Mother Olga Yaqob, founder of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth, was born and raised in Iraq.
In a recent book, she writes about "merciful hope" and how one encounters it via charitable acts. Giving food to the hungry. Visiting the sick. Welcoming the stranger. She discovered these "were not only a service to others but also a much deeper encounter, in which Jesus invited his followers to see him in those whom they served." She saw God in those who suffered terribly, unjustly, alone. "In the midst of the darkness of violence, hatred, bloodshed, and deaths of both civilians and military personnel, faith in God became my anchor in the face of such a storm."
In her war-torn country, Mother Olga would bury unclaimed bodies, carrying them in her arms. "They were very difficult times in my life. I had to take responsibility for bringing their bodies to our convent to wash them according to the custom of the culture in order to prepare them for burial." She looked to Mary as her model, "who stood at the foot of the cross when they took down the body of her only Son and laid him in her arms, that precious body, beaten, pierced, and covered with blood."
Terror reigns in Iraq today, and it has driven many Christians from their homes. A new report from the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians documents some of what has happened to the Christians targeted by ISIS. Among images that jump off the pages of a nearly 300-page study: A Christian man from Mosul who committed suicide after he had to watch as ISIS fighters "brutally raped his wife and daughter in front of him." Or the woman who "was victimized so often that she resorted to defecating on herself to make herself less desirable, and had to be trained to use the bathroom again after she escaped." According to the report, "ISIS is estimated to have taken over 1,500 Yazidi and Christian girls as sex slaves. They are bought and sold on an open slave market, and are often raped in rapid succession by a number of fighters in a single night."
And these are just some of the horrors we know.
Here at home, the U.S. government faces a decision about whether it is going to recognize what is happening in Iraq as the genocide it so clearly is, following in the footsteps of the EU parliament, among others. The question has become not one of America sticking its neck out or being a moral leader, but not standing in the way of what would otherwise be something of a global consensus, one that Pope Francis has been begging the world to see for some time now.
What the sloganeering of a certain presidential candidate misses is that America's greatness is rooted in something more than ourselves, greater than ourselves. American exceptionalism can be a boast, but it can also be a humble and confident prayer. It's a reminder that we must protect, defend, welcome and lead, with gratitude for the freedoms we have. Listening to the crowd reactions at a primary victory party one recent Tuesday, the masses seemed more like spectators at a sporting event than people bent on the hard work of restoring virtue to the troubled republic.
Before he became Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio said in a conversation with his good friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka, "Participating in political life is a way of honoring democracy." When we don't take that as seriously as we ought, democracy ceases to honor us. Some of the radical social experiments codified by the judiciary in recent decades certainly contributed to the unraveling of what healthy social order there was.
I keep hearing how America is a religious nation. If that's going to mean anything, now is the time for people of faith to humble ourselves, examine our conscience and see if we are giving what we should to our society. And it can start simply, by going out of your way for another. Remembering the forgotten, the lonely. Visiting the sick. Learning from a girl in a war-torn country looking for hope and meaning. Remembering who we are and want to be.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.