The archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose H. Gomez, is urging Catholics to sign a petition to the U.S. government to declare that Christians are suffering a genocide in the Middle East.
It is widely believed that the Department of State is examining whether the Islamic State group’s treatment of Assyrian and other Iraqi and Syrian Christians constitutes genocide.
In a statement issued days before the State Department is expected to make the decision, Archbishop Gomez called it “unconscionable” that the government has remained silent while Christians undergo a martyrdom at the hands of radical Islamists.
“It is clear that what the so-called Islamic State is doing to Christians and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria fits the United Nations’ definition — violence and killing with “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” he said. “The violence against Christians is as systematic as it is barbaric — Church leaders are assassinated, believers are murdered on a mass scale; there is torture, kidnapping for ransom and the systematic rape and sex slavery of Christian women and girls; there are forced conversions to Islam, the destruction of churches, monasteries and cemeteries; and the theft of ordinary families’ homes and businesses.”
Writing in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ online newspaper, the archbishop said that the Christian “witness of blood” that marked the early days of the Church continues today. He cited as an example the murder last week in Yemen of four sisters of the Missionaries of Charity.
“These sisters had been warned that an attack was coming but refused to leave the poor they served,” Archbishop Gomez said. “Violence and torture are the daily cost of discipleship for Christians all over the world today — but especially in the Middle East. And the world community — government leaders, international authorities, the media and sadly even local churches — do not seem all that concerned.”
He said that he recently signed a petition calling on the U.S. government to declare the situation facing Christians in Iraq and Syria a “genocide.”
The petition drive is being led by the Knights of Columbus.
He explained that the political designation of “genocide” is important because such a designation “gives the international community a moral claim to stop the violence and punish those responsible.
“It also gives a special status to Christians fleeing the persecution — a right to be treated as refugees, and to reclaim their homes and properties once the violence is ended,” he said.
As of Wednesday evening, the online petition had more than 61,000 signatures.