Archive of February 19, 2014

Bill to protect state definitions of marriage introduced

Washington D.C., Feb 19, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have introduced bills bolstering the ability of individual states to declare what they will and will not recognize as a marriage and enforce that definition within state boundaries.

The State Marriage Defense Act of 2014 declares that in a given state, the term marriage will “not include any relationship which that State, territory, or possession does not recognize as a marriage, and the term ‘spouse’ shall not include an individual who is a party to a relationship that is not recognized as a marriage by that State, territory, or possession.”

The bill was introduced Feb. 14 by Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the Senate, and Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas) in the House of Representatives.

It comes in response to February statements by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who announced that the federal government will enforce the Supreme Court’s June 2013 ruling on a federal definition of marriage.

The high court’s ruling overturned parts of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, saying that rather than defining marriage at the federal level, the federal government must simply accept the unions recognized as marriages in each state.    

Holder stated that the Department of Justice will “not use state views as a basis to object to someone in a same-sex marriage” invoking rights to a variety of spousal benefits, even in “states where same-sex marriages are not recognized.”

Holder has also chosen to recognize marriage licenses given to same-sex couples in Utah during a short period in January 2014. The licenses were issued in response to a district judge’s order that “gay marriage” be recognized in the state. However, the Supreme Court then decided to halt the issuing of same-sex “marriage” licenses in Utah while the lower judge’s decision is undergoing appeal.

This joins a string of recent state-level judicial debates over whether states can set their own definitions for marriage.

In its 2013 ruling, the Supreme Court left it up to individual states to define marriage as they see fit. The court said the federal government must recognize the unions that are recognized in each state.

However, the Supreme Court’s ruling has been invoked several times as justification for rejecting state laws defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

In Virginia, a federal court recently struck down a voter-approved constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of man and woman, while Nevada has announced that it will no longer defend its ban on same-sex “marriage.”

In addition, a federal judge ruled Feb. 12 that Kentucky must recognize same-sex “marriages” granted by other states, despite the fact that Kentucky defines marriage as existing between only a man and a woman.

The State Marriage Defense Act would fight against rulings such as that in Kentucky, requiring “respect for State regulation of marriage” throughout the country and affirming states’ rights to define marriage within their borders.

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Starvation, disease threaten South Sudan

Malakal, South Sudan, Feb 19, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Violence in South Sudan has put people in parts of the Diocese of Malakal at risk of starvation, as well as illnesses from a lack of clean water, a local priest has warned.

“The question of food is very urgent. People are on the edge of starvation and, if nothing happens, people will fall into that situation,” Monsignor Roko Taban Mousa told Aid to the Church in Need Feb. 13. “This conflict has been devastating and very inhuman.”

The priest, who is the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Malakal in the country’s southeast, said that the states of Upper Nile, Bor and Unity are “really destroyed.”

He said up to 100,000 people in his diocese are in “urgent need” of food. At least 30,000 homes have been destroyed, with the destruction centered in the main towns of Bor, Malakal and Bentiu.

Rice, maize, beans, sugar, oil and salt are all needed, he said, along with supplies of clean water.

Overall, more than 860,000 South Sudanese are believed to have fled since the armed conflict began Dec. 15 in South Sudan's capital of Juba, following a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar. More than 1,000 have been reported killed, with some attacks being targeted by ethnicity.

Both sides accuse each other of violating a January cease-fire. A presidential spokesman said that “well-equipped” rebel forces attacked in Malakal, while a rebel spokesman accused government forces of attacking rebel positions with the support of the Ugandan army, the BBC reports.

In the Malakal diocese, there has been mass looting and attacks on pharmacies and other medical centers. Malaria and diarrhea are on the rise, Msgr. Taban said. People who have lost access to clean water are drinking from the White Nile River.

He added that the destruction in the region during the 21-year civil war that ended in 2005 was “never as bad” as what the region is suffering now.

