Saint of the Week – Kenji Nagai (長井 健司)

Kenji Nagai in 2007.

Kenji Nagai in 2007.

Happy Halloween (or All Hallows Eve). Today we’re going to wrap up our exploration journalists who have been killed while documenting something or in retaliation to what they were reporting on. I certainly have learned a lot in researching the lives and stories of the journalists featured. There are, obviously, many more to be told so hopefully you’re inspired to research some of your own. Today we’ll look at the story of a journalist killed while covering the Saffron Revolution in Burma (also called Myanmar) in 2007.

This week’s saint is Kenji Nagai (長井 健司).

Kenji Nagai was born on August 27, 1957. He grew up in Imabari, Ehime, Japan. After graduating from Tokyo Keizai University he spent a year studying in the United States. When Kenji Nagai returned to Japan he began working as a freelance journalist. He worked as a contract photojournalist for the Tokyo AFP (Agence France-Presse) News. He would often travel to very dangerous places in order to capture the stories he wanted to tell, often about war and it’s effects. Kenji Nagai traveled and worked in countries such as:  Afghanistan, Cambodia, the Palestinian territories, and Iraq. Many of Kenji Nagai’s collegues and friends recall him saying, “These are places no one wants to go to, but someone has to go.”

In September, 2007 Kenji Nagai traveled to Burma to capture the story of non-violent protests and pro-democracy demonstrations of Buddhist monks in Burma. The movement was called the Saffron Revolution because of the color of the monks robes who filled the streets. The protests arose out of an environment of increasing economic distress in Burma. The government seemed to be spending a disproportionate amount of money on its military while many of its citizens could barely meet their basic needs. According to a report by the UN, one out of every three children in Burma were chronically malnourished and government spending on health and education was among the lowest anywhere in the world. When the prices of basic commodities like rice, eggs and cooking oil, began to rise significantly many people began protesting the apparent gap in lifestyles. When the military junta began to crack down on protests, more and more protests sprang up. Initially the protests had been led by students and activists but the countries Buddhist monks joined in the protests on September 18, 2007. On September 25, Kenji arrived in Burma and began covering the protests.  The next day, September 26, the Burmese government began a violent crackdown against the protestors. The military troops surrounded the famous Shwedagon Pagoda and begain attacking a group of 700 protestors with batons and tear gas. It was reported that nearly 300 people were detained and 4 were killed on the first day of the crackdown.

The next day, September 27, the Burmese military began raiding monasteries across the country to try and quiet the protests by arresting more the 700 monks. In response, there were nearly 50,000 protestors taking to the streets in Yangon. Kenji Nagai was in Yangon covering the military crackdown on monks and another pagoda. The government reportedly gave the people 10 minutes to disperse. Around 3pm all cell phone service was reportedly cut which coincided with the time that Burmese military forces begin violently attacking and firing on monks protesting in downtown Yangon. Kenji Nagai was shot and killed during this offensive by the military. Officially, the Burmese military said he was hit by a stray bullet. But, photographs were taken that tell a different story. In the span of about three captured images you can see Kenji Nagai shot on the ground still filming with his camera as a Burmese military solider comes towards him with a gun, followed by an image of him raising his camera with the solider coming even closer and the final image showing him obviously dead and his hands by his sides. The photography who captured the photos would eventually win a Pulitzer Prize for taking the risky photos.

An autopsy reveled that Kenji Nagai was shot by a bullet that pierced through his heart and back. Other witnesses reported seeing Kenji Nagai being intentionally shot for filming the actions of the Burmese military during the protest. Later a video would surface that showed video of the solider shoving Kenji Nagai to the ground and shooting him through the heart, at point-blank range.

 

More Information & References:
Wikipedia – Kenji Nagai
Committee to Protect Journalists- Kenji Nagai
AboutNews – Kenji Nagai
David Viggers Photography Blog (Reuters) – Shooting to Kill

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Saint of the Week – Palwasha Tokhi

Palwasha Tokhi

When I started researching journalists to highlight during the month of October my first list consisted of all men. After realizing that was a bit one-sided, it set out to find the story of a female journalist killed while documenting something or in retaliation to what they were reporting on. It did not take me that long before I discovered a very recent story of a young woman journalist killed in Afghanistan in response to her reporting. Her story highlights not only the dangers of reporting in the politically, socially and religiously unstable environment of Afghanistan but the added danger of being a female journalist in that environment.

