Archbishop Peter A Comensoli delivered the following homily at St Christopher's Syndal on Sunday 14 August 2022, at a Mass to celebrate the parish's 60th anniversary and the opening of new parish buildings.
It is not easy being a Catholic Christian these days in the Central American country of Nicaragua. Nicaragua is one of the poorest and most corrupt nations in the world. While technically a democracy, it has been ruled over by a quasi-dictator president for several decades. It is a country that imprisons its political opponents and journalists, its business leaders and members of civil society who voice opposition, and it attacks freedom of expression across the country.
Two weeks ago, a bishop of a diocese in Nicaragua, Bishop Rolando Alvarez, along with six priests and six lay leaders, was locked inside his parish house and placed under armed miliary guard. His crime? He sought to protest the forced closure of several Catholic radio stations in the country, and accused authorities of using media and social networks to carry out acts of violence against the population.
His protest was going to be to celebrate a public Mass with the faithful, and to have a Eucharistic procession. Hardly a radical protest—peaceful, prayerful, gentle. While imprisoned in his home, he has been streaming Mass on Facebook Live, and offering simple messages of hope and encouragement to his people. He also makes a daily visit to the front gates of his compound, where he says a cheery hello to his armed miliary guards and sings religious songs to them. I like this bishop!
Public prayer—celebrating Mass, having a procession, saying the rosary—can be a radical action when accompanied by the striving for justice and goodness in God’s kingdom. Giving public expression to God’s justice and mercy in the world, and standing with Jesus in solidarity for the poor and persecuted, is a deeply Catholic thing to do. As Jesus announced in today’s gospel, ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth’. But the manner in which this is done also needs to be peculiarly Christian: without attack and denigration, but with the spiritual power of prayer and the peaceful action of solidarity. Violence will beget violence, and any protest that is violent in idea or word or deed is far from the kingdom of God.
When Christians gather to pray on any given Sunday (as you have been doing here at St Christopher’s for the past 60 years), we do so publicly. It is a statement to the world that the way of Jesus Christ, given expression by the gathering of his disciples, is a gift of hope for all, and a blessing among people. Our common worship on a Sunday is always a radical thing, even if it feels ordinary, or a chore, or even mundane. It is radical because it witnesses to a group of people striving to live a different way in our culture. We are saying something to the world when we gather as God’s people in prayer (even when we are doing so in an ordinary suburban setting like Syndal).
Bishop Alverez and his 12 companions are doing nothing other than to pray in solidarity with and for their people, in some run-down looking house in the hills of a far-distant country, Nicaragua. Yet, it is such a radical and good thing that they are doing. Peacefully, prayerfully, gently—yet with determination and a cheerful manner—they are working for God’s kingdom to change lives for the better. They are certainly causing a ruckus, even division, among the powerful elite. They are making a mess in the name and way of Jesus Christ; and good for them. The great news is that we can do the same, in Christ’s name.