International Religious Leaders Urge Support for Victims of Genocide
Leaders urged immediate action to support persecuted Christians in Iraq
International religious leaders urged immediate action this week at an event in Washington to support persecuted Christians in Iraq.
Speaking at a news conference on Nov. 28, Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda of Erbil, Iraq, asked Christians in the United States to pray for persecuted Christians in the Middle East. He encouraged his American audience to financially support the Knights of Columbus and other organizations that assist Iraqi Christians and to spread awareness about the difficult situation in the Middle East.
“We are not asking for a privileged life. We are asking for the minimum,” Archbishop Warda said at the news conference, part of the Week of Awareness for Persecuted Christians, whose co-sponsors include the Knights of Columbus. “The minimum would be a sense of security and stability … What we are really requesting is the minimum to live a dignified life.”
Since 2003, millions of Christians have been forced to flee their homes as a result of war and direct persecution from ISIS. In the 14 years since the start of the war and genocide, the number of Christians in Iraq has dropped by 90 percent — leaving somewhere between 175,000 and 300,000.
“It was a really horrible experience, a terrifying experience for the Christians to be asked to convert to Islam, pay the Jizya tax, or leave,” said Archbishop Warda.
Despite this horror, Christians haven’t lost hope that they can one day return to the homes they love and once again have a dignified, secure and peaceful life, he said.
Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, who also spoke at the conference, said this hope teaches Christians in the West to understand “what living the Christian life really entails, adding that it also shows us the power of the “voice of dialogue, a voice of peace and a voice of reconciliation.”
“What we in the West can learn from them,” he said, “is that a community under those circumstances is still able to demonstrate spiritual and moral courage … to persist in their beliefs and conscience.
The Knights of Columbus Christian Refugee Relief Fund has committed about $17 million since 2014 to aid Christians and those in their care in Iraq, Syria and the surrounding region. In this refugee work, the Knights assist those personally working on the ground in Iraq and who experience the situation firsthand, like Archbishop Warda.
“No one has cared for Christians on the ground more closely than Archbishop Warda,” Anderson said, noting that the archbishop has cared for 15,000 displaced Christian families in Erbil, where the majority of Christians in Iraq have resided since ISIS invaded in 2014.
“He has clothed, housed, fed, educated and tended spiritually to this scattered flock,” Anderson said. “Now he is helping as many of them as possible to move back to their homes.”
Also speaking at the news conference were Father Salar Kajo, a parish priest in the Nineveh region of Iraq, and Stephen Rasche, the general counsel for the Archdiocese of Erbil and the president of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, which provides advocacy, financial and managerial contributions to Chaldean Catholic, Syriac Catholic and Syriac Orthodox leaders as they rebuild their communities.
These panelists joined Supreme Knight Anderson in praising the Trump administration’s Oct. 25 announcement promising direct U.S. aid for groups working firsthand with the persecuted Christians.
Archbishop Warda said his diocese would help the American government by ensuring that the aid reaches the communities that need it. This would entail working with the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, which provides the Catholic and Orthodox churches of Iraq help with issues of humanitarian and stabilization assistance.
The announcement comes in time for Christmas, which is a very special celebration for Middle Eastern Christians, as they reside in the place where Christ was born.
Christmas is a very special celebration for Christians in Iraq,” Archbishop Warda shared, “especially when we meditate on the Holy Family who were also displaced on the road to Bethlehem and Egypt.”
He concluded, “Despite all of these difficulties, like the Holy Family, we believe the providence of God has not let us down.”
Kelly Sankowski, Catholic Standard, contributed to this story.