This week’s saint of the week is Palwasha Tokhi.

There is not much information about the early life of Palwasha Tokhi. At some point she worked for or was somehow linked to the German military. At the age of 21 she began working for the Bayan-e-Shamal media organization which had been set up by the German government in 2004. Palwasha Tokhi would work for the Bayan-e-Shamal media organization for five years. Her work as a journalist was unique and almost unprecedented in Afghanistan where women journalists remain greatly underrepresented. This is due not only to the hostility towards journalists in Afghanistan (Seven journalists have been killed in 2014, three were killed in 2013 and two in 2012) but to the high levels of sexual harassment, discrimination and intimidation, including death threats, directed towards female journalists. After her work with Bayan-e-Shamal, Palwasha Tokhi moved from Afghanistan to Thailand in 2012 where she received a master’s degree. After graduating she returned to Afghanistan to continue in her journalistic work. However, almost immediately upon her return she began receiving death threats. Out of fear for her life, Palwasha Tokhi began the process to immigrate to Germany and submitted an application for German residence.

On September 16th, Palwasha Tokhi received a visitor to her house who said they were coming to deliver a wedding invitation. Once the visitor was inside, they stabbed Palwasha Tokhi to death and fled. On October 11th a suspect was arrested but the Palwasha Tokhi’s murder remains unsolved and nobody has been convicted as responsible. Her case joins the over 40 cases of journalists killed in Afghanistan since 2001 whose cases have not been followed by the judicial system in Afghanistan.

 

More Information & References:
NYTimes – In Brutal Year, 7th Journalist Is Killed in Afghanistan
ToloNews – Female Journalist Killed in Balkh Province
Huffington Post – Another Journalist Murdered As Afghanistan Faces Its Deadliest Reporting Climate In Years
DW.de (Deutsche Welle) – NATO’s Afghan employees fear for their lives

Saint of the Week – James Foley

In this November 2012, file photo, posted on the website freejamesfoley.org, American journalist James Foley is shown covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. In an act of revenge for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq, militants with the Islamic State extremist group beheaded Foley and are threatening to kill another hostage. (Nicole Tung/Associated Press)

In this November 2012, file photo, posted on the website freejamesfoley.org, American journalist James Foley is shown covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. In an act of revenge for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq, militants with the Islamic State extremist group beheaded Foley and are threatening to kill another hostage. (Nicole Tung/Associated Press)

Like I said in last week’s saint of the week post, I’ve chosen for the month of October to focus on journalists who have died either while documenting something or in retaliation to what they were reporting on. While these are not “saints” in the traditional sense, journalists who have died because of what they were documenting have essentially given up their lives for the sake of others. They felt so strongly about getting a story or pictures out that they were willing to sacrifice their lives so the story could be heard or the photo seen. I belive it is then a worthy exercise to remember and honor the lives of those journalists who have made that sacrifice. Today we’ll look at one of the most recent and most notable journalist deaths.

This week’s saint is James Foley.

Most of us probably had not heard of James Foley until the tragic video of his beheading had hit the news cycles. But his life story is much more than just the gruesome end the world witnessed. James was born in Evanston, Illinois on October 18 in 1973 the first of five children born to his parents, John and Diane Foley. The family would eventually move to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire where James would grow up and attend high school. James grew up a Catholic and graduated from the Jesuit university Marquette University in 1996 with a Bachelor’s degree in history. He would go on to earn his Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2003.

James began a career as a teacher in Arizona, Massachusetts, and in Chicago, Illinois for Teach For America (TFA) where he taught prison inmates. After working as a teacher, he decided to change careers and turned towards journalism. He would attend and graduate from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in 2008. Shortly after graduation, he began to help USAID development projects in Baghdad. James would help organize seminars and trainings to rebuild and restore civil services in Iraq. In 2010 he would apply to be an embedded journalist with the US military in Afghanistan. He ended up being embedded with troops in Iraq where is brother was also serving. Later in 2011 he would become a reporter for Stars and Stripes and was assigned to Afghanistan. After stepping down because he admitted to posessing marijuana in 2011 James began working for the GlobalPost and embedded himself with Libyan rebels fighting in the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.

