Witnesses at hearing say killing of Middle East Christians 'genocide'

Nabil Mounzer | Catholic News Service/EPA

WASHINGTON -- A congressional hearing Dec. 9 sought a State Department determination of ongoing Christian genocide by the Islamic State, a designation that could produce considerable pressure for additional U.S. military intervention in the region, not just humanitarian aid.

Such a designation also has policy implications for U.S. efforts to restore property and lands taken from the minority groups and for offers of aid and asylum to the victims.

Many hope that when the State Department soon declares, as expected, that the Yezidis, a religious minority in Iraq targeted by the Islamic State since 2014, are facing genocide, it also will produce something stronger than reserving judgment about the militants' treatment of Christians.

On Dec. 4, 30 Christian leaders, including Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, asked for a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry in advance of that declaration. The meeting has yet to be scheduled.

The current push is the result of a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum report, issued in November, that detailed attacks against the Yezidi in the Ninevah province in Iraq. It also concluded that Islamic State militants "perpetrated crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and war crimes" against Christians as well as the Yezidi, Turkmen, Shabak, Sabean-Mandean and Kaka'i peoples.

At the hearing of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, chairman, said of the exclusion of Christians from the declaration, "That's absurd! Such an indication would be contrary to the facts and tragically wrong."

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, citing a House resolution under consideration, said he thought the United States should recognize the situation as genocide "just as we should have recognized the Jews in 1939."

Witnesses at the hearing were careful to focus on the plight of religious minorities without calling for direct American intervention.

"An official government declaration of genocide is an opportunity to bring America's religious communities together to pursue the truth, to support victims and to bear witness to the noble principle of 'never again,'" said Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus.

He added, "The Christian communities have not taken up arms for any side. They have been peaceful."

Chaldean Catholic Bishop Francis Y. Kalabat criticized the Obama administration for citing only atrocities committed against the Yezidis.

"They are horrific. But there are also atrocities of rape, killings, crucifixions, beheadings, hangings that the Syrian and Iraqi Christians have endured and they are intentionally omitted. I hate to say this, but this they do to their shame," said the bishop, who heads the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle, based in Southfield, Michigan.

More than 150,000 Iraqi Christians, Bishop Kalabat said, "are being victimized by the Obama administration in not recognizing their suffering."

In their letter to Kerry calling for a meeting, the Christian leaders said that Pope Francis "has called ISIS' crimes against Christians by their proper name: 'genocide.' The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Christian leaders in the Middle East have done so as well. We agree, and are hopeful that, once you have seen the evidence, you will too."

Under the 1948 Genocide Convention, the United States and other signers are supposed to respond to genocide by investigating and punishing those who are responsible.

Iraqi patriarch: Christian persecution has reached 'critical, violent' point

By Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service

ROME — The survival of Christianity in the Middle East has reached such a critical point that the chances of dialogue and reconciliation in the region are being threatened, said Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad. "The situation is very bad, very critical and always violent," Patriarch Sako told Catholic News Service Dec. 10. "Last year in August, 120,000 Christian people were expelled from their homes, their villages and now they are living in some camps with nothing, but the Church is helping them."

Patriarch Sako was among the keynote speakers at a Dec. 10-12 international conference on Christian persecution in the world. He said that the mass exodus of Christians in the region will only worsen the situation due to growing tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims who "are killing each other." "We Christians, we always bridged the groups and we promoted dialogue, reconciliation and forgiveness," he said.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, stressed the need for Catholics in the West to "speak up for the persecuted Christian minorities in the Middle East" who are often "omitted" and "not mentioned."

"We must not allow them to be forgotten. We must not engage in an unholy silence," he said.

Archbishop Lori said religious persecution and threats to religious liberty are "two sides of one coin" and that it was crucial for Christians in the West to "keep the flame of religious liberty bright in solidarity with our suffering sisters and brothers in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere."

Patriarch Sako also said it was "very wrong" for Western politicians to label actions by the Islamic State as "violent extremism" rather than "Islamic extremism."

"This is not the truth because these groups, ISIS and others, are basing their actions on the holy Quran" and recited sayings of the prophet Muhammad. "Even when they burn (people) they recite" one of these sayings, he said.

"Of course, all Muslims are not fanatics or terrorists, but there are groups that want to establish an Islamic state with Islamic law as it was in the 7th century," he said.

The conference, held at Rome's Pontifical Urbanian University, also included addresses by Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican's foreign minister; Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan of the Syriac Catholic Church; and Andrea Riccardi, founder of the lay community of Sant'Egidio. 

No votes yet