Jun 20, 2018
The plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East is shocking to American sensibilities. Because we are only occasionally reminded by the press of the daily horrors Christians in Iraq and Syria face, our attentiveness in prayer and charitable-giving wanes. This coming week, American Catholics are called to renew our concern for those who suffer because of their commitment to their faith here at home and abroad. This is an invitation we shouldn't ignore.
Starting June 22, the feast of saints Thomas More and John Fisher, the Catholic Church in the United States will celebrate Religious Freedom Week. The theme of the week – "Serving Others in God's Love" – is a two-fold call to live faith "as a mission of service and mercy" here at home and "pray for our brothers and sisters who face intense persecution in other parts of the world."
Experts like Tom Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute, have noted that with respect to the global state of international religious freedom "things have gotten worse, not better." Hints of the suffering of Iraqi Christians can be found in the State Department's annual report on International Religious Freedom. According to the report, "Christians reported harassment and abuse at numerous [government-operated] checkpoints" that impeded movement in and around Christian towns on the Ninewa Plain. Even more disconcerting are the reports from Fr. Benedict Kiely, founder of the Nasarean organization. He notes the growing despair among the few remaining Christian families there as promises from U.S. officials have gone unfulfilled.
In October of last year, Vice President Pence announced that the United States would shift aid to help save Christian and Yazidi communities decimated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria from ineffective U.N. relief efforts to the U.S. Agency for International Development. Earlier this month, Pence rebuked the agency for falling far short in their efforts – going so far as to demand the agency's head travel to Iraq to assess issues that could be responsible for delay and report back. Hopefully USAID's feet will continue to be held to the fire so that effective, on-the-ground, humanitarian efforts can successfully access these important funds.