My Dear Sisters and Brothers! Followers of the most persecuted religion in the world. What happened last week in Sri Lanka is a reminder that in such advanced world of the twenty-first century Christians are a target not of some isolated, random attacks but a carefully crafted extermination. After two millennia the words of St John from the Book of Apocalypse, which we have just heard, are still valid and fresh as they were when our Christian sisters and brothers were persecuted by the pagan Roman Empire: ‘My name is John, and through our union in Jesus I am your brother and share your sufferings, your kingdom, and all you endure.’
Can you hear my fellow Christians what John is saying? He says that he shares our suffering but in the midst of that suffering we have something else in common, it is our kingdom, the kingdom which Jesus Christ has established by his death and Resurrection.
When we witness the destruction of the lives of our fellow Christians, when we witness the expulsion from their homeland, when we witness the destruction of their homes and churches we could succumb into thinking that the Christian world is crumbling. However in the midst of destruction and annihilation St John says to us: ‘your kingdom,’ the kingdom of your Lord and Savior is there. It is not in worldly power and prestige but in the resemblance to Jesus who said: ‘If the world hates you, remember that it hated me before you. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too.’
Again we pause at the suffering of our fellow believers; despite the Easter Week we are more like the disciples of the Lord from the Gospels going to the tomb with heavy hearts and red and swollen eyes. That’s why on this Divine Mercy Sunday we need these words of the Risen Lord, who walking into the upper room where the fear overcame the disciples, said: ‘Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.’ The Lord who hanging on the cross forgave his executioners entrusts us with the mission of forgiveness so we can fully resemble him both in suffering and forgiveness.
Let us take consolation in the words Jesus spoke to St John who was imprisoned ‘on the island of Patmos for having preached God’s word and witnessed to Jesus’: ‘Do not be afraid; it is I, the First and the Last; I am the Living One. I was dead and now I am to live for ever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and of the underworld.’
It is the Resurrection of Jesus which assures us that ‘a light shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower.’ Darkness can reject the light of Christ but darkness cannot extinguish the light of Christ. When our church was in darkness we sang at Easter Vigil: ‘Christ the light,’ let us hold onto this proclamation now. May our paschal faith enable us to see the light of Christ shining from the many graves of our fellow Christians who are like ‘a wheat grain which falls on ground and dies in order to yield a rich harvest.’
Let us also preserve their memory in our hearts and history. In a church, I saw a fresco of the crucified Jesus by whose side stood a feminine figure, the Church. She was holding up a chalice to collect the blood flowing from the pierced heart of Jesus.
My Dear Sisters and Brothers! Like that precious blood, collect and treasure the memory of the sacrifice of those Sri Lankan Christians, and so many thousands of other Christians, martyred for their faith. In this way what an early Church writer Tertullian observed will happen again in our times: ‘The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.’ Their sacrifice is our strength.