While in Libya James and some other fellow journalists were captured by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi. In the attack leading up to their capture, James’ friend and photographer Anton Hammerl was killed. James and his other journalist friends were beaten and would be imprisoned for 44 days. While in captivity, James relied on his Catholic faith to keep his spirits up. Talking about how he prayed with his fellow captives, James said, “I’d pray to stay strong. I’d pray to soften the hearts of our captors. I’d pray to God to lift the burdens we couldn’t handle. And I’d pray that our Moms would know we were OK.” After being released, James returned home and talked extensively about his reporting and capture in Libya. During this time, James would also help fund raise for the family of Anton Hammerl. James would eventually return to Libya and would document the scene of Muammar Gaddafi’s capture.

“I believe that frontline journalism is important. Without these photos and videos and first-hand experience, we can’t really tell the world how bad it might be,” he said. “These kinds of things are very important to me.”
-James Foley

In 2012 James returned to work for the GlobalPost and went to Syria to report on the civil war going on there. On November 22, 2012 James was captured along with his translator while leaving an internet cafe in Binesh, Syria. In December 2013, his captors demanded a ransom of 100 million euros from Foley’s family. The GlobalPost reportedly spent millions to try to locate and free James even hiring an international security firm to track his position. In July 2014 the United States launched a rescue mission to try and free James and other captives but the mission failed as they had all been moved by the time the US military arrived. While in captivity, James was subject to regular beatings, torture and even mock executions. James’ family had reportedly been planning to illegally pay an undisclosed amount for ransom when they received an email on August 12, 2014 from James’ captors explaining their issues with the US governments refusal to pay ransoms, negotiate prisoner exchanges and that they planned to begin avenging US bombings in the Middle East by killing their son James. On August 19, 2014 a video was uploaded to YouTube by the ISIS group entitled “A Message to America.” The video begins with news footage of President Obama announcing the US airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, it then cuts to a video of Foley kneeling in the desert reading a prepared statement next to a masked man dressed in black. After Foley reads his statement, the man begins condemning the US airstrikes and threatens that any further aggression will, “result in the bloodshed of your people.” The video then reveals the beheaded corpse of James Foley.

Shortly after the video was released, the family posted on Facebook the last “letter” they received from James. The letter was actually a memorized letter that James recited to a fellow captured journalist Daniel Rye Ottosen who was released by ISIS in June 2014. The letter is also posted at the family’s website, FreeJamesFoley.org.

“Dear Family and Friends,

I remember going to the Mall with Dad, a very long bike ride with Mom. I remember so many great family times that take me away from this prison. Dreams of family and friends take me away and happiness fills my heart.

I know you are thinking of me and praying for me. And I am so thankful. I feel you all especially when I pray. I pray for you to stay strong and to believe. I really feel I can touch you even in this darkness when I pray.

Eighteen of us have been held together in one cell, which has helped me. We have had each other to have endless long conversations about movies, trivia, sports. We have played games made up of scraps found in our cell…we have found ways to play checkers, Chess, and Risk… and have had tournaments of competition, spending some days preparing strategies for the next day’s game or lecture. The games and teaching each other have helped the time pass. They have been a huge help. We repeat stories and laugh to break the tension.

I have had weak and strong days. We are so grateful when anyone is freed; but of course, yearn for our own freedom. We try to encourage each other and share strength. We are being fed better now and daily. We have tea, occasional coffee. I have regained most of my weight lost last year.

I think a lot about my brothers and sister. I remember playing Werewolf in the dark with Michael and so many other adventures. I think of chasing Mattie and T around the kitchen counter. It makes me happy to think of them. If there is any money left in my bank account, I want it to go to Michael and Matthew. I am so proud of you, Michael and thankful to you for happy childhood memories and to you and Kristie for happy adult ones.

And big John, how I enjoyed visiting you and Cress in Germany. Thank you for welcoming me. I think a lot about RoRo and try to imagine what Jack is like. I hope he has RoRo’s personality!

