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The other day I reflected on the idea of martyrdom and persecution. Today I would like to share what such persecution looks like. Fides.org, the pontifical mission society website, ran this story today. “During the night we learned of the attack against the newly elected bishop of the diocese of Rumbek, Fr. Cristian Carlassare. The Comboni missionary was immediately transported to the hospital in Juba.” In places like the United States, we simply do next expect a bishop would be shot.

The article goes on to say that “Fr. Cristian was beaten, along with the nun who was with him, then 4 bullets were shot in his legs. According to the first reports, the attack was apparently planned to scare him so that he will not be consecrated bishop.” The diocese of Rumbek is in South Sudan, an area that has suffered from years of civil war. In fact, since its founding in 1974 the diocese has been hampered by the war in its activities.

The accounts about the persecution that arose even before Stephen was killed are still impacting what we are reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The persecution is spreading all over the area. But rather than destroying the new Church, it has the opposite effect. The new Church is growing. “There were some Cypriots and Cyrenians among them, however, who came to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks as well, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.”

It can be the case that in situations like South Sudan, the missionaries provide the people with such a sense of purpose and meaning they are harder to control. They represent a threat to the persecutors. According to Wikipedia, Christians form the majority of people in South Sudan, followed by traditional African religions, with Islam a distant third. So, control the Christian population, especially in places where the war raged on for years, and you can find it much easier to control the country.

Now what does all of this have to do with Spend 5 With Jesus? The reason I share this is that as Catholics and Christians, we must be careful we do not limit our concept of the Church only to the small slice of the world where we live. It can be easy to allow ourselves to think that the way things are in our country are the way things are everywhere. But that is not true.

Now it is probably the case that you are not about to get on a jet plane and fly to South Sudan. But the Cypriots and the Cyrenians were not about to let a little persecution to keep them from preaching. My point is that they did what they could. What can you do for the people in South Sudan, or in other parts of the world where someone who announces their faith can put themselves as risk of physical harm or even death?

I am going to make a few suggestions you can bring with you into prayer today. First, think about the ways in which you can be a missionary right where you live. You can seek to share your faith. They say we should never talk about religion or politics. And it is clear that it is harder today to have a peaceful conversation about controversial topics. That said, what if, in your prayer today, you thought about how to gently evangelize people you know? How can you be supportive of someone who may have significant questions about faith, life, or why things happen? The second thing to bring to your prayer today concerns people who do missionary work in difficult, sometimes desperate situations. Pray they may help all people to have basic needs met. Pray they may be in a position to provide a sense of meaning and purpose to people whose lives may be shattered due to war, violence or famine. Commit to remembering missionaries in your prayers today, and in the days ahead.

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