Priest urges prayer for persecuted Christians

GREENVILLE—Rita Larrivee seldom passes up an opportunity to hear Father Benedict Kiely speak, especially when he’s practically in her backyard.

Larrivee is a member of St. Mary Church, where Father Kiely served recently as guest homilist at weekend Masses and spoke on the ongoing persecution of Christians in the Middle East, a subject he and Larrivee have devoted their lives to.

In 2014, Father Kiely founded, a charity that helps persecuted Christians and raises awareness of their plight. Since then, he has taken his ministry to parishes across the U.S. and abroad.

At St. Mary, Father Kiely recounted the terror wrought by ISIS when, in 2014, the radical Islamists drove 120,000 Christians from Mosul, in Iraq. They also destroyed the prophet Jonah’s tomb in what was the city of Neneveh in Biblical times.

Father Kiely said he was the first Western priest to enter Mosul two years ago, following the expulsion of ISIS from the city.

“It was a terrible scene,” he said. “All the churches had been destroyed. For the first time in nearly 2,000 years there was no Mass in Mosul because the Christians had been driven out.” 

Upon returning to Mosul two months ago, he said little had changed. “Virtually no Christians have returned,” he said. “There were no resident priests, no resident bishops.”

Citing recent comments from Pope Francis, who noted that Christians are being persecuted at levels not seen since the first centuries of the Church, Father Kiely said India, Pakistan, and African countries among others are seeing more persecution.

More than 245 million Christians live in countries where they experience “high levels of persecution”, according to a report for 2017-2018 from Open Doors USA, a Christian organization that supports efforts to protect persecuted Christians worldwide. The report also found more than 4,000 Christians were executed for their faith during that same period.

“Throughout the world, Christ himself is being persecuted,” Father Kiely said, urging parishioners at St. Mary to pray.

“Prayer is the most important, and the most necessary thing we can do to help our persecuted brothers and sisters,” he said. “Prayer isn’t the last resort, but the first resort. Prayer inspires action. For the rest of your lives, pray at least one Hail Mary a day for our brothers and sisters.”

He also urged people to remind their elected leaders to act to protect persecuted Christians, and said those who are willing to help must listen to their stories. 

“Popes from Francis to Benedict to John Paul II have told us that what our world needs more than anything else are credible witnesses to the faith — martyrs who will convict and convince others of the truth of the faith by their lives.

“This is the greatest gift the persecuted are offering to us, the Christians of the West,” he said.

Larrivee, who was raised Catholic in India, has witnessed to persecuted Christians since the mid-1980s, in the midst of the Christian genocide in Sudan. Her efforts include raising awareness and money to help widows in Orissa, India, where men were killed by radical Hindus after anti-Christian violence erupted there in 2008.

Larrivee, a retired physician, said she is inspired to continue her ministry by Father Kiely, whom she first heard speak two years ago at Our Lady of the Rosary in Greenville.

“It was wonderful to hear his message again,” she said.