Six Christian Patriarchs from the Middle East joined scholars, politicians, and activists this week at the In Defense of Christians (IDC) Inaugural Summit in Washington DC.
IDC was formed in response to Archbishop Francis Chullikatt’s exhortation in his keynote address at the 2012 National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, in which he called upon all Americans to take concrete action to help those suffering persecution in the Middle East. The call was echoed months later by Pope Benedict XVI when he visited Lebanon. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, said on Tuesday, the opening day of the three-day event, that its purpose “to speak with one voice” on the persecution of Christians in the region.
Cardinal Bechara Rai, the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, spoke extensively on the “jihadists of the so-called Islamic State”, highlighting the group’s brutality. He noted that 120,000 Christians were evicted from their homes in the Nineveh Plain of Iraq, while emphasising that Yazidis and others have also faced persecution.
Many speakers were quick to explain that their concern for Christian persecution was not based on sectional interests, but on a commitment to universal values and rights. Princeton Professor Robert George stated, “We must stand for all the victims of religious persecution.” Robert Destro, Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America, argued that Muslims are allies in the battle against the “organised criminals” of the Islamic State.
There was no consensus, however, on what policies should be implemented to defend Christians in the region. Cardinal Leonardo Sandri made the case for prayer and fasting. Patriarch Rai argued that the recent strikes against the Islamic State by the United States are a step in the right direction. Support for intervention was not unanimous, however, as some argued that further external intervention would deepen problems.
Meanwhile Sydney's Eastern Christian leaders are calling for three days of fasting and prayers from 10 September for persecuted Christians across the Middle East, writes Mark Brolly.
Many Assyrian, Maronite, Chaldean Coptic Christian and Orthodox church members in Australia's most populous city are related to or know many of the victims of IS terrorists.
“Everyone in the Chaldean, Assyrian, Coptic and Syriac Christian communities across Sydney has family, relatives or friends at risk as IS continues its wave of terror across Syria and Northern Iraq,” Mgr Marcelino Youssef , Vicar General of the Maronite Eparchy of Australia, told Catholic Communications in Sydney last week.
Above: Statue of Mary stands outside of tents as displaced Iraqi Christians from Qaraqosh gather outside shrine. Photo: CNS photo/Mohamed Messara, EPA