The Catolic Secular Forum

Catholic Hymns for Times of Fear and Uncertainty

We live at a time where many still seek to persecute us. Be it be the Boko Haram in Nigeria or other religious extremists, the Catholic faith still faces opposition. This year’s Easter season is one such example. On April 21, 2019, more than 200 people lost their lives during a series of attacks targeted at Catholic faithful in the country. It is sad but should come as no surprise. In 2 Timothy 3:12, Saint Timothy tells us that those who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Nevertheless, we should remember that we can always call upon God during these times of fear and uncertainty. When afraid and anxious, singing the hymns below may help quiet your worries, and make you steadfast in the Lord.

Be Not Afraid by Bob Dufford

Through the years, this hymn has been sung during times of fear and grief. Whether to comfort dying relatives or in times of uncertainty, the message in this song, that we should not be afraid for the Lord always goes before us, has served to strengthen many. 

The hymn was written by Father Bob Dufford in 1972, before his ordination. He wrote it at a time of great anxiety, for he did not know what lay ahead of him, as a priest. Father Dufford gained inspiration for the hymn, from the Annunciation. By relating to Mary, who was also in great fear when an Angel came to her and told her she would give birth to Jesus, he came up with the theme. The words of the Angel to Mary “Do not be Afraid” are the inspiration for the hymn.

Thus, when we find ourselves in times of fear and uncertainty as the faithful in North Korea are , the hymn Be not Afraid will remind us that the Lord is still with us.

Be Still My Soul by Catharina von Schlegel

Though little is known about the composer, the words of the hymn are extremely moving. When in persecution, one may feel isolated and alone. Be Still My Soul is a great hymn for the persecuted. 

By singing this hymn, we remind ourselves that even when dearest friends depart and we find ourselves alone, the Lord will forever remain on our side. The song calms and reassures us by reminding us that in times of sorrow and fear, the Lord shall soothe and comfort us. It tells us that the time is coming when disappointment, grief, and fear shall be no more and we shall finally meet the Lord, as He promised.

Nearer My God to Thee by Sarah Flower Adams

There are few hymns that are more emblematic of times of fear and uncertainty than this. The hymn was inspired by Joshua’s encounter with God in the book of Genesis 28, wherein he called upon the Lord after a frightening dream. 

Perhaps the most memorable occasion when this song was used, was during the sinking of the Titanic. Amidst the chaos, fear, and confusion Wallace Hartley the ship’s bandleader, played this song to calm and reassure the passengers.

When afraid and in doubt, when darkness surrounds us, this song reminds us to call upon the Lord, our salvation.

It is Well With My Soul by Horatio Spafford

This hymn was written at a time of great suffering and loss. Its author Horatio was a believer in times of great pain and sorrow. His trials started with the death of his son and the Great Chicago Fire that ruined his businesses in 1871. Two years later, on a ship bound for England, he lost all four of his daughters to a shipwreck. It is out of these events that Horatio wrote: When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say; It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Horatio’s hymn can be used during times of sorrow and persecution, to remind us to fix our eyes upon the Lord, and remain faithful.

Message from the Hymns

A common theme in all the hymns above is that in times of trouble, as Catholics we should know where to seek for help. As Christians, when in doubt, in fear, when persecuted and when uncertain, we must seek the Lord, our salvation.

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Catholic Repression in China

Although the Communist Party of China has always sought to suppress religion, the last few years have witnessed the worst wave of persecution since the days of Mao’s cultural revolution. Aided by more capable state control mechanisms and technology, China is taking its persecution of Christians to new heights. In today’s wave of repression, many more churches are being shut down and churchgoers detained. In those that remain, the government is utilizing facial recognition surveillance to monitor the congregation of believers. More disturbing is the fact that the state is planning to rewrite the word of God to conform to its communist ideology. Despite these troubling developments, a voice of hope can still be heard as the Catholic Church stands with its faithful in China.

Repression Through Technological Control

Among China’s new high-tech tools of control are a facial recognition surveillance system and a social credit application. Churches all around China have been fitted with a 24-hour CCTV system that some say is capable of facial recognition. The largest church in Beijing was shut down last year after its pastor refused an order allowing face-recognition cameras to be installed in his pulpit. Moreover, China is discouraging religion through a social credit app dabbed ‘Study the Great Nation.’ Among its many functions, is a scoring system that ranks citizens according to their loyalty to the communist party and its ideals. Subscribing to the Catholic faith detracts from one’s social credit. If one’s credit gets too low, they cannot access permission to leave the country. 

Churches Shut Down, Believers Detained

There are two forms of the Catholic Church in China. One includes the unofficial, underground Catholic churches and the other is the Patriotic Church that is controlled and sanctioned by the government. Many of the more than 10000 underground churches in China have already been shut down. In others, there are reports that crosses are being dismantled and in some cases replaced with portraits of President Xi. Government sanctioned churches have also not been spared. The Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Henan (which is approved by the government) had its priest detained and defrocked. Catholic Bishop Peter Shao Zhuminof Wenzhou is reported to have undergone weeks of state indoctrination and interrogation. Similarly, Catholic Bishop James Su Zhimin of Baoding has spent 20 years in prison for conducting mass without permission from the state.

Rewriting Scripture

Adding to the fact that Bibles can no longer be purchased online in China, the Chinese government is now planning a rewriting of the Scripture to suit its Communist Party agenda and ideology. The new translation is set to include annotations from Chinese sources to make it more appealing to Chinese communist ideology. In a process dabbed Sinicization, the government has sanctioned the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the Chinese Christian Council to re-orient the bible to promote socialism in a time span of five years. 

The Vatican Response

In recognition of the targeted persecution of those professing the Christian faith in China, Pope Francis prayed for Chinese Catholics on May 22nd, 2019, asking Mother Mary to intercede for them. Earlier on May 13th, 2019 the Vatican Secretary of State told Chinese media that he believed that the Vatican and China could work together. Talking about Sinicization, he said that it does not have to conflict with the Christian faith and could be a means of dialogue and understanding. On September 2018, The Holy See and China signed a provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops, a move that has been viewed as creating increased trust between the two sides. The agreement though is still yet to be fully implemented by the Chinese government as U.S ambassador for International Religious freedom noted that China still continues to abuse members of the Catholic faith. One such instance is a published reward by Guangzhou’s Department of Ethnic and Religious Affairs offered for information of religious groups leading to the arrest of religious leaders.

Message of Hope

Saint Timothy wrote in 2 Timothy 3:12 that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Even so, there is hope for the faithful. Speaking on behalf of the Pope, the Vatican Secretary of State encouraged Catholics living in China to take courage as they proclaim the gospel. Pope Francis encouraged all Catholic faithful in China telling them that our Heavenly Mother will come to their aide as they fight to be in the communion of the universal Church.

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