The world witnessed yet another martyrdom today. Media reports are calling it an “assassination” but we have another word for it: martyrdom. This time, it wasn’t in the Middle East, where martyrdom is virtually a daily fact of life. Today, it was in France. At morning Mass in the Normandy town of Saint-Etienne-du Rouvray, 84-year-old Father Jacques Hamel’s throat was slit (some are saying he was ‘beheaded‘) by Islamic terrorists. A nun wounded in the attack is fighting for her life. It should be noted that the patron saint of the martyred priest is Saint James, the great apostle who was martyred (beheaded) for the faith, the first apostle to shed his blood for Christ. His feast day was just yesterday.
It is impossible to avoid the connection between what happened today and the patronage attached to Saint James. For centuries, he was invoked by the Church in Spain and Europe for protection against the relentless forces of Islam. His intercessory prayer is credited with the reconquista, which rescued Spain from centuries of Islamic occupation. And it was in France, at the Battle of Tours (near the border of Spain) where Charles Martel won a decisive victory against invading Muslim forces in 732. The victory is credited with saving Europe from complete takeover by Islam.
It is clear that Europe is facing another invasion today by descendants of the same group. To many ears, such talk sounds odd and anachronistic. For example, we’re supposed to blush in shame at the mere mention of the Crusades. But that’s because we don’t know our own history. As Georgetown University professor-emeritus Father James Schall S.J. accurately observed, “The Crusades were not, as is often claimed, a sign of innate aggressiveness on the part of Christianity. Rather, they were a belated, almost desperate endeavor to prevent the Europeans themselves from being conquered by the ever-aggressive Islam.” (The Regensburg Lecture, Father James V. Schall, 2007) The conquest of Europe, and Rome in particular, has been a constant goal of Islam since its earliest days. (For details of this, read Roger Crowley’s excellent books, Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World and 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West) With the possible exceptions of the Battle of Tours and the Ottoman invasion of Otranto in southern Italy in 1480, Islam’s goal of securing Europe for Allah has never been so close at hand.
And yet, who notices anymore? Who cares anymore? What was once attempted through large scale battles and massive armies and fleets meeting face to face is now happening via demographics and selective, surgical strikes of terror from within by a few people at a time. Centuries ago, combatants faced off on the fields of battle and looked one another in the eye. Now, maniacal cowards shouting “Allahu akbar!” attack an 84-year-old priest, elderly nuns and helpless civilians sitting at cafes. This is the not-so-new normal of 2016.
We desperately need the prayers of the Saints and martyrs of past ages, and today.