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When Will We Act if Not Now to Save Christians in the Middle East?

French support Iraqi Christians

Paul Malo / Aleteia

Caitlin Bootsma - published on 07/27/14 - updated on 06/08/17

In Defense of Christians is trying to raise awareness and relief aid to persecuted Christians.

While recent events in Iraq have raised awareness of the plight of Middle Eastern Christians, this persecution is far from new and more widespread than many realize. As Christians around the world post the sign of the “nun” (the first letter of Nasara, an Arabic term for Christian) on their Facebook profiles and pray for peace, Middle Eastern Christians themselves are taking action. With their brothers and sisters enduring varying levels of discrimination and persecution, including death, “diaspora Christians” are coming together to advocate for policy change on a unified national level.

Journalist John Allen reports that 100,000 Christians have been killed worldwide in each year of the last decade. “That works out to eleven Christians killed every hour, every day, throughout the past decade,” he explains in his recent book The Global War on Christians. Targeted violence against Christians has been going on for quite some time, and yet it has received little attention in the media or in political policy.

At the National Catholic Prayer breakfast in April 2012, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt called specifically for concrete help for Middle Eastern Christians. When Pope Benedict XVI visited Lebanon, he reiterated this plea.

While many Middle Eastern Christians now living in the United States have aided their relatives, or worked as a community or denomination to raise awareness, little has been done on a national level to encourage America’s policy makers to take overdue action.

An American-born, Armenian-Egyptian Christian, Simone Rizkallah explains that Middle Eastern Christians who are new to the United States often lack knowledge about the opportunities to affect public policy in a democratic society. “Middle Eastern Christians need to realize that something can change,” Rizkallah explained.

Andrew Doran, Executive Director of the non-profit group In Defense of Christians (IDC), notes that second- and third-generation Middle Eastern Americans also have the opportunity to make a real difference for their family and friends who remain in the region. Raising awareness that could lead to a change in American foreign policy regarding Middle Eastern Christians is the goal of a Summit that will be convened by the IDC in Washington, D.C. this September.

The Summit will gather together Middle Eastern Christians of various faith traditions from around the United States, raise awareness of Christians’ dire situation in the Middle East, and equip participants to meet with members of the U.S. House and Senate.

Protection of religious freedom is IDC’s top priority. When the United States lends aid to nations in the Middle East, it is rare that this aid is conditioned on the assurance that religious liberty will be protected.

Doran offered an example. He recounted that during a recent visit with Assyrian Christians in Iraq, there “was profound frustration that the U.S. military had done nothing to protect a defenseless community that was targeted by extremists, frustration that the U.S. government provided no aid, and even deported Assyrians who got to America seeking asylum.”

Yet, across the board, Doran says that Middle Eastern Christians are sending the message “Better late than never.”

Doran hopes that, with unity among Christians, will come a heightened awareness among Middle Eastern immigrants and among U.S. citizens in general: “American people must stand in solidarity with these Christians and demand that the U.S. government’s policies be consistent with the values of its people. This means the preservation of the Christian communities of the region.”  

The line-up of speakers at the Summit demonstrates the growing unity among Middle Eastern Christians on this issue. Speakers include the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch, the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, and the Catholics of the Holy See of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church, as well as Roman Catholic leaders.

And it is not only religious leaders who are ready to defend Middle Eastern Christians. Representative Jeff Fortenberry and Princeton Professor Robert George are among the Summit’s speakers and former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is on the Advisory Board of the IDC. Of particular interest is speaker Thomas Farr, who has argued that the United States’ national security interests are harmed because of the lack of leadership in the arena of religious freedom.

This Summit, of course, is only one step in what many hope to be a continuing process of advocacy for Christians in the Middle East. Members of Congress will be presented with a Pledge of Solidarity, and Summit participants will ask Senators and Representatives to promise their solidarity, that they will do what they can to ensure basic human rights (especially to religious minorities) and to help with reconstruction and assistance to refugees.

With violence continuing to escalate in the Middle East and an increased awareness among the American public, could now be the time for change? Advocates for Christians in the Middle East want Americans to be aware that religious liberty is not just a hot-button issue in the United States involving monuments and public prayer and healthcare mandates. It is a right that is consistently and violently denied to many of our brothers and sisters throughout the Middle East at the cost of their lives.

There is no doubt that Christians in the Middle East are now facing unimaginable persecution and deserve the prayers and active support of all people of good will. The urgency of their cause is great, but with our help, the words of Andrew Doran may come true: “ISIS and Al Qaeda will not write the epitaph of Christianity in the region. Christianity will survive where it began.”

Caitlin Bootsmais the editor of Human Life International’s Truth and Charity Forum (truthandcharityforum.com) as well as the Communications Director for Fuzati, Inc., a Catholic marketing company. Mrs. Bootsma received a Licentiate in Catholic Social Communications at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome as well as a Master’s of Systematic Theology from Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband and two sons.

Tags:
Middle EastReligious Freedom
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