And Mark… so proud of you too Bro. I think of you on the West coast and hope you are doing some snowboarding and camping, I especially remember us going to the Comedy Club in Boston together and our big hug after. The special moments keep me hopeful.

Katie, so very proud of you. You are the strongest and best of us all!! I think of you working so hard, helping people as a nurse. I am so glad we texted just before I was captured. I pray I can come to your wedding…. now I am sounding like Grammy!!

Grammy, please take your medicine, take walks and keep dancing. I plan to take you out to Margarita’s when I get home. Stay strong because I am going to need your help to reclaim my life.

Jim”

A fellow reporter, David McKay Wilson from The Journal News in White Plains, N.Y.T would write about James and his faith that, “Foley was a devout Christian who, unlike most journalists I’ve known during my almost four decades in the field, was unapologetic about his heart for social justice and the inspiration he found for his beliefs in the New Testament.”

Today, October 17th would have been James’ 41st birthday. Tomorrow in his hometown they are having a day to celebrate his life. Services are being held at his home church, Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish, in Rochester, New Hampshire from 9:30 AM to 9 PM. A memorial service is being held at 10 AM and I would encourage you to join in prayer with his family and friends even through we can not be present with them.

 

More Information & References:
Wikipedia – James Foley (Journalist)
FreeJamesFoley.org – Free James Foley
CBC News – James Foley profile: A ‘committed and brave journalist’
ABC News – Remembering Slain Journalist James Foley
USA Today: James Foley: Beheading victim had deep faith
Religious News Service: Is James Foley a martyr? A brutal death sparks a faith-based debate
Christianpost.com – NH Home Church Remembers US Journalist James Foley for His Faith; He Prayed Regularly in Captivity

Saint of the Week – Elijah Parish Lovejoy

Elijah Parish Lovejoy

Elijah Parish Lovejoy

I know I’ve been hit or miss with my saints of the week lately. So, I thought I’d jumpstart getting back into the regular posting by coming up with a theme for the month of October. I’ve had an idea rolling around in my head so I decided to make it happen. For the “saints” highlighted in the month of October we will be looking at journalists who have died either while documenting something or in retaliation to what they were reporting on. With the recent journalists in the news who have been taken captive and killed by ISIS/ISIL I decided it might be good to look at some other examples. Journalists are an important part of the world we live in as they often reveal the world around us in ways we might not expect. They show us things we might rather not see or ask us to see something in a new light. Their work is important so we should also remember their sacrifices. The journalists we’ll be looking at are definitely not “saints” in the officially recognized sense and some of the may not even be Christian. That does not mean their work or lives are any less important and we should still recognize what they have done. So, lets kick it off with out first “saint.”

This week’s saint is Elijah Parish Lovejoy.

Elijah was born near Albion, Maine in 1802. His parents were devout Christians and his father was a minister. Because of his own lack of education, Elijah’s father encouraged Elijah and his brothers to be as educated as possible. Elijah excelled at his studies and would eventually come to teach college preparatory classes. Elijah would graduate from Waterville College at the top of his class and after becoming dissatisfied with teaching would move to Boston in 1827 to try to earn money for a permanent move to Illinois. Elijah had a hard time finding work and decided to head towards Illinois anyways. He came to New York on his way to Illinois and found work at the Saturday Evening Gazette selling subscriptions. After receiving some support from the president of Waterville College, Elijah was able to leave New York and made it to Montgomery County in Illinois. However, once he arrived he realized he probably could not do very well there either. He then decided to head toward the more populated city of St. Louis.

In St. Louis he became an editor at the St. Louis Observer and became the headmaster at a local private school. In 1832 he began to be influenced by the Christian revivalism of the Second Great Awakening and decided to become a preacher. Elijah moved to Princeton Theological Seminary to study to become a minister. Once he graduated from seminary he moved to Philadelphia where he was became an ordained Presbyterian minister in 1833. Elijah would then move back to St. Louis, resume his work at the St. Louis Observer and set up a Presbyterian church.

