These past weeks, the news has been filled with horrific violence and the tragic loss of life in the Middle East and closer to home in North Carolina.
A Jordanian pilot captured in Syria and burned alive by his captors from the Islamic State (ISIS). Kayla Mueller, a young compassionate aid-worker who had gone to Syria to aid refugees, also kidnapped by ISIS and killed in a Jordanian bombing raid against ISIS in retaliation for the Jordanian pilot’s cruel death.
Three Muslim students from North Carolina – Deah Barakat, 23, a dental student hoping to help refugees in Syria, along with his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19, were executed by their atheist neighbor in a brutal crime of hate. “Growing up in America has been such a blessing,” Yusor said in a conversation with a former teacher that was recorded by the StoryCorps project last summer. She later added, “We are all one, one culture.” At their funeral, the mother of one of the victims responded: “You don’t respond back by hating the other. You respond back by love. By peace, by mercy.”
As a nation, the United States has been at war since 9/11. Currently, a resolution is being debated in Congress to grant specific war powers authority to the President to pursue a war against ISIS for the next three years. But the original resolution from 2001 granting broad and unlimited powers to wage war against terrorism continues to stand. We are a nation permanently at war.
The cycle of violence, hatred and revenge grows wider, and reverberates around the world, enveloping the merciful and just, the compassionate and the generous in its wake.
Yesterday, on Ash Wednesday, Christians around the world marked the beginning of Lent by marking one another with ashes in the sign of the cross on our foreheads as we reminded one another: “Remember that from dust you came and to dust you shall return.”
We hear the words of the psalmist: “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.” And we respond: “Be merciful O Lord, for we have sinned.”
And in the verse before the Gospel reading we hear: “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.”
Mercy and compassion are words that Pope Francis shares often, and they are words and practices that are at the heart of the great Abrahamic faith traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We close with that reminder to one another, and with this passionate plea for peace:
“Peace in Iraq, that every act of violence may end, and above all for dear Syria, for its people torn by conflict and for the many refugees who await help and comfort. How much blood has been shed! And how much suffering must there still be before a political solution to the crisis will be found? And so we ask the risen Jesus, who turns death into life, to change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace. Yes, Christ is our peace, and through him we implore peace for all the world.” – Pope Francis