Mary O’Regan profiles 10 Catholics around the world who showed extraordinary courage, skill and determination during 2011
1. Shahbaz Bhatti
On March 2 masked men sprayed Shahbaz Bhatti’s car with bullets as he left his mother’s home. Shahbaz, a brilliant lawyer and the only Christian Minister in the country’s government, was murdered for opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. David Cameron called his assassination “absolutely brutal and unacceptable”.
In his role as Federal Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz frequently criticised the abuse of the blasphemy laws, saying they were used as a pretext to persecute innocent Christians. He knew that he was endangering his own life by speaking out. Pakistani law can impose execution or life imprisonment for offences against Islam. Shahbaz had received death threats since 2009. He predicted his death in a video, in which he said bravely: “I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us… I’m living for my community… and I will die to defend their rights.”
In August 2009, after reports of a Koran being desecrated in the Punjab province, anti-Christian mobs killed eight people. Shahbaz called for better civil and legal protection for the Christian community. He was also the most vociferous speaker in defence of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was on death row because she was found guilty of insulting Mohammed.
In 1985, as a university student, Shahbaz put his head above the parapet when he co-founded and led Pakistan’s Christian Liberation Front. His early work of sticking up for Christians proved good preparation for becoming the chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance in 2002.
Shahbaz only served 28 months in government, but from the beginning he took several courageous approaches in support of religious minorities. He launched the national campaign for interfaith harmony and proposed to make hate speech illegal, as well as proposing the introduction of quotas for religious minorities in government posts.
Shahbaz also pioneered the establishment of a National Interfaith Consultation in July 2010, which was the impetus for bringing together senior religious leaders from all religions and from all over Pakistan and resulted in their signing a joint declaration against terrorism.
Shahbaz was the recipient of many prestigious awards, from the Human Rights Award in 2004 to the International Freedom of Religion Award in 2009. He was also awarded a PhD by South Korea University in recognition for his interfaith work.
The fact that Shahbaz paid the ultimate price for standing up for his fellow Christians is inspiring others to continue his work.
On July 2 Aid to the Church in Need and the British Pakistani Christian Association delivered petitions with over 6,000 names to 10 Downing Street. The petitions called for action to protect Christians and other minorities in Pakistan.
2. Dylan Parry
The “reluctant sinner”, as Dylan Parry is known to those who read his blog, masterminded the creation of a pioneering guild for Catholic bloggers in Britain. Aiming to unite bloggers in the “real world”, the guild arranges events and meetings for Catholic bloggers to meet face to face and share about the joys and woes of evangelising views online.
Dylan took inspiration from St Paul who exhorts us “therefore encourage each other, and build each other up”. Last May, Dylan was invited to the Vatican meeting for bloggers where he met Mgr Paul Tighe of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications who supported Dylan’s idea of setting up a guild that would benefit both the Church and bloggers. The guild adopted Blessed Titus Brandsma, killed by the SS after he criticised anti-Jewish marriage laws as a patron.
The guild held its first official meeting on the freakishly hot October 1, when 15 Catholic bloggers came from all over Britain to guild chaplain Fr Tim Finigan’s parish of Blackfen. The guild is open to a diverse mixture of Catholics and has done nothing that challenges the independence of bloggers.
From the growing success of the guild, to its great contribution to Catholic life in Britain, so much gratitude is due to Dylan. His blog imparts a palpable sense of love for the Lord and His ways. While Dylan’s blogposts offer a strong defence of Catholic teaching, they are never hard-hearted or condescending.
3. Mgr Keith Newton
Pope Benedict personally appointed Mgr Keith Newton as Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, after he was ordained to the Catholic priesthood in January, having resigned as a Church of England bishop last year.
On April 1 Pope Benedict received Mgr Newton in a private audience. This was taken as a sign of the Holy Father’s continued support for the ordinariate. Mgr Newton, accompanied by Cardinal Levada and Bishop Hopes, presented the Holy Father with gifts on behalf of the ordinariate.
A tireless champion of the ordinariate, Mgr Newton cares for each Anglican group swimming the Tiber. He values catechetics highly and knows precisely how each group is benefiting from catechetical programmes like Evangelium. He spent much of 2011 travelling around the country and meeting ordinariate groups, from the Black Country to the community of St Luke’s in Kennington, south London.
