“Under Caesar’s Sword” shows Christians answering hate with love

The Center for Ethics and Culture, McGrath Institute for Church Life, and Campus Ministry welcomed Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades to campus on February 23 to celebrate Mass for the special intention of persecuted Christians. Mass was followed by a showing of the documentary Under Caesar’s Sword. Bishop Rhoades was joined by O. Carter Snead, Professor of Law and the William P. and Hazel B. White Director of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture; and Daniel Philpott, Professor of Political Science and team member in the Under Caesar’s Sword project.

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, 77 percent of the world, or 5.5 billion people of all faiths (Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist and others) has experienced some level of religious persecution. This could be in the form of “soft” persecution like limits on religious freedom and economic discrimination or more severe persecution such as imprisonment, torture and death.

Bishop Rhoades serves as a member of the Board of Directors of Catholic Relief Services and has visited the Middle East, where some of the most violent persecution of Christians occurs. During his homily, he spoke on the example of the martyr Saint Polycarp, whose feast day is celebrated on February 23, as well as the importance of solidarity and prayer with our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ.

Bishop Rhoades began by reflecting on his most recent trip to the Holy Land and the hope he has for interreligious collaboration even in the face of persecution. He honored a local Muslim refugee family who were forced to flee Iraq after risking their lives to maintain friendship with Christians in their community.

The documentary also focused on the message of hope. It showed different types of Christian persecution in Turkey, Pakistan, Eritrea, and India. Christians in each region face different challenges to their faith, but every group interviewed in the film answered the violence or discrimination they faced with peacefulness and openness.

A Turkish Christian pastor, for example, has had to increase his church’s security measures after attempts were made to assassinate him and vandalize his church. The pastor spoke on their continued efforts to engage their community in dialogue and build trust by inviting non-Christians to various church activities and participating in other community-based events.

This message was echoed by the Indian Christians interviewed. In August 2008, anti-Christian riots left around 100 Christians dead, hundreds of churches and homes burned down, and thousands displaced. One woman wept while recalling the horror of seeing her husband tortured and shot for his faith. In the face of this bloodshed, the vast majority of Christians are not responding with more killing. In contrast, they discussed how they are using the camaraderie found in community events such as sports to overcome the barriers of caste and religion.

Although each situation portrayed by the film was unique, the non-violent and loving reaction persisted. Senior Jacob Lindle told the Rover, “It was beautiful to see the testimony of the persecuted Christians who today are following so literally in the footsteps of Christ. I was inspired by the universally merciful response despite all the broad range of communities which the film followed.”

In their concluding remarks after the documentary, Bishop Rhoades, Philpott, and Snead remained optimistic for the future, in spite of the rise in persecution. They explained that the creative strategies, which were so simple, were the best way to build up friendship and trust, and facilitate reconciliation within different faiths. However simple the acts of love, they emphasized that Christians will prevail, anchored in long term theological hope.

Mackenzie Kraker is a sophomore studying biochemistry and theology. She has enjoyed the unusually balmy weather immensely and recently played three hours of ultimate frisbee with little thought for her studies or her inadequate personal fitness. If you share her love for impulsive and foolish athletic endeavors, contact her at mkraker@nd.edu.