At the time, St. Louis was a center of both abolition and pro-slavery activism. It was a major port city in a slave-owning state that was close to states that did not allow slavery. Elijah had begun writing about and supporting emancipation and abolition of slavery in the St. Louis Observer. Because of pressure from the locals, he decided to move into Illinois (which was a free state) to the city of Alton and set up the Alton Observer newspaper. Even though in a free state, Alton was also a center of pro-slavery activism and many slave catchers operated out of the town trying to catch slaves who were escaping from Missouri. Because of his anti-slavery writings, pro-slavery forces attempted to destroy Elijah’s printing press three different times. When the town committee tried to force Elijah to leave he responded by saying, “You may hang me…you may burn me at the stake, tar and feather me, or throw me into the Mississippi, but you cannot disgrace me. I and I alone can disgrace myself; and the deepest of all disgrace would be, at a time like this to deny my Master by forsaking his cause.”

In November of 1837 Elijah received a new printing press and was allowed to hide it in a friends warehouse. Pro-slavery activists learned where Elijah had hidden the press and approached the warehouse. Shots were fired into the warehouse and some of Elijah’s friends in the warehouse fired back. One of the shots ended up hitting one of the pro-slavery activists killing him. The mob became more angry and raised a ladder on the warehouse to try and set fire to the building. Elijah and a friend ran out from the warehouse and pushed the ladder away from the building. When the mob tried to raise the ladder again, Elijah and his friend tried to sneak out again to push over the ladder but they were seen. The mob opened fire on Elijah and his friend. Elijah was shot five different times by shotgun fire and died at the warehouse. The mob was eventually able to enter the warehouse where they destroyed the press by breaking it up into pieces and throwing it into the river. Nobody was ever convicted in his murder and no services were held because tensions were so high.

Because of his work for the abolition movement, Elijah Parish Lovejoy is considered a martyr by the abolitionists. A monument was raised in his honor sixty years later in 1897. Around the monument are the following quotes from Elijah Parish Lovejoy:

“I have sworn eternal opposition to slavery, and by the blessing of God, I will never go back.”

“But, gentlemen, as long as I am an American citizen, and as long as American blood runs in these veins, I shall hold myself at liberty to speak, to write, to publish whatever I please on any subject–being amenable to the laws of my country for the same.”

“If the laws of my country fail to protect me I appeal to God, and with him I cheerfully rest my cause. I can die at my post but I cannot desert it.”

The legacy of Elijah Parish Lovejoy’s abolition work continues even to this day. A current descendant of Elijah, Martha Lovejoy, works as a supervisor in the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which works with the US government to combat modern forms of slavery.

 

More Information & References:
Wikipedia.com – Elijah Parish Lovejoy
Christianity.com – Murder of Abolitionist Elijah P. Lovejoy
Altonweb.com – Report by the Alton Observer, November 7, 1837
State of Illinois Historic Preservation Agency – Lovejoy Monument
National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum – Elijah Parish Lovejoy
Biography.com – Elijah Lovejoy

Saint of the Week – Constance and Her Companions

Constance and her Companions, the "Martyrs of Memphis"

Constance and her Companions, the “Martyrs of Memphis”

A couple of nights ago I watched a Frontline documentary about the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa that is making headlines. The disease outbreak has been connected to nearly 2,200 deaths. It was pretty hard to watch as people shared how many people they had lost, recovery teams picked up the bodies for burial and as a father wasted away in one of the quarantine camps. The other thing that struck me was the many doctors who have volunteered to serve the communities stricken with this disease. A few that were interviewed were acutely aware of the human tragedy going on and were doing everything in their power to help people recover and comfort the dying. While I do not know how many of the doctors are Christians, I know they are doing God’s work in serving those afflicted with he horrible disease. In their honor, I thought it would be good to highlight the story of a group of people who performed similar acts of service during an outbreak of disease and ultimately passed away after contracting the disease they were helping treat.

This week’s saints are Constance and Her Companions. They are all officially remembered in the Episcopal church on September 9th.

