“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven…If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? …Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Paulos Faraj Rahho served the Christian community in Mosul, Iraq for over 30 years, first as a priest and then, from 2001, as Archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Church. In this time he constructed a new church and founded a new parish. He also started an organization to help the infirm, built an orphanage for handicapped children, and engaged passionately in interfaith initiatives and dialogues.
Life became difficult for Iraqi Christians following their country’s invasion in 2003. Compounding the tragic losses of the war itself was increasing sectarian tension within Iraq’s diverse population, much of it directed against the Christian minority.
In August 2004 the Archbishop was led from his official residence and forced to watch it burn to the ground. He was later offered shelter by a local imam.
In another incident, he was harassed by gunmen in the street. Unfazed, he even dared them to shoot him.
Just over four years ago, on February 29, 2008, Archbishop Rahho was kidnapped by armed men who in the process killed his driver and two bodyguards. Thrown into the trunk of the car and perhaps himself wounded, the 65 year-old archbishop used his cell-phone to immediately call the church, instructing them not to pay any ransom as “[that] money would not be paid for good works and would be used for killing and more evil actions.”
Though demands were issued, the Archbishop was found dead in a shallow grave a week later.
At his funeral service, a weeping Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly urged the Christian community not to seek revenge for the Archbishop’s death, reminding them that Christians are bound to lives of peace and not hatred.
We as Christians are held to the highest of moral standards, such that, as sons of God, we are enjoined to respond to hatred and violence with love and prayer. This injunction, issued at a time of great injustice, is at the core of Jesus’ message to mankind. It was then and today still is too much for many of us to accept.
Yet truly brave and righteous figures like the Archbishop and Patriarch Delly show us that not only is it possible to answer persecution with love but that it is our Christian duty. As the similarly admirable Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”