Masses in St. Louis honor ‘Martyrs of Charity’

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A Missionaries of Charity sister described prayers and support from St. Louis Catholics as “overwhelming.”

“Very
powerful,” Sister John Janet said after Mass on March 14 at Sts. Teresa
and Bridget Parish, the Missionaries’ home parish in St. Louis. “You
can feel the love.”

About 160 people — representing religious
orders, priests and laity — attended the Mass, the last of three that
day in memory of the four Missionaries of Charity martyred in Yemen and
in support of the sisters in St. Louis. The Missionaries of Charity have
a convent with six sisters in St. Louis, a block from the church; they
operate a soup kitchen, a night shelter for women and an after-school
program for children. Sisters John Janet, Trinidad, Fatima Jos and
Stellinda attended the Mass at Sts. Teresa and Bridget, and Sister John
Janet had the first reading.

Sister Marysia Weber, RSM, director
of the archdiocesan Office of Consecrated Life, called the Missionaries
of Charity “the hands of Christ in our world today. Their martyrdom is a
reminder that the Gospel is not welcome everywhere, but we as
Christians are called to live our faith in the public square, regardless
of the consequences.”

Sisters Margherite, Reginette, Anselm and
Judith were killed in the attack of March 4, along with 14 of their
helpers. Uniformed gunmen entered the nursing home the sisters operate
for the elderly and disabled in Aden, Yemen, then killed a guard and
anyone who tried to stop them before reaching the sisters and killing
them, too.

Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Rice celebrated the Mass at
Sts. Teresa and Bridget and, in the homily, offered “our condolences,
our support, our prayers and our love to our own Missionaries of
Charity. … We pray also for the 60 or so residents who were cared for by
the sisters. Our hearts are united in prayer for Father Tom
(Uzhunnalil), their chaplain, who was captured. At this time, his fate
is known to God alone. He preached daily that the sisters should be
ready for martyrdom. May he too be a faithful witness to the Lord.”

Martrydom
has been “a reality of Christian life from the very beginning,”
Cardinal Thomas Collins, the archbishop of Toronto, said in recent
presentations at St. Louis University and Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. “The
single most persecuted group in the world today is Christians.”

Bishop Rice touched on that reality.

“If
we thought that the Age of Martyrs was in the history books, these
recent events have unfortunately proven otherwise,” he said. “Our four
Sisters and their helpers, in the words of Pope Francis, are ‘the
martyrs of today. They gave their blood for the Church. … (They are)
martyrs of charity.’”

But they’re more than mere martyrs.

“We
could dwell on their final moments, but they were just that — moments.”
Bishop Rice said. “Their final moments do not give a full picture of
the lives of these Sisters. When you step back at the long view, you
discover that their lives were about service. As Missionaries of
Charity, they were instruments of mercy.”

Shiite and Sunni Muslim
communities have been fighting a civil war and vying for power in Yemen
since 2011, and the so-called Islamic State and al-Qaida operate in the
country. Most Christians have left the war zone, but Missionaries of
Charity and Salasian priests, including Father Uzhunnalil, remained in
ministry.

“These sisters chose to stay and continue the work of
caring for the elderly,” Bishop Rice said. “They had a chance to leave.
No one would have thought any less of them had they decided to remove
themselves from a dangerous area to safety. But in doing so, the sisters
must have wondered who would care for these 60 elderly residents? Who
would feed them, if not the sisters? Who would grace them with human
touch, if not the sisters? The decision to stay and serve … was the
triumph of love. In the face of violence and terrorism, the sisters
chose love. And while we mourn their deaths, we proclaim that true love is victorious.

“They
gave themselves totally to God in imitation of Mary. And they lived out
the Gospel: ‘You did it for me’ in service to the poor. This is not
pious babble; no, for the sisters, it meant a life of service, in the
face of violence and death — and the ultimate sacrifice of their lives.
This is not mere piety. It is a real, total, sacrificial offering to
God.”

Bishop Rice quoted the surviving sister, superior Sister
Rio, who wrote, “Because of their faithfulness, they were in the right
place at the right time and were ready when the Bridegroom came.”

“I’m
amazed by the faith reflected in those words,” he said, adding that
Pope Francis “speculates that, at the moment of their death, Blessed
Teresa of Calcutta was waiting for her sisters to bring them to the
Lord. Not to disagree with the Holy Father, but I think even more so, at
the moment of their death, Christ Himself was there to greet them and
proclaimed, ‘Well done, good and faithful servants. Come, receive your
Master’s joy.’”

After Mass, the St. Louis Missionaries of Charity
had barely gotten out of their pew when congregants came up to offer
condolences and love with two-clasp handshakes or hugs. The sisters
thanked each for coming then showed “the triumph of love” of which
Bishop Rice spoke.

“Please pray for the ones who did it, that they may be converted into God’s grace,” Sister John Janet said.

 

 

Read Archbishop Joseph Kurtz's statement  asking Catholics to sign a pledge calling for an end to the slaughter of Christians and members of other religious minority groups in the Middle East.

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