With Hands Folded And Eyes Opened

by Rev. Raymond K. Petrucci

Whether it be table settings of the finest china, crystal and silver or of plastic and paper, the scene is unfolding for the celebration of Thanksgiving in the homes of America. Thanksgiving Day recalls the pilgrimage of a people yearning to be free. They embarked on a perilous voyage to a strange land inhabited by an unknown people with unknown customs. The risks and hardships gave way to a promise of a new life in which they may worship, prosper and raise their families in freedom. These noble goals would test their mettle. In order to survive, these pilgrims would need to learn how to blend their knowledge and skills with that of the native people. Albeit temporary, a common spirit of determination and cooperation would overcome the harsh challenges encountered in fashioning a new existence. Thus the native and new Americans would unite in friendship and feasting and numerous prayers of thanksgiving. This gratitude to God for blessing the efforts to sustain faith, family, perseverance, and community must be cherished always. Thanksgiving has become a day of contemplation for me; a day to wheel the nation before a mirror and to see how it stands on its own merits and compared to the rest of the world; a day that I also stand before this mirror and assess the content and quality of my thankfulness.

Among the wall adornments of a friend's home are prints of Norman Rockwell's famous rendition of the Four Freedoms: Freedom from fear, Freedom from want, Freedom of Speech, and Freedom of worship. It was President Franklin D. Roosevelt who highlighted these freedoms during his administration; a time when the country endured the Great Depression and World War II. While all of these freedoms are treasures, I have a particular appreciation for the freedom of worship. Yet, I am becoming concerned about the well-being of this freedom in our world and even in our nation.

There are numerous countries in the world where the Church is being persecuted. Recently, China's long-standing repression of the Roman Catholic Church has drawn international attention. A few months ago Father Matthias Chen Xizhi, an underground Catholic priest of the Diocese of Wenzhou, died at the age of 85. The Communist Chinese government warned Catholics not to attend the funeral. In spite of the governmental pressure, 4,000 faithful attended the rites for the popular priest. Another incident involves the Beijing government's refusal to allow Pope John Paul II to visit Hong Kong. Chinese officials stated that due to the Vatican's diplomatic relations with Taiwan it would not be appropriate for the Pope to visit Hong Kong. However, there are precedents of representatives from nations without diplomatic relations with Beijing visiting China. Of course, it was the presence of a spiritual and moral force of such magnitude that threatened the Communist officials.

After more than a century and one half, Hong Kong ceased to be a British colony in July of 1997. Mainland China declared Hong Kong to be a Special Administrative Region and that it would have a significant degree of autonomy for the next fifty years. Citizens of Hong Kong fear that this promise was only good for two years. On this Thanksgiving, I shall pray for Freedom of worship in China.

In the United States, the dominant influence of Secular Humanism threatens to impede the practice of religion. This repression has not been seen as overtly as in China or other totalitarian governments, but appeared subtly and seductively. Recently, this subtle approach was abrogated by certain politicians in defending a showing in a New York City museum of what has been euphemistically called "objects d'art" that in realty are an affront to every Catholic, Christian, and righteous person. Concerning a few of these works, one commentator remarked: "if these objects were place on the lawn of a Catholic home, it would be considered a hate crime." A well-known Rabbi called attacks on religion the "last acceptable discrimination" in America.

Incredibly, in this time of abundance, we may be starved of the very meaning of Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims knew whom to thank for their survival. May we be just as perceptive and just as wise.

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