Last July Mgr Newton led members of the ordinariate to their spiritual home during the Pilgrimage of Reparation and Consecration to Walsingham. He was the main speaker at the Towards Advent Festival at Westminster Cathedral where he gave a talk on “Joy and Hope in the Church” and described his spiritual fulfilment at being in full communion with the Pope. A large crowd heard Mgr Newton’s talk. After he spoke he was greeted with resounding applause.
Mgr Newton has never lost his optimism and good humour, even when he has faced limited resources, including inadequate funds and a lack of accommodation for clergy and their families.
4. Bishop Mark Davies
Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury was only installed as bishop in October 2010 but has already established himself as one of the most articulate, astute and prayerful bishops of our times, living by his maxim: “My task is to announce the Gospel.”
In October Bishop Davies responded to a report from the Care Quality Commission that underscored the failure in many hospitals to care for elderly people by saying that “the neglect of the elderly… may be a symptom of the ‘culture of death’ that has grown out of the loss of respect for human life following decades of abortion”.
The following month he addressed an audience at a synagogue in Manchester on how the Holocaust teaches us to be vigilant in defence of life. Bishop Davies stressed that we must fight “the return of eugenic thinking directed against the unborn and the most vulnerable deemed unfit to live or threatened with mercy killing”.
Bishop Davies warmed the hearts of traditional Catholics when he agreed to the establishment of the first house for the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest in England and Wales in the Wirral. This church is becoming a centre for the Extraordinary Form Mass.
A firm advocate of the rosary, he often prays this prayer for the priests of his diocese and the rest of England and makes them aware that he does so. Renewal and support for the priesthood is a motif of Bishop Davies’s preaching and actions.
He is fond of the St John Vianney quote: “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.” Bishop Davies has arranged for a relic of the patron saint of parish priests to tour his diocese in July.
5. Thomas Peters
Thomas Peters is like a modern-day St Paul of the Catholic blogosphere. The 26-year-old founded his blog, American Papist, in 2005 with the intention of documenting his journey of following the Pope and hoping to attract fellow “papists.” Six years on, and now combined with CatholicVote.org, his blog is read by tens of thousands every day. As it continues to gain popularity, Peters gathers what he terms “web elves”: Catholics who give him information and details that furnish his blog posts.
Peters was voted the best Catholic to follow on Twitter in 2011 and was the most active participant in the Vatican Meeting for Bloggers, during which he asked if the Vatican would make Catholic bloggers privy to sensitive documents in the same way they do the mainstream media outlets.
Peters was homeschooled, got his university education at Ave Maria, Florida, and did extensive postgraduate study in theology at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit. He has often said that it is his study of theology that underpins much of his success in communicating the eternal truths of Christ on the web.
Peters works in Washington DC as communications director for the American Principles Project, an organisation founded by Dr Robert George with the aim of upholding the values of human life, traditional marriage and safeguarding the innocence of young children in the US Constitution.
He has been quoted by such major media outlets as BBC News, CNN and the Daily Telegraph among many others.
6. The Mizens
In May 2008 Jimmy Mizen was celebrating his 16th birthday with a visit to buy a lottery ticket when he and his brother were attacked by a local troublemaker, Jake Fahri. Coming to the aide of his sibling, Jimmy was stabbed in the neck and bled to death in his brother’s arms.
Jimmy’s devout Catholic parents, Barry (pictured) and Margaret, have since devoted much of their lives to fostering peace. In May 2009 they took part in an ecumenical service called “Building a Legacy of Peace” at Westminster Cathedral, conducted by Archbishop Vincent Nichols and with close to 1,000 people in attendance, including the Prince of Wales, Schools Minister Vernon Coaker and Jimmy’s school friends. Barry and Margaret spoke at the Hyde Park vigil during the papal visit, sharing how their Catholic faith has helped them overcome losing Jimmy at such a young age, a talk that brought hushed silence to a crowd of 90,000 people.
They founded the Jimmy Mizen Foundation, which aims to organise practical initiatives that bring out the best in young people. So far they’ve arranged apprenticeship placements, and the foundation helps young people find employment with local businesses. This year, they raised enough funds to buy “Jimmy buses” for local scout groups in Lewisham.