The priest stressed the importance of prayer.

“People need to pray for us,” he said. “We feel that sense of solidarity when people pray for us.”

“For those who have suffered so much, knowing that there are people who are praying for them will encourage them and give them back their hope.”

The renewed fighting will likely cause problems for peace talks in Ethiopia as well. The second phase of the talks began last week, though there was uncertainty about whether seven prominent politicians whom the South Sudan government released would participate, the BBC says. The leaders, allies of Machar, had been detained in December for an alleged coup attempt.


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Cardinal-elect Mueller, a bridge between two Popes

Vatican City, Feb 19, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, who will be made a cardinal Feb. 22, is a personal friend to Benedict XVI and has forged a good relationship with Pope Francis.

The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was appointed to his position by Benedict in 2012, and was confirmed in the role by Pope Francis shortly after his election as Bishop of Rome.

The native German was born in 1947, and studied philosophy and theology in his hometown, Mainz, as well as Munich and Freiburg. He received a doctorate in 1977 with a thesis on The Church, the sacraments, and the thought of the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, having studied under Fr. Karl Lehmann, who later became Mainz’ bishop.

He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Mainz in 1978, and served in several parishes while continuing his studies. He became a professor of dogmatic theology at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in 1986.

Archbishop Mueller was consecrated as Bishop of Regensburg in 2002. He chose for his episcopal motto “Dominus Iesus,” a quote from St. Paul’s letter to Romans and also the title of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s declaration on the unicity and salvific universality of Christ, which was issued two years prior by the then-prefect, Joseph Ratzinger.

Archbishop Mueller was appointed a member of the congregation in 2002, and so was able to get acquainted with the modus operandi of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Ratzinger: characterized by much collegiality and much debate, while the condemnations were few, and combined with documents that also highlight the positive aspects of some theories.

As Bishop of Regensburg, he engaged in the new evangelization, and worked on ecumenical relations with both the Russian Orthodox and Lutherans. He has written more than 400 works on dogmatic theology, ecumenism, revelation, hermeneutics, and holy orders.

When in 2012 Benedict XVI had to replace Cardinal William Levada as prefect of congregation he had once headed, he nominated Archbishop Mueller.

As soon as rumors about the possible appointment broke out, a series of leaks were spread to undermine the people’s trust in Archbishop Mueller.

The leaks contained excerpts of his books, allegedly showing that he does not belief in transubstantiation or the perpetual virginity of Mary, and also displaying his supposedly unorthodox ecumenism and relations with Protestantism. But the excerpts were presented completely void of their context, and thus do not convey the doctrine prefect’s ideas.

Archbishop Mueller was also attacked because of his friendship with Gustavo Gutierrez, one of the fathers of liberation theology.

Benedict has been so pleased with the archbishop’s work that he has charged him with editing his collected works, and in 2008 the archbishop established the Pope Benedict XVI Institute to help publish the works and to study them.

As a personal friend of Benedict XVI, some thought that he would not be confirmed as prefect by Pope Francis. But three days after his election, Pope Francis did confirm Archbishop Mueller as prefect of the Vatican’s office for doctrine.

Archbishop Mueller knows Latin America well, given his frequent trips to Peru and his friendship with Gutierrez.

Since Pope Francis’ election, the prefect’s time has been largely marked by months of back-and-forth between himself and bishops from his native Germany, who have suggested that divorced and remarried Catholics could receive Communion under certain circumstances.

Archbishop Mueller has consistently denied this possibility, while affirming the importance of personal pastoral care for such persons.

Having been a friend of Benedict XVI, Archbishop Mueller has also cultivated a relationship with Pope Francis -- the two had lunch at the prefect’s home Nov. 18, and so the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is a bridge between two Popes.

Archbishop Mueller is among 19 men who will be given the red hat of a cardinal at the Vatican later this month, and he is one of three who join the cardinalate by virtue of their office in the Roman Curia.

