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Bishops urge Congress to condemn persecution of Iraqi Christians

.- The United States Conferences of Catholic Bishops urged Congress on Nov. 29 to pass a resolution condemning religious violence in Iraq, and insisting on better protection for Christians and other minority faiths.

Two representatives of the conference, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany in New York, wrote to the sponsors of House Resolution 1725, in their respective positions as the national chairmen for migration and social justice. They commended the seven sponsors of House Resolution 1725, and called for the act's immediate passage.

Rep. Chris Smith (R – N.J.), a Catholic and an outspoken advocate for international religious freedom, introduced the resolution along with six co-sponsors from both the Republican and Democratic parties. The proposal follows a wave of attacks targeting Iraqi Christians this fall, the worst of which left over 50 worshipers dead at Baghdad's Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation on Oct. 31.

Several Iraqi Christians now living in the U.S.--including a board member of the international charity Iraqi Christians In Need, and a former seminary professor of two priests killed at Our Lady of Salvation– have told CNA that the government is not doing enough to stop an epidemic of violence that has forced more than half of the country's Christians to flee.

Although Rep. Smith voted in favor of the American invasion of Iraq –which Pope John Paul II warned would destabilize the region and lead to sectarian violence– he has also demonstrated a willingness to speak out against cases of abuse or negligence by the ruling Iraqi government. Last year, he co-sponsored a resolution condemning Iraqi security forces' attacks on a group of Iranian refugees.

Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Hubbard praised Rep. Smith's introduction of HR 1725, as a means to “focus attention on the situation of the vulnerable religious communities in Iraq.” They particularly appreciated its call for a “comprehensive plan” to prevent religious persecution, and to increase the representation of Christians and other minority groups in Iraq's government.

The bishops described the attack at Our Lady of Salvation, along with other assaults intended to drive Iraqi Christians from their homes and businesses, as “horrific reminders of the appalling lack of security that has condemned many in Iraq to live in fear.” The resolution expresses concern for Iraqi refugees, urging that barriers to their resettlement or return be lifted.

“We sincerely hope that H. Res. 1725 will be adopted quickly by the House of Representatives as we believe it will help improve security for all Iraqis, especially Christians and other vulnerable minorities,” the bishops wrote, noting that the resolution's proposals would help the troubled country achieve peace and address its refugee crisis.

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