While little is known about the early lives of Constance and her Companions, what we do know is how they served the city of Memphis during an outbreak of yellow fever in 1878. During this outbreak, it is recorded that 5,150 people lost their lives reducing the population of Memphis at the time by half. Many who did not succumb to the disease chose to flee the city. Because of the decrease in population, Memphis lost it’s charter was would not be officially recognized as a city again until 15 years later in 1893. Five years before the outbreak, a group of nuns from the Sisters of St. Mary had been invited to help run the St. Mary’s School for Girls in Memphis. When yellow fever broke out, Constance who was the head of the Sisters of St. Mary at the time, chose to stay to help the sick. Many other nuns from the Sisters of St. Mary along with other Catholic nuns, many Catholic and Protestant priests, doctors, and even a bordello owner named Annie Cook remained in the city to treat those suffering from the outbreak. Most of those who remained, including Constance, would contract yellow fever and pass away. This is why they are also considered the “Martyrs of Memphis” because they gave their lives in the service to others as a witness to their devotion to Christ.

There are many names that we do not have but, some names of those “companions” who are recognized in the Episcopal church are:

  • Sister Thecla – Music, English and Latin teacher at St. Mary’s School for Girls
  • Sister Ruth – nurse at Trinity Infirmary, New York
  • Sister Frances – director of the Church Home orphanage
  • Rev. Charles Carroll Parsons – rector of Grace Episcopal Church, Memphis; former U.S. Army artillery commander
  • Rev. Louis S. Schuyler – newly ordained assistant rector at Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, Hoboken, New Jersey.

So, as we’re also remembering the doctors who are serving patients stricken with the Ebola outbreak, I’m going to tweak a prayer the Episcopal church offers in the remembrance of Constance and her companions:

We give you thanks and praise, O God of compassion, for the heroic witness of the doctors currently serving Ebola patients in Western Africa, who, in a time of plague and pestilence, are steadfast in their care for the sick and the dying, and love not their own lives, but are seeking the treatment and comfort of others above all. Inspire in us a like love and commitment to those in need, following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen

A sign at Martyrs Park in Memphis commemorating those who stayed behind to help during the outbreak of yellow fever in 1878.

A sign at Martyrs Park in Memphis commemorating those who stayed behind to help during the outbreak of yellow fever in 1878.

 

More Information & References:
Mission St. Clare – Constance and Her Companions
St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Memphis – Constance & Her Companions
Wikipedia – St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral

Saint of the Week – Thomas Gallaudet

Thomas Gallaudet (1822–1902)

Thomas Gallaudet (1822–1902)

This week’s saint might not have a long a fraught story like some of the saints I have featured. The story may also be short but his work for the church is unique and I think it is worth recognizing. It’s easy to get caught up in the big stories and miss the smaller moments of grace and gracious people who help reveal them.

This week’s saint is Thomas Gallaudet and life is remembered in the Episcopal church on August 27th.

The father of Thomas Gallaudet was also (and confusingly) named Thomas Gallaudet. He had wanted to become a priest and professional minister. However his plans changed by a chance encounter with a deaf and mute child by the name of Alice Cogswell. This led the senior Thomas Gallaudet out of professional ministry and down a path that would see him opening the first school for the deaf and mute in America. At the school Thomas Gallaudet senior met Sophia Fowler who was also deaf and they married. Sophia Fowler would work to help found what would later become Gallaudet University which was the first institute of higher learning for deaf and mute students. It was into this work around education of deaf and mute children that Thomas Gallaudet junior was born on June 3, 1822.

The junior Thomas Gallaudet graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He, like his father, also had planned to enter professional ministry. However, at the encouragement of his father, Thomas Gallaudet junior began teaching at the New York Institution for Deaf Mutes. It was here that he would also meet his wife, Elizabeth Budd, who was deaf.

After teaching at the New York Institution for Deaf Mutes Thomas Gallaudet junior wanted to fulfill his dream of being a professional minister. He was ordained in the Episcopal church in 1851 and the next year would go on to found St. Ann’s Church in New York. Church services at St. Ann’s were focused primarily towards deaf and mute parishioners and services were mainly communicated in sign language. Along with the church, Thomas would continue his work with the deaf and mute community and even helped found a home for older and disabled deaf and mute people in 1872.

A student of Thomas and member of his church, Henry Winter Syle, was also deaf and had attended Trinity College, St. John’s College in England and Yale. At the encouragement of Thomas, Henry Syle would go on to become the first deaf ordained priest in the Episcopal church in 1884. Henry would later found a church for the deaf in 1888.