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Catholic marriage preparation needs to better 'evangelize'

Denver, Colo., Feb 19, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The head of a major U.S. missionary apostolate says that evangelization – not simple catechesis – is needed to prepare Catholics for good marriages by putting Jesus Christ at the center of their lives.

“We have got to recognize the difference between evangelization and catechesis,” Curtis Martin, co-founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, told CNA Feb. 14.

“There is an attempt, by some of the best marriage preparation people in the country, to give all the catechesis about marriage that they possibly can, and they haven't evangelized on the importance of Christian marriage.”

“You're actually filling them with information but they don't know why they need it.”

Catholics preparing for marriage should have “actually encountered Christ and have chosen to make him the center of their lives, so that this is the driving force in their life and the most important relationship.”

“That is fundamental,” he said.

Martin and his wife Michaelann began the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, known as FOCUS, in 1998. The student missionary organization now has more than 350 missionaries on 83 U.S. campuses.

Martin, a father of nine, has served as a consultor to the Pontifical Council on the New Evangelization since 2011. He said that changes are needed for marriage preparation in the Catholic Church.

“Nobody wants to marry badly. But our marriage preparation is not engaging, it is not compelling, it is not effective, despite the fact that we’ve got some of the most sincere, wonderful people trying to do it.”

Marriage preparation is often perceived as “mostly onerous” and something that must be done in order to marry in the church one’s parents want.

Martin suggested that marriage preparation could be a winning moment to introduce people to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and explain “why the Catholic faith can make all the difference in the marriage they’re hoping to enter into, and succeed in.”

While it is possible to have a lifelong marriage without supernatural grace, Martin said, “to really be able to love one another with the love of God requires that you have actually known and experienced the love of God.”

“The Church’s teachings about marriage are actually impossible to live without God’s grace,” he said.

Martin stressed the importance of what he called “remote preparation” for marriage, forming young people even before they are in relationships.

“Once you're in love, you’re not going to listen to principles that are going to cause you to break up with that person.”

Rather, knowing these principles will help guide young people about who they fall in love with and help their chances of marrying well, he said.

“Our issue here is that most people have not encountered Jesus Christ and been able to accept him as the Lord of their life. That’s what the Church exists to do: to evangelize,” Martin said. “Only after that are we going to learn how to follow Christ.

“We’re actually meant to live with God at the center of our lives,” he said. “Jesus comes and restores marriage to its original state, which was meant to be lived in the state of grace.”

Martin also discussed the problems of divorce and remarriage. He suggested that the high number of annulments in the Catholic Church in the U.S. is due to the fact that the Church is witnessing marriages that are not valid.

At the same time, he noted that those who are validly married but in a sexual union with someone else, are living in “an objective state of adultery.”

This is “according to Jesus Christ, not the Catholic Church,” he added.

“The Church is not the final judge of marriage. She is the arbiter. God has established the rules, we are not free to change them. We are free to live by them and implement them.”

Martin believes that Pope Francis is trying to address the “disaster” of “far too many broken marriages” through pastoral care.

“There’s an enormous number of people, millions of millions of people, who live in deep pain every day, because of the breakdown of family. They are loved by God, and we need to manifest that love.”

He said the Church is considering how to be “much more sensitive” to those who are suffering and how to help repair the situation.

Martin said FOCUS has taught its students and staffers “how to be brothers and sisters, how to love people in a non-sexual way.”

“That’s radically important,” he said. “That’s why, as far as we can tell, we’ve watched over 100 staff marriages,” he said. In 15 years and 100 marriages, he said, there has been “not a single divorce.”

He said staffers “learned to love each other as brothers and sisters first, then romance came.” This meant they could receive the sacrament of marriage with “a certain kind of foundation.”

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Elderly nun sentenced for nuclear site break-in

Knoxville, Tenn., Feb 19, 2014 (CNA) - Sister Megan Rice of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus has been sentenced to nearly three years in prison for breaking into and causing damage at a Tennessee nuclear weapons manufacturing facility.

