Bring a Christian town back to life

Photo by the Diocese of Erbil via K of C

In a letter to Christians in the Middle East in 2014, Pope Francis wrote of a "newer and disturbing terrorist organization, of previously unimaginable dimensions, which has perpetrated all kinds of abuses and inhuman acts. It has particularly affected a number of you, who have been brutally driven out of your native lands, where Christians have been present since apostolic times."

He also wrote of other religious and ethnic groups who are experiencing persecution and the effects of these conflicts and called for a commitment to prayer and concrete efforts to help in any way possible.

The Christian presence is important for the Middle East. Though they are small group, they play a big role in the land where Christianity was born and first spread.

"You are like leaven in the dough. Even more than the many contributions which the Church makes in the areas of education, health care and social services, which are esteemed by all, the greatest source of enrichment in the region is the presence of Christians themselves, your presence," Pope Francis wrote in the letter.

In May, the first World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians was held in Washington, D.C., with Vice President Mike Pence giving an address. He said that throughout the world, no people of faith today face greater hostility or hatred than the followers of Christ. In more than 100 countries spread to every corner of the globe — from Iran to Eritrea, Nigeria to North Korea — more than 215 million Christians confront intimidation, imprisonment, forced conversion, abuse, assault, or worse, for holding to the truths of the Gospel. And nowhere is this onslaught against our faith more evident than in the very ancient land where Christianity was born, Pence said.

Since 2014, the Knights of Columbus' Christian Refugee Relief Fund has donated more than $13 million for humanitarian assistance primarily in Iraq, Syria and the surrounding region. The Knights' documentation of ISIS' atrocities and advocacy on behalf of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East were decisive in U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's 2016 genocide declaration for Christians and other religious minorities in the region. This designation was reaffirmed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month.

Pope Francis asked for concrete efforts, and now we have one of those efforts.

The Knights of Columbus will raise and donate $2 million to save Karamdes (Karemlash), a predominantly Christian town on the Nineveh Plain of Iraq which was liberated from ISIS late last year. The Knights' action will move hundreds of families from minority religious communities in Iraq – especially Christians – back to the homes from which they were evicted by ISIS in the summer of 2014.

The Christian population has fallen from as many as 1.5 million in 2003 to only about 200,000 today, according to the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Irbil, which cares for the largest Christian population still in Iraq and the largest community of displaced Christians in the country (12,000 families). The archdiocese now faces a shortfall of $600,000 a month in food aid.

While ISIS has been pushed back in many places and Christian towns have been liberated, people have not been able to return because there is not enough money for reconstruction or security.

We can help by donating to the fund and by praying for those who are being persecuted and killed for their faith. We must act quickly if Christianity is to survive in the Middle East. Minority Christian communities could face extinction without our help. 

>> To help

The Knights of Columbus Christian Relief Fund provides humanitarian support for persecuted Christian communities. Donations assist Christians and other religious minorities, primarily from Iraq and Syria. One hundred percent of the money raised will be used for the project. The newest effort seeks to raise $2 million to save a Christian town in Iraq, moving families back into homes from which they were evicted by ISIS in the summer of 2014. Donations may be made at www.christiansatrisk.org or by calling (800) 694-5713. Donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. 

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