Want to learn some Latin? Odium Fidei…it means“hatred of the Faith.”

In our Catholic tradition, one who loses his/her life because of odium fidei, hatred of the faith, is a martyr.

I just had the Funeral Mass of one such martyr at St. Joseph Parish in Somers. Her name is Chelsea Decaminada.

Chelsea was but twenty-six, and leaves behind grieving parents, a grandma, two brothers and a sister. In her brief life she sure made a lot of friends, and they were there too.

For what was Chelsea martyred? Her “crime,” moving the fanatics to murder her, was this: she was at Sunday Mass.

She was in Sri Lanka, as a representative of our Commerce Department. Foreign service was to be her career, as she had also been overseas, in Africa, in the Peace Corps.

Easter Sunday…sincere Catholic she was, Chelsea headed to morning Mass in Colombo, Sri Lanka. While in prayer with close to 300 others, she was killed by bombs detonated by extremists.

I was haunted because, the night before, Holy Saturday, I had a ham sandwich and cold beer (Lent was over!) after the Easter Vigil, and remarked to the priests with me at the kitchen table, “I wonder where Catholics will be attacked tomorrow.”

It’s taken for granted, I’m afraid. The vicious persecution of the Church is almost expected in Egypt, India, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, the Middle East, Indonesia, Pakistan, China, especially on major feast days.

The persecution is so severe that, crunching the numbers of those murdered last year alone, columnist John Allen figures a Christian was martyred once every ten minutes.

Why? That someone as decent, noble, and loving as Chelsea would be blown up for worshipping at Sunday Mass, for just practicing her faith in such a simple, non-threatening way, is scary, depressing, and horrible.

Why? Well, for one, genuinely good people like Chelsea and the Sri Lankans murdered are a threat to fanatics, who are so oozing with venom that they are allergic to whatever is true, good, and beautiful.

Two, terrorists despise the Church because it is respected as a refuge, a sanctuary, a house of peace.  If we can destroy churches, decent folks will give up, they figure, since no place is safe. Churches unite people; the hatemongers want to divide.

Three, Christians—and other religious minorities—are different, as they have an allegiance not to a worldly cause, but to God, to Faith. This scares and offends the crazed killers.

People like Chelsea frighten the extremists. They stand in the way of their obnoxious, toxic cause; they are citizens of a civilization of love, not of hate. They must go…

What dawned on me at Chelsea’s funeral was how dramatically the thugs had failed.  It was Chelsea and the other martyrs who had conquered. Not only did their martyrdom because of their faith assure them of eternal life, but the crowd at St. Joseph’s Parish in Somers left more convinced than ever that Chelsea’s way—loyalty, love, service, friendship, family, faith—was the only true route to happiness, in this life and the next.

Chelsea was a witness to this…which is what the Greek word martyr means.

May 24 is the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians. Since the foot of the cross the followers of Jesus have stayed close to Mary in times of persecution. The Church is our Mother, to whose home Chelsea and the other Catholics went for Easter Mass.

Mary is our mother, who held Chelsea and the other martyrs in her arms, the Pieta, as she did the bloodied body of Jesus that Good Friday.