Paula Veloso Babadi
Standing at the tomb of Daniel the Prophet in the ancient, dusty town of Shushtar, Iran, I had a profound experience. Across the street from the ornate, blue-mosaic, silver-gilded mausoleum and plaza stood the ruins of King Cyrus’ winter palace. Weathered stone lions caught my eye in the distance–whether or not they represented the lions to which King Darius sent Daniel is irrelevant. I was humbled and awestruck at the thought of Daniel, thousands of years ago, walking on the same ground. Daniel’s trust in God amidst danger and persecution remains an inspiration. God answered his prayers, rewarded his faith and was pleased with the fruit. King Darius, Cyrus’ predecessor wrote to the nations:
“All peace to you! I decree that throughout my royal domain the God of Daniel is to be reverenced and feared: For he is the living God, enduring forever; His kingdom shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be without end. He is a deliverer and savior, working signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, and he delivered Daniel from the lions’ power. So Daniel fared well during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” Daniel 6:26-29
A rich spiritual heritage lies in that part of the world foreign to so many Christians today– Iraq, home to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and often thought to have been near the Garden of Eden; modern day Turkey where the Blessed Mother lived out her life in Ephesus; and Syria where St. Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. I mention places where the apostles spread our faith among the nations because our Catholic/Christian brothers and sisters are suffering so severely. “Simply because these Christians make the Sign of the Cross, there is a price on their heads. “says Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
Martyrdom is as real now as it has been through the millennia, not just in the Middle East, but throughout the modern world. I am confident God hears the cries of his persecuted people destined for great reward in heaven, just as he heard the prayers of Daniel facing ravenous lions.
At the tomb, among other devout women cloaked in their chadors, it dawned on me we were united in our reverence and awe—a far cry from the disturbing reality of persecution. It all seems so distant from the safety and comfort of my daily life. Would I be as brave if my parish was being burned? Would I be unwavering? I only hope to stay the course, to unite now with the suffering body of Christ in prayer and sacrifice, to stand firm should that day come for me. Until then, hope ever rises in the words of Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount,
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5: 11-12
I believe we are called to stand fast in our faith in both small and large ways, no matter where we live. Who knows what seeds are planted as people see Catholics praying the rosary on street corners during Forty Days for Life, or handing out food to the homeless, or sheltering unwed mothers with no place to go?
The fruit blossoming from Daniel’s deep faith pierced the heart of a mighty king, a non-believer moved to acknowledge our living God. Might not God’s children who are unbelievers or persecutors today be also moved? Father Werenfried van Straaten, founder of Aid to the Church in Need once said, “The suffering are being tested in faith…but we are being tested in love. Will you respond?” Let us love and pray then, unceasingly.
Where Daniel Prayed
~ Paula Veloso Babadi
Where Daniel prayed I stood in awe-
holy ground, ancient dust,
reverent air, silent prayer.
Where Daniel prayed I only saw
heads bowed, pilgrim vows,
hearts raised in God’s praise.
Where Daniel prayed there was no war.
Palace ruins, ancient museum,
God and me and history.
Today my brothers hide in rubble-
holy ground, ancient dust,
acrid air, desperate prayer.
Aleppo and Damascus roads
once walked by Paul as faith spread,
now bear the dead
as bullets raze Christian ways.
Body of Christ wracked in pain,
trust there’s reward;
the same as when Daniel prayed.
If you or someone you know is suffering, this article does not give easy answers, but may be helpful: “Why Does God Allow Us to Suffer?” by Father Hugh Barbour Article on suffering