Rome — There are people being crucified. Families are being shackled. Unspeakable things are being done to women. Christians are living the Way of the Cross in the most dramatic of ways. True Christian martyrdom is happening in the world today.
“The whole Middle East without exception is presently engulfed by a nightmare that seems to have no end and that undermines the very existence of minorities, particularly of Christians in lands known to be the cradle of our faith and early Christian communities,” said His Beatitude, Ignatius Youssef III Younan, patriarch of Antioch for the Syriac Catholic Church.
Cardinal Charles Bo of Burma talked about the need to bring greater visibility to the suffering of many Christians in the Middle East today, in a particular way. “In some parts of the Middle East,” he said, “Christianity is being wiped out en masse.” The evening before, a Vatican official was clear in calling out radical Islam as the driver of what Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople called the “obliteration” of Christians.
The word “genocide” is being used frequently here in Rome, at a conference titled “Under Caesar’s Sword: Christian Response to Persecution,” co-sponsored by the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs at Georgetown University and the Center for Civil & Human Rights at the University of Notre Dame.
“Compassion is the common religion here today,” Cardinal Bo said. “Christianity was born with the blood of the lamb. At this very moment some brother or sister is shedding blood for just one reason: He or she is a Christian.”
Do not turn a blind eye to what is happening, many speakers urged. Once the signal is sent that it is acceptable to target Christians, said Mariz Tadros of the University of Sussex, groups will systematically target them even for non-ideological reasons. Some Christians are trying to stay in the Middle East; some are trying to flee; all want to survive. All have the right to survive and to have a chance to thrive.
As Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus said in recent congressional testimony about Iraqi and Syrian refugees from ISIS, “Fear of being slaughtered or enslaved for their faith prevents them from returning home. Like the region’s other refugee communities, the vulnerable Christian minority is striving to survive devastating conflicts — in which, it should be noted, the Christian communities have not taken up arms for any side. In addition, like the Jews in Nazi Germany, these Christians [who are refugees] are escaping genocide. They are being specifically targeted because they put their faith in Jesus Christ.”
This isn’t — as some on Twitter hit back — about claiming some sort of victim status. This is simple truth. And it’s not a cause for more hatred, anger, and violence. Bo pointed to persecution of the Church in his own country: “Euthanasia was instituted to a church that was the lifeline of society. . . . Overnight the Church was stripped of everything. We were not allowed to print books, build churches, attend seminaries.” And yet the Church has persevered and grown, even under oppression, as people have seen Christianity in action: working on the front lines, meeting people’s most immediate needs. Christians who lead rescue missions and support resettling and rebuilding in the lives of those displaced by ISIS have the potential of building up new life not only for families and individuals, but also for civilization itself. Martyrs and witnesses are radically countercultural signs of hope in an ocean of hate.
#share#The human heart longs for dignity, longs for fulfillment. Not ignoring the plight of persecuted Christians today is imperative not only for their survival but also for ours. As Pope Francis put it in his homily at the shrine for Christian martyrs in Uganda during his recent visit:
The witness of the martyrs shows to all who have heard their story, then and now, that the worldly pleasures and earthly power do not bring lasting joy or peace. Rather, fidelity to God, honesty and integrity of life, and genuine concern for the good of others bring us that peace which the world cannot give. This does not diminish our concern for this world, as if we only look to the life to come. Instead, it gives purpose to our lives in this world, and helps us to reach out to those in need, to cooperate with others for the common good, and to build a more just society which promotes human dignity, defends God’s gift of life and protects the wonders of nature, his creation and our common home.
But, if we do not get serious, this is all just talk from those of us who live in freedom. Which includes Christians praying in a dedicated way for their persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. And, as far as talk goes, help begins with one word: genocide. The Obama administration is reportedly on the verge of declaring what has been happening to the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq to be genocide. Not extending this designation to Christians is gravely absurd. The designation opens all kinds of opportunities for assistance — besides being a simple statement of the truth. “How long does Iraq have to suffer?” Patriarch Ignatius Youssef pled. We can debate the origins of this current crisis later. For now, can we agree not to exacerbate the problem? More than one speaker warned us not to be complicit in evil.
“Governments, religions, and people of good will all over the world should be involved seriously to preserve and strengthen religious indivisible freedom that allows people to think, express, and act upon what they freely and deeply believe,” said the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon, His Beatitude, Louis Raphael I Sako. “Freedom is a basic and fundamental human right for all. It is not a favor or a monopoly of a religion, or a sect, or an ethnic group, or of the majority. Religious freedom benefits every single person on earth, and creates good conditions for a peaceful co-existence between citizens of the same nation.”
“We should not be so desensitized as to be okay with the fact that people are being killed,” said His Grace, Bishop Angaelos, the Coptic bishop of London.
It would seem that, for Christians in Iraq and Syria targeted by ISIS, the very least the U.S. government could give them for Christmas is a simple recognition of reality.