The 83-year-old nun was accompanied in the July 2012 break-in by Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed, all of whom are members of Transform Now Plowshares. The three had been convicted May 8, 2013, and received their sentences Feb. 18.

Walli and Boertje-Obed were sentenced to more than five years in prison, as they had longer criminal histories.

Sr. Mary Ann Buckley, leader of the American Province of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, said Feb. 18 that the order is “deeply saddened” by the length of Sr. Rice’s sentence.

“While the Society respects the judicial process and the court’s decision, we had hoped and prayed that Sister Megan’s age, health, and decades of service would have been considered.”

At her sentencing, Sr. Rice had asked the court to “please have no leniency with me.”

Sr. Buckley said Sr. Rice “has dedicated her life to helping others and working toward a more just, compassionate, and harmonious world.”

On July 28, 2012, the three protestors cut through security fences to enter the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, which enriches and stores uranium for nuclear weapons.

They hung banners and crime-scene tape, and hammered small chunks off a wall, spending about two hours in the complex before being approached by a guard.

They also sprayed baby bottles, filled with human blood, on the wall of the facility.

“Sister Megan and two others engaged in a peaceful protest, offering prayer for the thousands who have lost their lives as a result of nuclear weapons,” Sr. Buckley wrote in her statement.

Boertje-Obed said the human blood they sprayed on the facility was symbolic of “the blood of children (that) is spilled by these weapons.”

The three perpetrators said while testifying, according to The Associated Press, that they have no remorse for their act and were pleased to have reached such a secure part of the security complex.

Sr. Rice said “my regret was I waited 70 years. It is manufacturing that can only cause death.”

The three all indicated they felt “guided by divine forces,” the AP reported.

The statement also said that Sr. Rice believes, “with the Church,” that “nuclear weapons are incompatible with the peace so desperately needed throughout the world.” The religious community said at the time of Sr. Rice’s conviction that it does “not condone criminal activity.”

The order “has a history of standing up for those in need,” Sr. Buckley added. “We are committed to helping women, children and families by providing educational, spiritual, and social programs across four continents.”

Since the 2012 breach, security officials have introduced numerous security changes at the Oak Ridge facility.

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Pope Francis: Be courageous, go to confession

Vatican City, Feb 19, 2014 (CNA) - During his Wednesday audience, Pope Francis encouraged the pilgrims filling St. Peter's Square to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.

"Everyone say to himself: ‘When was the last time I went to confession?’ And if it has been a long time, don’t lose another day! Go, the priest will be good. And Jesus, (will be) there, and Jesus is better than the priests - Jesus receives you. He will receive you with so much love! Be courageous, and go to confession,” urged the Pope on Feb. 19.

Acknowledging a popular objection to the sacrament, Pope Francis noted, “someone can say, ‘I confess my sins only to God.’ Yes, you can say to God, ‘forgive me,’ and say your sins. But our sins are also against our brothers, against the Church. This is is why it is necessary to ask forgiveness of the Church and of our brothers, in the person of the priest.”

"While the celebration of the sacrament is personal, it is rooted in the universality of the Church," which "accompanies us on the path of conversion," he explained.

“Forgiveness is not something we can give ourselves,” cautioned the Pope. “One asks forgiveness, one asks it of another person, and in confession, we ask forgiveness from Jesus.”

“Forgiveness is not a result of our efforts, but is a gift. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit who showers us with mercy and grace that pours forth unceasingly from the open heart of Christ crucified and risen.”

The Pontiff went on to recognize that many people feel ashamed at the idea of confessing their sins and might say, “but Father, I am embarrased!”

“Even embarrassment is good. It’s healthy to have a bit of shame... it does us good, because it makes us more humble.”

“Don’t be afraid of confession,” Pope Francis stressed. “When someone is in line for confession he feels all these things - even shame - but then, when he finishes confessing, he leaves (feeling) free, great, beautiful, forgiven, clean, happy.”

