A clergyman prays over the casket of 13-year-old Dhami Brindya during her burial in Negombo, Sri Lanka, April 25, four days after suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island. CNS photo/Athit Perawongmetha, Reuters

Carl Hétu: Fear can be overcome

By 
  • May 2, 2019

At Mass a few weeks ago, I heard an unusual noise coming from the entrance of the church. Without thinking, I turned and found myself fearing the worst. An attack? After Mass I asked others if they felt the same way and, to my surprise, some did. 

How many of us are experiencing this type of fear in our places of worship? For most Canadians, the answer is not many. Although there have been incidents in Canada, the risk here is still small compared to many other parts of the world. But it may not feel that way. 

That anxiety was certainly reinforced on Easter Sunday, when scores of innocent Catholics celebrating Mass in two churches were among more than 250 people killed in six terrorist bomb attacks in Sri Lanka. We could add to this the stabbing of a priest in March while celebrating Mass at St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal. And before that the killing of innocent Muslims in a New Zealand mosque, the killing of innocent Jews in synagogues in Pittsburgh and, more recently, San Diego. 

Are these despicable acts of terror and inhumanity starting to have an effect on our sense of safety? 

As we just celebrated the great feast of Easter — not just with chocolate bunnies but with the same spiritual vibrancy that millions of Christians still feel today — let’s remember that there is another way to fight this looming fear.

I’m referring to the Christians in countries like Egypt who, over the past 10 years or so, have experienced horrendous violence at the hands of well-armed and organized extremist groups which are determined to target minorities on specific feasts and in sacred spaces. Easter and Christmas, for example, are moments of particular worry for thousands of Egyptian Christians.

A few years ago, I travelled to Egypt and experienced how this drama plays out. One night, in a rural town, I joined a local Coptic Catholic community to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. To my surprise, I saw a small battalion of well-armed men coming to the church.  They’re here to protect us, I was told. Somehow this didn’t reassure me. 

I was shocked to hear that this happens all over Egypt — armed men come to Mass to protect the faithful. How do you do it, I asked, in reference to the heavy burden and fear on their shoulders. Their answer was simple: “There is a level of fear, sure, but we’ve been practising our faith here for more than 2,000 years.  We’ve lived through much worse and we have a mission given to us by Jesus.”

And there it is. Our journey is to follow Christ wherever that may lead us. The lesson for all of us is that we shouldn’t be afraid when we are led towards people who are different from us, but rather follow the example of Middle East Christians, and now Sri Lankan Christians, and persevere to encounter others through dialogue, service and love, no matter what. Each day, Middle East Christians offer inspiring works in the areas of health care, education and service to the handicapped, elderly, poor and so many more, regardless of their religion or ethnicity. 

All are welcome. They know by experience that God’s compassion and mercy are the keys to fight fear, build lasting relationships and, ultimately, bring a lasting peace. 

The terrorists can attack them and, yes, there will be broken families, pain and horror, like in Sri Lanka this past Easter weekend. However, our Egyptian brothers and sisters can be witnesses that the faith will remain and love will prevail through forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion. Not easy to do, but what an example to follow.

These values are the basis of CNEWA’s mission and this is why we have been working with Eastern Christians in the Middle East, India, Northeast Africa and Eastern Europe since 1926. They are the ones who started it all with great sacrifices and pain, but also an amazing and deep commitment to Jesus. 

So, yes, in my parish earlier this month, for a short moment I was distracted by a sudden noise at the back of the church, but ultimately I will keep my focus on the love of Jesus, which will help me counter fear to live in peace, no matter what.   

(Hétu is the Canadian National Director for Catholic Near East Welfare Association.)


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Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.