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"Who Cares?" - Thoughts on Christians in the Middle East

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

“It has always seemed to me possible, and even probable, that there would be a resurrection of Islam and that our sons or our grandsons would see the renewal of that tremendous struggle between the Christian culture and what has been for more than a thousand years its greatest opponent.” Hilaire Belloc, The Great Heresies, 1938

In mid-August all of the European bishops’ conferences (Council of European Bishops, CCEE) issued a joint open letter calling on the United Nations to make urgent “decisions to put an end to the atrocious actions against Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq.” Their letter was sent to all European governments and to the U.N. in response to the rapid expansion of territory held by ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) and its attempt to wipe out Christianity in the region.

Ancient tradition says the city of Mosul in Iraq has been a home for Christians since apostolic times, when St. Thomas brought the Good News there. Or rather, Mosul was a home to Christianity. Now, like most of Iraq, Mosul is almost empty of Christians.   They have been forced to flee, convert to Islam or be murdered. According to the International Catholic Migration Commission (www.ICMC.net) on June 22 of this year not a single Catholic Mass was celebrated in Mosul, for the first time in at least 1,600 years.

Earlier this year Christian leaders in Raqqa, Syria were given three choices: sign a document pledging to submit to Islamic domination with draconian requirements, convert to Islam, or “face the sword.” Every day the news is filled with more grim stories: chaos in Libya, the kidnapping of Christian schoolgirls in Nigeria by Boko Haram extremists, the long civil war against Christians in Sudan (now South Sudan), and recently, the shocking beheadings of two American journalists by ISIS.

We are witnessing the latest chapter in the centuries-old struggle between Islam and Christianity (and by extension, the secular West). My purpose is not to paint all followers of Islam with a broad brush, nor to suggest any particular path of foreign policy. Rather, it is to highlight ongoing historical tension between the Christian West and Islam as a backdrop for current international events. Over the centuries threats, attacks and counter-attacks have come from nations waging war, state sponsored terrorists, splinter groups, radical individual jihadists.

As any student of history will be quick to point out, atrocities have been inflicted by both sides in this struggle, and sometimes against their own people. The sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade and “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia two decades ago are ugly reminders.

The conquest of Europe has been a recurring goal of militant Moslems: parts of the Iberian Peninsula were under Moslem control from 711 until late in the 15th century, with other attempted expansions into Europe during those centuries.

In 1571, less than 200 years after the Reconquest of Spain, Ottoman Turks set their sights on the Christian kingdoms of the central Mediterranean: Greece, Sicily, Venice, Rome. Pope St. Pius V rallied the kings and princes of Christendom, and a multinational fleet was hastily assembled.

Pope Pius, a Dominican, called upon the faithful to pray the Rosary, hold processions and invoke the intercession of the Blessed Mother to support the European fleet. On the first Sunday of October the European fleet prevailed in the Gulf of Lepanto off the coast of Greece. Many historians contend that this victory saved Europe from Islamic domination. Pope Pius called for an annual celebration honoring Our Lady of Victory, and his successor, Pope Gregory XIII, established October 7 as the feast of the Holy Rosary.

But the quest for European domination continued. Little more than 100 years later, Vienna was under siege and “was almost taken and only saved by the Christian army under the command of the King of Poland” in September, 1683. (Hilaire Belloc, The Great Heresies)

In 1840, some 813 Catholics were massacred by Ottoman soldiers in the city of Otranto in the “heel” of the boot of Italy. In recent years there have been multiple attacks in Europe by terrorists, and certainly we remember the dark day of September 11, 2001 in our own country.

Now, Christianity is being annihilated in the lands of Abraham and the early Catholic Church. In a recent op-ed in the Boston Herald, Raymond Flynn (former Ambassador to the Holy See) asked questions on the minds of many as Christians are slaughtered: “Who cares? Where is the moral outrage in America?” 

How can we show we care about our persecuted brothers and sisters in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the Middle East?

  • Pray for those who suffer, for those who have died, for religious freedom, and for wise decisions by our leaders.
  • Fast in solidarity with those who are persecuted.
  • Give alms to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, www.cnewa.org, (a Vatican aid organization), or Catholic Relief Services, www.crs.org.  The Knights of Columbus have a matching gift program to raise emergency humanitarian aid for persecuted Christians and other minorities in Iraq and the region.www.kofc.org/Iraq 

Speak out for those who have been silenced.