It’s been a rough 2021 for most people, and there’s a real temptation to lose hope and feel that goodness is gone from this world. But the heartening truth is that there are countless good people out there dedicating their lives to serving others as Christ did. Some of these people end up making the news, but others work quietly. Regardless, their witness of faith, courage, and sense of mission always brings a strong sense of hope. So, let’s take a moment to honour some of these heroes from the past year. There are many others who deserve to be mentioned.
SISTER ANN NU THAWNG
This Catholic nun courageously offered her life in place of others when a peaceful protest turned deadly in Myanmar. As police cracked down on marches, the Sister of St Francis Xavier knelt down in front of troops, raised her hands into the air and cried out, “Don’t shoot, don’t kill the innocent. If you want, hit me.” Reports say that the soldiers were surprised at her actions and did not shoot but stopped their advance. Joseph Kung Za Hmung, editor of the Gloria News Journal, the first online Catholic newspaper in Myanmar, said, “Sr Ann Nu Thawng is today a role model for Church leaders: bishops and priests are called to step out of their comfort zones and follow her courage as an example.”
THE CUBAN FREEDOM FIGHTERS
After decades of brutal oppression, the people of Cuba rose up against the regime several times last year. Their fight is ongoing as they cry out for “a Cuba where justice, freedom and peace reign”. While not all of the protesters are Catholic, of course, we are thinking in a special way of the Catholic priests and bishops of Cuba who have voiced support for the protestors.
A famous chef and Catholic humanitarian, José Andrés dedicates much of his time, energy, and resources to helping those in need. After the recent devastation in Kentucky from powerful tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest, he was there with his team feeding the uprooted communities. Among other impressive efforts, he’s also gone to places particularly hit hard by the coronavirus.
JIMMY LAI AND OTHERS FIGHTING FOR LIBERTY IN HONG KONG
Lai Chee-ying or ‘Jimmy Lai’ is a Catholic entrepreneur and activist living in Hong Kong. He founded Next Digital, a media company, and the popular newspaper Apple Daily. He has worked, suffered, and fought for democracy in Hong Kong and is currently serving a prison sentence for attending a Tiananmen Square massacre memorial.
Mr Lai’s Apple Daily newspaper published a handwritten letter by him, sent from prison, which read, “It is our responsibility as journalists to seek justice. As long as we are not blinded by unjust temptations, as long as we do not let evil get its way through us, we are fulfilling our responsibility.”
Catholic actor Jonathan Roumie has lit up the screen playing Jesus in The Chosen, helping millions of people around the world feel closer to Christ and connect to the gospels. Roumie “brings an unparalleled warmth, gentleness, and humour to this daunting role.” The actor has also become a popular voice on Hallow, the number one Catholic meditation, prayer, and sleep app.
SIR DAVID AMESS
Catholic pro-life British parliamentarian Sir David Amess was assassinated in October 15, 2021 during a meeting with constituents at a church in east London. But he spent his long career as a public servant working to better others’ lives, including the poor and marginalised. England’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson described Amess’ “outstanding record of passing laws to help the most vulnerable” and called Amess “one of the kindest people” in politics. Amess’ work to promote the dignity of life included helping vulnerable women and working to restrict assisted suicide. The husband and father of five will be remembered for his efforts to restore a culture of life in the UK.
Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz made history this summer, becoming the first athlete from the Philippines to win a gold medal at the Olympics. The emotional moment on the Tokyo podium was made all the more powerful by the athlete’s profession of faith. Raising Our Lady’s Miraculous Medal high above her head, Diaz gave thanks to God. Reflecting later on her impressive lift she shared, “I did not expect to lift it yesterday. I guess that was God and all the people who prayed for me yesterday. I’m thankful to those who prayed and did the novena.” (Adapted from aleteia.org)