“The sacrament of reconciliation is a sacrament of healing,” he pointed out.

“When I go to confession, it’s for healing: healing the soul, healing the heart because of something that I did to make it unwell.”

The Pope pointed to the biblical story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man, which expresses the “profound link” between “forgiveness and healing,” since “the Lord Jesus is revealed at the same time as the physician of soul and body.”

He also recounted the parable of the prodigal son, who sought his father’s forgiveness and was welcomed home with open arms.  

“But I say to you,” he stressed to the many pilgrims, “every time we go to confession, God embraces us.”

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Cardinal Sandri confirmed as head of Eastern Churches congregation

Vatican City, Feb 19, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis appointed members of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches Feb. 19, confirming both Cardinal Leonardo Sandri as prefect, and Archbishop Cyril Vasil as secretary.

Both had been initially appointed to their roles by Benedict XVI: Cardinal Sandri in 2007; and Archbishop Vasil, who is a Jesuit and was ordained a priest of the Slovakian Catholic Church, in 2009.

The Congregation for the Oriental Churches “considers those matters … affecting the Catholic Oriental Churches.” There are 22 Eastern Catholic Church in union with the Pope and the Latin rite; the largest of these is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, with more than 5 million members.

Pope Francis renewed as members of the congregation both Coptic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak of Alexandria and Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako of Babylon.

The Pope nominated as members Archbishop William Skurla of the Ruthenian Archeparchy of Pittsburgh; Archbishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo of Belo Horizonte, who is also Bishop of the Brazilian Faithful of the Eastern Rites; Archbishop Mario Poli of Buenos Aires, who is also Bishop of the Argentine Faithful of the Eastern Rites; Cardinal Agostino Vallini, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome; Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State; Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster; Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville; and Bishop Joseph Werth of Transfiguration of Novosibirsk.

Those confirmed as members were Archbishop Berhaneyesus Souraphiel, of the Ethiopian Archeparchy of Addis Abeba; Archbishop Jan Babjak of the Slovakian Archdiocese of Presov; Bishop Antoine Audo of the Chaldean Eparchy of Aleppo; Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem; Cardinals Christoph Schonborn, Jean-Louis Tauran, Tarcisio Bertone, Dionigi Tettamanzi, Angelo Scola, Marc Ouellet, Andre Vingt-Trois, Angelo Bagnasco, Reinhard Marx, Timothy Dolan, William Levada, Francesco Monterisi, Kurt Koch, Fernando Filoni, and Edwin O'Brien; Archbishop Piero Marini; and Bishop Peter Burcher of Reykjavik.

Pope Francis nominated as consultors Bishop Dimitrios Salachas, Greek Apostolic Exarch of Greece; and the priests Massimo Pampaloni, Philippe Luisier, Michael Kuchera, Lorenzo Lorusso, Georges Ruyssen, Thomas Pott, Pablo Gefaell, G. Ronald Roberson, Paul Pallath, Adam Konstanc, Guido Marini, and George Gallaro.

Those confirmed as consultors to the Congregation for the Oriental Churches were Msgr. Christo Proykov; Hanna Alwan; Borys Gudziak; Fr. Michel Van Parys; Msgr. Michel Berger; Msgr. Osvaldo Raineri; Fr. Jan Sergiusz Gajek; Msgr. Natale Loda; and Archpriest Vasyl Hovera.

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Pontifical academy to address science, ethics of aging

Vatican City, Feb 19, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - As the global number of elderly increases, one Vatican advisory group is meeting this week to discuss the many challenges associated with aging and its often accompanying disabilities.

The Pontifical Academy for Life's general assembly will consider issues surrounding “the scientific, the medical...and ethical issues concerning these specific problems coming from the situation of many elderly people to become disabled,” explained the group's chancellor, Father Pegoraro Renzo.

