While many people were learning of the death of Osama bin Laden, I was watching a PBS documentary this past Sunday on Irena Sendler, who fought hatred quietly by rescuing Jews in the Warsaw ghetto.
For four years, at great risk, Sendler and a small group of other Christian women set up safe houses where Jews, starving or being taken off to Treblinka and other death camps, could hide. Of course, anyone helping rescue Jews--indeed anyone seen publicly with a Jew at the time--would be shot by the Nazis.
Two hundred Polish convents took in 2,500 Jewish children, who survived the horrors of the Warsaw Uprising. Irena was the organizational brains behind the operation, staying one step ahead of the Germans until she was finally caught and imprisoned. Later, the Communists in Poland harassed her, and the truth about what she had done could not be revealed until near the end of her long life, which came in 2008.
Like so many great souls, Irena never thought of herself as heroic. Yet on the day when a famous and worthy son of Poland was beatified by the Church, I could not help thinking, Why isn't this remarkable woman recognized by Rome? She is one of those who deserve canonization, not just the powerful and the famous.
The bigger question in watching her story: Why don't we do more to fight hatred? Why do we let it fester and grow in our schools and neighborhoods, where suspicion, prejudice, fear, and resentment easily turn into hatred and violence? If we put the media spotlight on bullying or racism or other injustice, do we really reduce the amount of hate in our society? Rare are those who, like Irena Sendler, do something concrete to combat hatred, bit by bit, family by family, with quiet courage.
Will the death of bin Laden cause more hatred of Americans in certain parts of the world? The answer seems obvious: as people cheer the bold and courageous action that brought down this chief terrorist, as they celebrate the triumph of justice,do they recognize that killing the enemy is not ultimately the way of peace?