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Grace and Solidarity


by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson

The courageous witness of 17th-century martyrs inspires us to pray for persecuted Christians today

Carl A. Anderson

LAST MONTH, I wrote about Martin Scorsese’s remarkable film Silence, based on the historical novel of the same title by the Japanese Catholic author Shusaku Endo. Through the journey of two young Jesuits, Father Francisco Garrpe and Father Sebastião Rodrigues, Silence explores the 17th-century persecution of Christians in Japan — and the consequences of the apostasy, after torture, of Father Cristóvão Ferreira, the Jesuit provincial there.

As I wrote last month, Scorsese views his film as a sort of pilgrimage, and I encouraged those who see it to do so in the same light. Silence presents in an extraordinary way an important chapter — but only one chapter — in the long history of missionary activity and evangelization. What is missing from Silence is also worth recalling.

When news of Father Ferreira’s action reached Europe, many Jesuits sought to travel to Japan not to ascertain the facts but to join those who were suffering martyrdom. Among them was a group of Jesuits led by an Italian, Father Marcello Mastrilli.

Before leaving for Japan, Father Mastrilli composed a new novena asking the intercession of St. Francis Xavier, one of the first Jesuits, for the success of the missions and especially for those suffering overseas for the Catholic faith, that they would “live and die in the state of grace.” Father Mastrilli’s novena, traditionally recited in March, has come to be known as the Novena of Grace.

Father Mastrilli and his companions were captured shortly after their arrival in Japan. Horribly tortured, they suffered martyrs’ deaths. Indeed, Father Mastrilli’s witness, not Father Ferreira’s apostasy, better represents the Jesuit mission in Japan.

A Japanese account from the time states that during the 17th century approximately 100 Jesuits died as martyrs while only five renounced their faith, after torture.

There is even evidence that toward the end of his life Father Ferreira recanted his apostasy, after which he, too, was tortured to death.

And regarding the question of whether Christianity could take root in Japan, the fact remains that when Commodore Matthew Perry entered Japan’s Edo Bay in 1853 there were thousands of Japanese Christians.

Today, we see throughout parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia the brutal persecution, torture and killing of Christians. The daily heroism of these brothers and sisters in the faith is an inspiration to their fellow Christians everywhere.

As we know, the situation is particularly acute in the Middle East, where so many Christians have been targeted for genocide and hundreds of thousands have lost virtually everything. During the past several years, the Knights of Columbus has become one of the international leaders in helping these people — providing thousands with food, clothing, shelter and medical care.

This year, we will continue our leadership role and we will look for ways to provide even more help. The corporal works of mercy continue to be indispensable.

But we can also do more to foster a greater spiritual solidarity with Christians who are suffering. This month, we will launch a new initiative to pray for those Christians suffering persecution. In this way, we will join a new spiritual work of mercy with our ongoing corporal works of mercy.

We are proposing a new prayer, a Novena of Grace and Solidarity (see page 15), based on the prayer of Father Mastrilli. I urge all brother Knights and their families to join in this Novena of Grace and Solidarity for persecuted Christians throughout the world March 12-20. The novena may also be prayed any time throughout the year.

In many ways, 2017 may be the decisive year in determining whether many Christian communities throughout the Middle East will continue to exist. Many Christians in the region tell me that our efforts give them renewed hope and determination.

Let us pray that, in spite of all the tribulations they face, they will remain faithful and that we will remain worthy of their trust in us.

Vivat Jesus!