“Of course, in Europe, in the United States, and in the Western world the problem is more relevant and urgent, because there is a (larger) percentage of people that is older,” he told CNA on Feb. 18.

“But also in developing countries, especially in South America, or parts of Asia, it’s becoming a problem, because life is prolonging, also in that context... to manage, to care, to cure, to care, to offer support and facilities for these people, it is a problem also there. So we try to offer an international overview of the situation.”

“It is a challenge for the patients, for the people, for the family, but (also) for the entire society and the Church,” he added.

The academy's two-day workshop for all its members will have both theoretical and practical elements. Participants will “try to understand the scientific and medical aspect of aging and disability, (and) which causes, effects, are important (in order) to prevent or to manage this issue.”

However, “the more specific focus is on the concrete impact on the life, on the lives of the people and the families, and the communities, and the Church,” noted Fr. Renzo.

The group hopes to find “an ethical solution” to the many problems concerned with a decline at the end of life, especially in the face of a culture that tends to discriminate against or marginalize the elderly and dependent.

Culturally, “there’s the idea that they are a problem – only a problem for society,” due to the “cost of social care,” the chancellor observed.

The Pontifical Academy for Life, which was established in 1994 by John Paul II to be a kind of institute for studying the fields of “biology, medicine, and ethical issues,” seeks to offer a response to what Pope Francis has called a “throw-away culture” which fails to recognize the inherent dignity of every human life.

The Vatican academy is not interested in merely opposing “a culture of death,” clarified Fr. Renzo, but rather seeks to positively “encourage and improve a culture of life.”

“The first message”of the Feb. 20-21 workshop is to convey “a culture of respect and dignity for elderly people,” said Fr. Renzo. “The second is an ethical issue: in which way to offer this respect.”

For instance, the academy will consider questions such as “what is the criteria of proportionate treatment” for an illness like dementia which will “guarantee respect”for those afflicted?

“In the Catholic Church we have a long tradition of institutions, hospitals, nursing homes - with the very important work of charity and solidarity (in order) to offer good care and good companionship to all these patients,” Fr. Renzo observed.

The role of the academy, in this case, is to consider “the ethical issues” as well as “the social, economical, (and) organizational aspects” of caring for the elderly in order to offer “good answers, good structures, institutions, and the facilities for these patients and their families.”

Presentations on various related topics, such as “Autonomy, Consent and Cognitive Impairment” and “Disabilities through Chronic Illness” will be given by experts in different disciplines.

The workshop will be held this Thursday and Friday at the Pontifical Augustinianum University just down the street from the Vatican.

Alan Holdren contributed to this report.

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Filmmakers draw attention to plight of Middle East Christians

Washington D.C., Feb 19, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Christians in the West must take seriously their duty to support those suffering in the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, said a team of filmmakers working on a documentary about the subject.  

“Christianity began in the East, and Christians in the West seem to have forgotten that fact,” said Drew Bowling, a Washington, D.C.-based writer working on the documentary project.

“It's tragic to see Christianity in the East under threat, and see Christians in the West who are not under such threats ignore it or fail to do what they can,” he told CNA in a Feb. 4 interview, noting that many in the West simply do not realize the challenges being faced elsewhere.

Bowling is working alongside writer Andrew Doran and filmmaker Jordan Allott to create a documentary about the violence and discrimination facing Christians in the Middle East.

Allott said he wants to bring attention to the matter and to put “pressure” on lawmakers in the West “to stand up for Christians.” He hopes viewers of the documentary will “feel a connection with the subjects,” and want “to help them in a time of need.”

“Our faith is what it is here because of what their ancestors did there,” Allott said, stressing the link between Christianity in the West and its roots in the Middle East.

The filmmakers hope to demonstrate the charity, resilience and determination of Christians in the region. Allott pointed to one man they met in Beirut, Lebanon, named George Maalouly. An Orthodox Christian, Maalouly was actively engaged in the Christian community, praying the Rosary and hosting prayer groups in his house.