Barry and Margaret, who have eight other children, travel around England giving talks to parents, young people and teachers. In schools, prisons and youth clubs they speak about the grave necessity of anger management and preventing violence.
7. Robert Colquhoun
The British pro-life movement has been waiting for a dynamic young leader like Robert Colquhoun for some time. Robert led two 40 Days for Life prayer events in 2011, with 1,000 pro-lifers (including countless newcomers) taking part. Members of pro-life groups such as the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants and SPUC stood side-by-side to pray and offer pro-life literature to pregnant mothers. During the last event at least eight women decided against abortion.
Robert has diligently articulated pro-life apologetics to the secular media. He was interviewed by Liz Ashfield, who wrote in the Times that pro-lifers are often much better in reality than the distorted image projected of them.
Some of his lesser-known achievements in 2011 include being involved in public awareness days around London, inviting Dr Janet Smith to come to the Carmelite Priory, Oxford, and lead a Theology of the Body weekend retreat, which was attended by 25 young people, and organising a Theology of the Body symposium co-organised with St Mary’s University in Twickenham, which was attended by 260 people.
Robert is a committed Catholic but wants to engage with people of all religions in the struggle to end abortion.
8. Mother Assumpta Long
Mother Assumpta Long is the Michigan-based superior and co-founder of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. This is a relatively new religious order and is brimming with young vocations. The average age of vocation is 21 and the average age in the whole community is 28.
It all started in 1996 when Mother Assumpta was inspired by John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata, which invited members of religious orders to revitalise their vocation. Mother Assumpta and three other nuns founded the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. After their canonical establishment, Mother Assumpta accepted an invitation from Bishop Mengeling to teach in the Diocese of Lansing. Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan gave them start-up funding and asked them to teach in the Spiritus Sanctus Academies. Mother Assumpta’s sisters are trained to be teachers and the Spiritus Sanctus Academies will grow as the order produces more vocations.
They now have many convents in several US cities and the Sisters were twice profiled by Oprah during 2010, after which more vocations came. Mother Assumpta holds retreats for young women to help them discover if they have a vocation, and the order’s website is perhaps the best of its kind.
9. Sister Valsa John
On the night of November 15 in Jharkhand, eastern India, Sister Valsa John was dragged from her bed by 30 to 40 people and hacked to death with sickles and axes. The nun from Kerala was only 53, but was a sworn enemy of the “mining mafia” of Jharkhand’s coal-rich region. For 20 years she had been a whistleblower on the displacement of tribal people, the expropriation of their land by the coal miners and pollution from the coal mines, and she even caused one major coal company to shut down.
The Sister had for years received death threats and was continually intimidated by people connected with the coal miners. Her family have revealed that she received a death threat a few hours before her murder.
She was arrested in May 2007 on the grounds that she had protested against the forced acquisitions of lands for Panem Coal Mines, but was not charged, and after being released she made a compromise where Panem could acquire the land in exchange for alternative land, employment, a health centre and free education for the children of the exiled tribal families. Sister Valsa then ran a school that offered free education to 140 children and provided a dispensary with free medical aid.
Thousands of people attended her funeral which was concelebrated by 50 priests.
10. Mary Kraychy
Mary Kraychy is the Chicago-based founder and director of Coalition Ecclesia Dei, a Catholic lay movement that seeks to widen the use of the Extraordinary Form Mass and Gregorian chant. She is the creator and publisher of the ubiquitous A5 Red Missals. She has industriously worked to make the missals for following the Latin Mass readily available all over the world.
After Blessed Pope John Paul II issued his apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei, Mary started sending out a monthly newsletter and directory of Extraordinary Form Masses in north America since 1988. In 2007, Mary changed the Ecclesia Dei website to promote the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, as well as taking advantage of the eased restrictions on the Extraordinary Form Mass to form links with seminaries teaching the Tridentine Mass and Catholic publishers.
She is as devoted to Catholic social action as she is to liturgy. In 1978 she co-founded Aid for Women, an organisation providing practical help to teenagers and other women in crisis pregnancy so that their circumstances wouldn’t force them into abortions.
For six years Mary has been the Vice President of Una Voce America. Perhaps the folk song writer Laurence England will be inspired to write a ballad about her contribution to the life of the Church.