Thursday night last week, I finally got around to preparing for the Saturday catechism class at St. Toma Syriac Parish. I grabbed my Bible to check the Sunday scriptures – today's scriptures – and my heart skipped a beat. There it was, in front of me, the same story that my Iraqi friends and family had been living all week: the story of the heinous torture and murder of seven Macabbean martyrs and their mother (2 Maccabees 7). In the Old Testament accounts, seven brothers were slaughtered in unspeakable ways as their mother watched, until at the last, she also was killed. Even the much edited, less terrifying version of the story read on the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C is difficult to hear under normal circumstances.
But these are not "normal circumstances."
A week ago today the little kids who attend the English Mass at St. Toma were on "high G" thinking about costumes, candy, and trick-or-treating. I was trying to enrich the conversation with little tidbits about the Christian perspective on All Hallows Eve – the night we Christians prowl the earth in cognito to ward off the evil spirits in preparation for the great feast of All Saints the following day. Yes. And while we were laughing and joking and enjoying ourselves, 6,000 miles away the relatives and friends of these little American kids were being terrorized and tortured in their sister church, Our Lady of Deliverance, Baghdad.
When the 5-hour ordeal ended at least 58 people were dead, many more were wounded. Most of America will have noted the tragedy and moved on, if they were aware of it at all. From where I stand, however, it is impossible not to be aware of the waves of grief that have enveloped the world, surging along the fault lines created in Iraqi society by the displacement of tens of thousands of Iraq's Christian minority who have fled what is clearly a growing genocidal threat.
For my Iraqi Dominican Sisters and Brothers, many of whom lost relatives, co-ministers, and dear friends in the massacre, the effect has been numbing. An entire family, neighbors to the sisters who lived in a nearby parish, died together in the church. "There was no one left to bury the dead," my sister told me. "Only us. The sister and friars buried the family."
As the stories of the survivors unfold, I am overwhelmed by the selflessness, heroism, and truly Christ-like responses of those in the Church. One survivor was asked by a reporter, what do you say to the terrorists. Through his tears he said "We forgive you."
The two young priests were both killed early during the attack, as they attempted to calm the situation and protect the many worshipers in the church. This morning at St. Toma Father Safaa Habash told those gathered for the English Mass that one of the young men was hearing confessions as the massacre began, and the other, presiding at the altar, had just finished reading the Gospel for the Feast of All Saints. "They completed their mission," he said, "and became themselves the sacrifice of the Eucharist on the altar." They and their parishioners with them.
Among the victims of this senseless tragedy was a little boy named Adam. According to a friend, who has been interpreting for me some of the Arabic language testimony of the survivors, 3-year-old Adam witnessed the horror of dozens of deaths, including that of his own parents. He wandered among the corpses and the blood, following the terrorists around and admonishing them "enough, enough, enough." According to witnesses,