– José Maria C.S. André
In the early 1990s, I met two priests from Rwanda. One had not heard from the family for a long time, another had just learned, after months of silence, that everyone in his family – grandparents, parents, brothers, uncles and cousins – had been killed for belonging to a Catholic tribe.
The one who had not had any contact for a long time, suspected that the reason was that his entire family had also been slaughtered and probably also the entire village. The two priests survived that flood of madness because they were studying in Europe. I remember the conversations, the forgiveness, the trust in God that turns the saddest calamities into strength and paves the way to happiness.
In moments of very strong tragedy, life is illuminated with a light that calls into question many previous perspectives. All of a sudden, small goals lose relevance, small setbacks, small curiosities, small circumstances are diluted, and great ideals add up. These tremors banish attachments without much purpose, not really wanted, which stick themselves on the unmindful person. A trivial hobby, a negligible expense, many little things that stiffen the soul and make it heavy, like a ballast. Jesus spoke of the devastating effect of these tiny whims and the sterility they produce:
“Hear then the parable of the sower…. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit” (Mt 13:18-22).
“Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a crown,” wrote St Paul to the Corinthians (I Cor 9:25), challenging them to think about the incorruptible trophy that awaits them.
The successive news that arrived these last days from Nigeria recall that painful purification of the Catholic church in Rwanda I mentioned earlier.
Last January 8, four Nigerian seminarians – Pius Kanwai, 19; Peter Umenukor, 23; Stephen Amos, 23 and Michael Nnadi, 18 – were kidnapped. Ten days later, the first was released, with many wounds. On February 1, two more seminarians were released, and the next day the news came that the youngest, Michael Nnadi, had been tortured and killed.
This type of shock has the ability to free strong souls from distractions and reinvigorate their energy. News continues to come from Nigeria: “Others are preparing to serve God. More people are coming to the seminary to be priests and to preach the Gospel as Christ sent us.”
A journalist registered impressions from an African seminarian named Lenin Mudzingwa: “Putting myself in their shoes, I would be very distressed. I would be terrified. Living in such a threatening situation takes away hope, discourages. But, on the other hand, I pray and I am convinced that this situation gives more courage to follow their path and to give our lives for the Gospel.”
Peter Ameh, another seminarian: “It is terrifying and I realize that being a seminarian may mean that I have to give my life, even in seminary, for the Gospel. This consoles me, because if my brothers can be slaughtered, if they can suffer for the Gospel, I have to realize that anything can happen in my life.”
For everyone, life is a struggle. Not with weapons of violence, but with a radical dispossession of the self and a love offered to the last breath. To those who are unaware and distracted by worthless whims, Jesus stated clearly: “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force” (Mt 11:12).