.- Middle East Christians need help to survive, and leaders in the relief effort have outlined what the average Catholic can do.
“They can speak out. They should talk with their parish. And they should pray,” Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, told CNA Aug. 3.
Echoing his call to action was Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil in northern Iraq.
“Pray for them. Tell their story. Raise awareness about persecution. Give aid,” he said. The archbishop encouraged Americans and Canadians to try to put pressure on their politicians “to really adjust the whole political vision of America, Canada and the Middle East.”
The plight of Middle East Christians and other minorities was a major focus of the Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus held in Toronto. Several Middle East bishops attended alongside other bishops and the order’s delegates from around the world.
The convention came exactly two years after the Islamic State group’s capture of Mosul and the expulsion of tens of thousands of Christians. In Iraq’s neighbor Syria, civil war has raged for five years, with the Christian minority especially affected.
“These communities that still speak the language of Jesus have the right to continue,” Anderson told reporters Wednesday. “They must have equal rights.”
He called on Western governments to make aid conditional on human rights for minorities.
“The perpetrators of genocide must be brought to justice,” he said.
Anderson pointed to the Knights of Columbus’ $11 million in support for Middle East Christians and other minorities like the Yazidi people Since 2014. The relief effort has tried to address shortfalls in humanitarian relief caused by Christians’ avoidance of refugee camps, which they consider dangerous.
The Catholic fraternal organization has also helped lead the effort for a Congressional recognition of genocide.
Anderson cited the latest issue of the Islamic State magazine Dabiq. Its cover story, titled “Break the Cross,” highlighted a photo of an Islamic State partisan taking down a cross and setting up the flag of the extremist group that holds territory in Iraq and Syria.
The issue also shows a photo of Pope Francis labeled “The Enemy.”
“What could be more clear?” Anderson asked. “They are targeting Christians for extinction and they are making no secret about it.”
Archbishop Warda said he keeps hope alive for Iraqi Christians by reminding them that they are not forgotten. Aid from abroad that helps them secure decent housing, schools, clinics and other services helps them know this.
Iraqi Christians’ plight is better compared to the Yazidi population, but their families who have fled to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan are in a “dreadful” situation.
Anderson urged North American Catholics to contribute financially “even a little bit” to the Knights’ Christian Refugee Relief Fund and pass the word to their fellow parishioners.
Yousif Thomas Mirkis, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Kirkuk, said American and Canadian Catholics can learn from Iraq’s Christians.
“Share knowledge, share hope, and share concern,” he said, even suggesting some visit his diocese. “If you come, only three days in Kirkuk is better than three hours of explanation.”
In his view, many North Americans have difficulty understanding the situation and are isolated from global problems.
The Islamic State group has now gone global, according to the archbishop. He pointed to a professed Islamic State ally’s attack on a night club in Orlando as a moment of awakening, and as an opening for Iraqi Christians to help Americans.
“We are aware. We are educated. We speak Arabic. We write in Arabic. We can help. We can advise,” Archbishop Mirkis said.
The Syrian situation was also a topic in Toronto. Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo told reporters Syria was “a wonderful country” that is now destroyed.
“When I think about it, yes, sometimes I am almost crying… because it’s terrible,” he said. “The people there have no more food for their children, no work or income, and are under constant attack.
“Our people are terrorized and we are really in a big danger of disappearing… because an exodus has begun.” He has a plea for those who want to help the Church: “help us. Help us by stopping this savagery.”
Archbishop Warda said he keeps hope alive for Iraqi Christians by reminding them that they are not forgotten and that “God is with them.” Aid from abroad that helps them secure decent housing, schools, clinics and other services helps them know thIs.
In Iraq, Archbishop Mirkis runs a university to help young people of all religions resist the negative forces in the country.
“I gather many students, Muslim, Christian and Yazidi. I help them to stay in Kirkuk and to attend university. I have 400 students. In this way I build the future,” he said.
Like Archbishop Warda, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Yousseff III Younan of Antioch invited Catholics to visit Christians in safe parts of Syria to learn the humanitarian and political problems for themselves.
The patriarch at times voiced positive sentiments towards Syrian president Bashar Assad, whose violent crackdown on protesters helped trigger the Syrian Civil War.
He said Assad supported Christians and other minorities against extremists.
“We are not siding with Assad, nor with his party, nor with his government,” Patriarch Younan added. “We patriarchs and bishops side with the people, who endure this kind of hecatomb that fell on Syria and Iraq.”