believe that persecution could never happen to us. But this simply isn’t true. It can, and I believe that that it very well might effect many of us very soon.

The question is, are you the kind of Catholic that would survive persecution? Is the faith so a part of the fabric of your soul that you would rather die than deny Jesus and his Church? If temporal goods were threatened, if your life was on the line, if your family in danger, how would you respond? In short, is Jesus Christ more precious to you than your life? Is the Catholic and Apostolic faith worth sacrificing your life for?

It is worth taking some time to reflect on these questions. While we can’t know with certainty how we would respond to persecution, we can know how we conduct our daily lives. If we are lukewarm and compromised in small sufferings, how are we to believe we could survive greater persecution?

3. We must know how to suffer.

Despite falling out of favor in recent decades, the constant teaching of the Mother Church is that suffering has value—in fact, it is precious. This concepts warrants further reflection in a future post, but suffice it to say that Catholics through the centuries have always known how to sacrifice and how to suffer. The question is, do we?

When faced with the small crosses of daily life—a headache, a cold, an irritating person, a flat tire—do we accept them gladly, uniting them to the sufferings of Christ? Or do we grumble, complain, and lash out? Do we rejoice in sufferings, as St. Peter commands us to?

If we are honest, we will have to admit that many of us do not know how to suffer well. But an easy remedy for this is reading the writings of the saints on suffering, meditating on the Holy Passion of Christ, and observing the example of the martyrs.

As St. Paul summarizes: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

4. We must never lose hope.

Hope is a strange thing—it only has value when everything appears hopeless. That is what makes it a supernatural virtue. No matter how bleak things look, we must always have a confident expectation that God will avenge his people and save them, even if that salvation comes through the cross of suffering. 

 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For thy sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

5. We must never be lukewarm.

In short, we must never be comfortable in the world and lukewarm in our faith, for it is the lukewarm that Jesus says he will spit out of his mouth. Let us then daily strive for greater sanctity, embracing the crosses Our Lord sends to us, remembering his words in the Holy Gospel, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”

Sam Guzman


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Reader Interactions


  1. Eileen Shaw says

    I have thought deeply about how I would respond if ever I faced that choice, I would probably die a craven coward, but couldn’t renounce my faith and enter the next world denying God.

    • Ruud Karsten says

      Eileen, let’s pray for each other and for all who are thinking about this…, that in the end we’ll have the courage indeed to not deny our faith under the circumstances of persecution, and whatever suffering we’ll have to go through. I remember very well last year, when suffering of a deep depression for almost ten months. Hope kept me alife, where I got several moments I tended to give up. But confident that God would save me, and help me to stay in His love…, I am still here. Genuine prayers of friends are very important, since they actually tell you not to give up…

  2. Ryan Owens says

    How long must we allow the persecution and suffering of our Catholic brothers and sisters in the near-East? I pray to God that men braver than I will do something to put an end to this vicious Islamic curse.

  3. Nicholas Downey says

    My question is what can we do? I know we can pray for the persecuted but what does the Church say about going over there and destroying ISIS. I know it is wrong to kill, but when someone is bragging about killing children is it wrong to stop them. I know that if I went over there on my own the likely hood of me being killed is great, but if the possibility exists to go and stand between the innocent and the evil with a gun would it be wrong? Would it be wrong to take the fight to them? I know war is evil and taking a life is something that you will have to live with for the rest of your life, but what if you saved a life?


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