“But the more we think of the whole matter, the clearer we shall see that sounds are outward symbols of ideas, as well as signs, and that in the sight of God for the benefit of His silent children, the language of motion is the real, genuine method of conducting a service, whether it be sacramental or otherwise.”
Thomas Gallaudet, from his sermon The Language of Motion preached at the ordination of Henry Syle

Because of Thomas’ work, many congregations began that focused mainly on serving the deaf and mute population. Also because of his devotion to communicating the gospel to the deaf and mute community, many churches include a sign language interpreter during services. Thomas Gallaudet died on August 27, 1902.

May we, like Thomas Gallaudet, see that the church is and should be open to all regardless of disability. May we be open to all forms of communication of the gospel, even when vocal words cannot be used. May we realize that the miracle of Pentecost includes even those who cannot hear the words but can see the tongues of fire through motion of hands. May we welcome our deaf and mute brothers and sisters with open arms and see the beauty in their worship. While they may be silent, their words through motion still rise as a sweet fragrance to God.

 

More Information and References:
Mission St. Clare – Thomas Gallaudet
Wikipedia – Thomas Gallaudet
Project Canterbury – Thomas Gallaudet

Saint of the Week – Victoire Rasoamanarivo

Victoire Rasoamanarivo, 1848-1894

Victoire Rasoamanarivo, 1848-1894

For this week’s saint we are going to be looking a part of the world and the Church that probably does not get much attention. For today’s story we will spin the globe and drop our finger on the west African island of Madagascar. I doubt for many of us that Madagascar is the first place to come to mind when thinking about great stories and people in the Church. However, that is the very reason we should take the time to learn about our brothers and sisters there. The Church is much wider and deeper than the “greats” we are familiar with. With that said, let’s dig in.

This week’s saint is Victoire Rasoamanarivo and she is remembered on August 21st.

Victoire was born in the city of Antananarivo on Madgascar in 1848. She was raised by her uncle and grew up practicing the animist religion of her ancestors. She was related to a wealthy family and many served in the ruling class of people. Victoire started attended a Catholic school at the age of 13 and was baptized at the age of 15. While Victoire wanted to devote her life to the church and probably serve as a nun, her family organized a marriage. She consented to her family’s wishes and got married in 1864. By all accounts, the wedding was not a pleasant one. Victoire’s husband was a violent drunk and his relation to the leading military family allowed him much freedom to act as he pleased. While many urged her to divorce, she refused because of her belief that marriage was a sacrament for life. Victoire chose instead to constantly prayer for her husbands repentance and conversion.

In 1883 a war broke out between the French and ruling party of Madagascar, often called the Franco-Malagasy war. France had made many political and military moves in Madagascar trying to gain an economic foothold in the region. Because of France’s actions, the people of Madagascar began to turn against the Catholic church on the island. When France was threatening war, all foreign Catholic priests and missionaries were expelled, Catholic schools were ordered to be shut down and Catholic gatherings were outlawed. Any practicing Catholic was ordered to renounce their faith or otherwise be considered traitors. The war between France and the ruling family of Madagascar lasted from 1883 through 1885.  During this time, many local Catholics, including Victoire, refused to renounce and continued to meet in secrecy in the closed and boarded up churches. Victoire specifically worked to keep the schools open and would even openly confront and resist the police who would try to keep them from gathering for church services. When the war ended in 1885 and the foreign missionaries and priests returned to the island, they found a still thriving church community of about 21,000 members. Because of the work and fearlessness of Victoire in spite of the violent war and hatred against Catholics at the time, the church continued to thrive. Victoire was proclaimed the “guardian” of the church on Madagascar and she continued to work with the poor, sick and imprisoned until her death in 1894.

May we, in spite of political and economic turmoil, remain faithful to the Church like Victoire Rasoamanarivo. May we realize that the Church can thrive regardless of politics, war, gender, race or economic status. I pray that our eyes would be opened to see leaders and guardians of the church in the places we might least expect it. May Victoire Rasoamanarivo open our eyes to the strength in the diversity of the Church.

 

More Information & References:
Saints.SQPN.com – Blessed Victoire Rasoamanarivo
Catholic Online – Bl. Victoire Rasoamanarivo
Dictionary of African Christian Biography – Rasoamanarivo, Victoire