Pope Francis recently released a new encyclical. Portions of it deal with environmentalism, global warming, and climate change. Naturally, this has prompted controversy.
It’s noteworthy that Francis didn’t merely make a passing comment on global warming during this or that sermon, but that he issued a papal encyclical on the matter. Encyclicals are much more formal and significant than remarks made during mass. They are letters written by a pope and sent to bishops all around the world. In turn, the bishops are meant to disseminate the encyclical’s ideas to all the priests and churches in their jurisdiction, so that the pope’s teaching reaches every church-attending Catholic.
All this leads to the following question: Where is Pope Francis’ encyclical concerning the rampant persecution that Christians—including many Catholics—are experiencing around the world in general, the Islamic world in particular?
To be sure, the pope has acknowledged it. On April 21, during mass held at Casa Santa Marta, Francis said that today’s church is a “church of martyrs.” He even referenced several of the recent attacks on Christians by Muslims (without of course mentioned the latter’s religious identity).
Said Pope Francis:
In these days how many Stephens [early Christian martyred in Book of Acts] there are in the world! Let us think of our brothers whose throats were slit on the beach in Libya [by the Islamic State]; let’s think of the young boy who was burnt alive by his [Pakistani Muslim] companions because he was a Christian; let us think of those migrants thrown from their boat into the open sea by other [African Muslim] migrants because they were Christians; let us think – just the day before yesterday – of those Ethiopians assassinated because they were Christians… and of many others. Many others of whom we do not even know and who are suffering in jails because they are Christians… The Church today is a Church of martyrs: they suffer, they give their lives and we receive the blessing of God for their witness.
The pope is acquainted with the reality of Christian persecution around the world. So why isn’t he issuing an encyclical about it? Such an encyclical would be very useful.
The pope could instruct bishops to acknowledge the truth about Christian persecution and to have this news spread to every Catholic church. Perhaps a weekly prayer for the persecuted church could be institutionalized—keeping the plight of those hapless Christians in the spotlight, so Western Catholics and others always remember them, talk about them, and, perhaps most importantly, understand why they are being persecuted.
Once enough people are familiar with the reality of Christian persecution, they could influence U.S. policymakers—for starters, to drop those policies that directly exacerbate the sufferings of Christian minorities in the Middle East.
Whatever the effects of such an encyclical—and one can only surmise positive ones—at the very least, the pope would be addressing a topic entrusted to his care and requiring his attention.
As recent as 1958, Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical that addressed the persecution of Christians. A portion follows:
We are aware—to the great sorrow of Our fatherly heart—that the Catholic Church, in both its Latin and Oriental rites, is beset in many lands by such persecutions that the clergy and faithful … are confronted with this dilemma: to give up public profession and propagation of their faith, or to suffer penalties, even very serious ones.
Missionaries who have left their homes and dear native lands and suffered many serious discomforts in order to bring the light and the strength of the gospel to others, have been driven from many regions as menaces and evil-doers…
Note that Pius does not mention the burning and bombing of churches, or the abduction, rape, enslavement, and slaughter of Christians. The reason is that Christians living outside the West in 1958 rarely experienced such persecution. In other words, today’s global persecution of Christians is exponentially worse than in 1958. Pius complained about how Christianity was being contained, not allowed to spread and win over converts…