Appeals for Persecuted Christians Highlights States Dinner
The festive atmosphere of the States Dinner, where Knights and their families wave flags and sing songs from their respective jurisdictions, took on a more somber tone Tuesday evening during the keynote addresses of two archbishops from the Middle East who spoke about the persecution of Christians in their countries, where the faith dates back to the time of the Apostles.
Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda of Erbil, Iraq, and Melkite Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria described in tragic detail how Christians in their lands are being killed, tortured, abused, enslaved and driven from the homes that have been in their families for centuries. They thanked the Knights of Columbus for the $3 million supplied through the Order’s Christian Refugee Relief Fund. The funds are going toward the food, medicine, the building of housing units and education for individuals and families who have lost everything except their faith, the archbishops said.
The two had concelebrated the Opening Mass on Tuesday morning and spoken at a press conference afterward.
In introducing the two speakers, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson pledged the Order’s continued prayers and financial assistance. Citing studies showing that Christians are being targeted in 102 of the 198 countries around the globe, and that 80% of the religious discrimination and persecution is directed toward Christians, he said that Knights will back up their prayers with concerted action to help their fellow Christians.
“In Iraq, some 125,000 Christians have been driven from Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh region,” he said. “In Syria, an estimated 700,000 Christians have been displaced. Our Holy Father has called for action, and the Knights of Columbus has responded.”
Citing the message from Pope Francis to the convention that was read during the afternoon business session, the supreme knight said, “We learned that our Holy Father is ‘profoundly grateful for the efforts of the Knights to raise public attention to this grave humanitarian tragedy.’” Pope Francis has called the situation “genocide,” the supreme knight added.
Archbishop Warda began his address, saying, “I speak to you from the land of ancient Mesopotamia, where we have worshiped as Christians since the Apostles Thomas and Thaddeus first brought us the teachings of Christ nearly 2,000 years ago.”
Some 5,000 families have fled their homes since the persecution began in earnest in the summer of 2014, he said. The have settled as refugees with his Archdiocese of Erbil, which is struggling to provide housing, food, medicine and schooling, with help from Catholic agencies and the local government.
Addressing the Knights and their families, Archbishop Warda said, “Brothers and sisters, you were among the first to extend a life-saving hand to us in our time of peril. You stood at our side, just as Mother Mary and the Beloved Disciple did at the side of the crucified Christ, even while much of the world turned away. … We ask you to continue to be a voice for our suffering.”
Archbishop Jeanbart said that the ancient city of Aleppo, which has been at the center of trade between East and West for centuries, has been reduced to a shambles, and Christians have suffered the worst devastation. The Church has consistently called for peace and the process of a negotiated settlement to end the war that has been raging for four years, he said.
“By God’s grace and with the help of organizations like yours,” said Archbishop Jeanbart, the Catholic Church in Aleppo has been able “to respond in a significant way to the humanitarian needs of our people. But what we really need now is your love and concern toward our suffering Church, which is trying to live and bear witness in this holy land where Christian life began, and where Paul the Apostle was converted, baptized and ordained to the priesthood, and was sent to convert the world. … The support of our Christian brothers and sisters in the West is extremely needed. Are they willing to hear our desperate appeal? We will be eternally grateful if they will.”