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A Real Example at Christmas

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Getting to know people who are persecuted for their religious faith is life-changing. To meet people whose everyday life involves the real possibility that they might be kidnapped, tortured or killed simply because they are Christian, Yazidi or Uyghur Muslim gives you a whole new perspective.


We don't often come to know any of these people -- they seem a world away. Maybe we make an occasional donation around this time of year. But meeting these people changes things.

Upon receiving an award for his work on religious persecution from the Catholic Near East Welfare Association in New York City on Dec. 13, Carl Anderson, who until recently was head of the Knights of Columbus, talked about his work with Christians in Iraq who fled so-called Islamic State genocide.

"We have much to learn from our fellow Christians in this region, who are some of the oldest Christian communities on the planet," Anderson said. "How they face danger, persecution and even genocide with courage, fortitude and fidelity.

"We should get to know them better," Anderson implored. "We should do more to mainstream them into the life of the Catholic Church -- and especially the Church in the United States." He said: "We should make them not only brothers and sisters in the faith, but we should also make them true neighbors in the faith. And do to that, we must not only ask, 'Who is my neighbor?' we should also ask, 'Am I truly their neighbor?' That requires time and real encounter."

In 2015, I was sitting next to Anderson's colleague and our mutual friend Andrew Walther at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, not far from Pope Francis. The pope said: "The word 'mercy' is composed of two words: misery and heart. The heart indicates the capacity to love; mercy is that love which embraces the misery of the human person."


At that Mass, Walther decided to devote his efforts to working with those persecuted for their faith. I don't know if it was the pope's words that directly inspired him, but whatever it was, it worked. On his deathbed, just before being put on a ventilator for complications from leukemia, he was discussing edits to a video on the plight of Christians in Nigeria.

Because Walther got to know the faith and courage of real people around the world, he couldn't help but have courage, too. This is what Anderson talked about in his remarks: If you help the persecuted and walk with them, their example will help you, as well.

Christmas is a time of nostalgia for men and women who have fallen away from religious practice, perhaps because of experiencing or reading too many stories of Christians behaving badly. They don't make the headlines as often, but there are Christians in the world today choosing to show the love of Christ for their persecutors. In Iraq, Christians have been there since the earliest days of the faith. They belong there and they are needed there.

Andrew Walther became more sensitive to the pain and confusion that evil can inflict, and also more determined to help persecuted Christians stay where they believe God has them for a purpose. This Christmas, consider that the season is about more than Santa and trees; it's about a God who leads us to depths of mercy that are not possible without Him. May we all learn something from this mercy, and may the world be better for it.


(Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book "A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living." She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan's pro-life commission in New York, and is on the board of the University of Mary She can be contacted at klopez@nationalreview.com.)

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