It seems that this year, more than ever, the Church needs the hope and new life Easter brings forth.
Just as the resurrection of our Lord followed a week of persecution, violence and death at the hands of others, so our Holy Week this year brought heartbreak, suffering and death for Catholics around the world.
The horrifying sight of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris—beloved for centuries by countless millions—being devoured by flames was an ominous beginning for a Holy Week that climaxed Easter Sunday with an even greater tragedy.
In Sri Lanka, in a part of South Asia where Christians and other religious minorities are increasingly targets of terrorist groups and political scapegoating, three Catholic churches were filled with Easter Massgoers when coordinated suicide bomb attacks at the churches, luxury hotels and other sites left 321 dead and more than 500 wounded.
Easter Monday, then, was a day of mourning, not rejoicing, for the families and loved ones of the Sri Lanka victims, even as authorities moved swiftly to arrest 40 members of a little-known radical Islamist terrorist group in connection with the bombings. (On April 23, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks.)
It will take a long time to sort out this one, with many questions still to answer: Why were Catholics targeted, why were warnings from intelligence services seemingly ignored and, the most challenging question, how can terrorism be stopped?
We pray for the injured and the dead, pray that their families and loved ones may find consolation, and pray for the peace that Easter promises.
In Paris, meanwhile, the iconic 12th-century cathedral that symbolized the faith and national identity of the people of France, will rise from the ashes that covered it inside and out and will in time be reborn, and for that we can rejoice.
With the flames still raging in Paris April 15, Cardinal Dolan stood outside our own St. Patrick’s Cathedral to voice the sentiment of Catholics here and elsewhere.
“As we commemorate the dying and rising of Jesus, and just as the cross didn’t have the last word, neither for people of faith in France will this fire have the last word,” he said.
Two days later, the cardinal was joined by a group of New York religious, business and community leaders to announce the establishment of the “From St. Patrick’s to Notre Dame” fund to restore and rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral, one of many such outpourings of aid from around the globe.
To be sure, these two devastating incidents that bookended Holy Week were major stories which consumed news cycles everywhere.
But they must not divert our personal faith and hope as we journey through the Easter season in the weeks ahead.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, commenting on the Sri Lanka attacks, said, “This evil cannot overcome the hope found in our Savior’s resurrection. May the God of hope who has raised his son, fill all hearts with the desire for peace.”
Earlier in the week, with Notre Dame burning, a tourist from South Carolina visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral said, “This is a time for people to come together and pray to God together. The Church is not just the building, the Church is the people inside.”
Their reactions recognize, as we do, the need for the presence of God and the hope he offers on our journey.