Maalouly also helped those in need, regardless of faith, Allott said. He housed two Muslim Syrian refugees in a van, giving them electricity and food, and he “even came by with Christmas presents for the children.”

This example is not isolated, Bowling said, pointing to the charity of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Lebanon’s Beqaa valley, who work to shelter and feed Syrian refugees.

Many of the refugee camps have become sites for increasing extremism, due to radical rebels, lack of resources and dire situations; however, these sisters and other Christians caring for largely Muslim refugee populations “provide filters for radicalization” and an example of interreligious cooperation.

“Despite the fact that they are the ones marginalized, they are the ones serving Muslims” who are injured or displaced by conflicts in the region, Doran said. “They are bridges to peace for their own communities and for the outside world.”

Bowling said that he was particularly struck by the resilience of a 12-year-old boy named Elias, who he met at the Turkey-Syria border. While walking to school one day, Elias was “seized from behind, blindfolded and gagged” by al-Qaida affiliates. While he was later rescued, the kidnapping, combined with the loss of other family members in the Syrian civil war, compelled his family to flee the country.

Elias and his family are “now living in this Turkish refugee camp, completely impoverished, with no money to go anywhere,” Bowling said. But “in spite of all these hardships, they remain hopeful they can one day return to their homeland in Syria.”

“Elias and his family want to remain in the Middle East because they believe that is the homeland of Christians,” he said, adding that many Christians he talked to in the region “did not want to emigrate.”

“They have a history,” with a multi-generational attachment to the land, he explained. “The idea of them disappearing entirely is heart wrenching.”

But after years of violence and political unrest, Christians who choose to remain in the region face mounting difficulties. Bowling recalled that the day he arrived in Lebanon, al-Qaida affiliates “burned to the ground the most ancient Orthodox library in Tripoli.”

“They talked about the flames coming from that library as being symbolic of the fate of all the Christians in that country,” saying that the Christians would face damnation and hellfire for their beliefs, he said.

Doran described an encounter with an Armenian Syrian woman named Sita that has been “seared” into his memory. Now living after her husband was shot by snipers in the streets of Aleppo, Sita looked at Doran with a “face seized with anguish,” pleading, “Help me.”

“That just stayed with me,” he said, explaining his “feeling of frustration, anger and helplessness” at being unable to aid the suffering woman.

Doran hopes Christians in the West will push their lawmakers to enact policies that help to protect their brethren in the Middle East.

“Christians in that part of the world and moderate Muslims are baffled that our government has taken the policies it has,” he said, suggesting that Western policies supporting some revolutions and political groups have tended “to have predictable and negative consequences for Christians and moderate Muslims.”

U.S. foreign policy “tends to blunder to the benefit of extremist groups” toward supporting governments and institutions that “contribute to the gradual erosion” of a Christian presence in the Middle East, he said. “On a basic human rights level we should not be giving money to governments essentially enforcing apartheid” against Christian populations, he added.

Doran encouraged Western Christians not only to get involved in foreign policy concerns, but to reach out the Christians in the Middle East, particularly through their churches. While safety is important, he added, traveling to the Middle East is an opportunity for great witness on the behalf of Christians in the region - especially for clergy members.

“This is a part of the world that still respects men of the cloth, even if they're of a different faith,” he said, encouraging clergy members to speak about persecution.

Observing a silver lining amid the violence confronting Middle East Christians, Doran said that the oppression has created a “growing sense of a single identity” that transcends old theological and historical disputes between different Christian denominations. He also said that he had witnessed “moderate Muslims identifying with Christians” in the region.

Despite the current turmoil and persecution, Doran predicted that “there will never be a Middle East without Christians.” He believes the Christian communities in the region will “absolutely survive” the violence and oppression they are currently facing.

“The only question that remains is how much suffering are they going to endure in the next 25 years.”

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