The persecution of Christians around the world, especially in the Middle East, has become a major humanitarian catastrophe. Massive numbers of Christians are being subjected to horrific violence, displacement, sexual slavery, and even death, explicitly because of their faith. In fact, the death of Christians and other religious minorities by the so-called Islamic State has been recently declared genocide. Yet this crisis has not been taken seriously in the West, and few governments are acting in response.
Because of their religion, the majority of the Christians in the Middle East have been forced to flee their homes under the threat of death, while those who remain live in constant fear. In fact, the UN has identified close to 2.5 million internally displaced people across Iraq, and over 12 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria. Almost 4 million have fled Syria as refugees, and over 7.5 million are internally displaced. This is especially concerning since many of these refugees live in camps that do not have adequate resources, they are moving to countries that do not have the ability to sustain them, and they may never again return to their homes.
THE CATHOLIC PERSPECTIVE
The Middle East is a region of immense importance to the Catholic faith. It is the birthplace of Christianity and the land of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Christians have lived in this area since New Testament times and it is home to many ancient Christian communities, including the Assyrians, Melkites, Armenians, Chaldeans, Copts, and Maronites. Without the Christian population, a fundamental part of Middle Eastern identity will be lost and the harms of this loss will be experienced by all.
Unfortunately, the persecution of Christians in the Middle East has become very serious. It is the most extreme form of religious persecution in contemporary times and has resulted in genocide. Those who participate in the genocide participate under the burden of mortal sin. Yet Catholics around the globe, no matter how far away, are impacted by the sufferings of their fellow Christians. Catholics are called to stand in solidarity and help alleviate the plight of persecuted Christians around the world, particularly in the Middle East.
In his address to the members of the diplomatic corps, Pope Francis references fundamentalist terrorism and the throwaway culture as having facilitated the Christian persecution in the Middle East. He also calls upon the international community to take action:
The Middle East is tragically embroiled in other conflicts which have lasted far too long, with chilling repercussions, due also to the spread of fundamentalist terrorism in Syria and in Iraq. This phenomenon is a consequence of the throwaway culture being applied to God. Religious fundamentalism, even before it eliminates human beings by perpetrating horrendous killings, eliminates God himself, turning him into a mere ideological pretext. In the face of such unjust aggression, which also strikes Christians and other ethnic and religious groups in the region – the Yazidis for example – a unanimous response is needed, one which, within the framework of international law, can end the spread of acts of violence, restore harmony and heal the deep wounds which the ongoing conflicts have caused. Here, in your presence, I appeal to the entire international community, as I do to the respective governments involved, to take concrete steps to bring about peace and to protect all those who are victims of war and persecution, driven from their homes and their homeland.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Learn about Christian persecution in the Middle East
-USCCB background information
-Human Rights in the Cradle of Christianity
-Cardinal Dolan: ISIS Carrying out “Targeted Genocide” of Christians
Contact federal officials
-Urge federal officials to support international religious freedom legislation
-Advocate for humanitarian assistance in the Middle East
Fast for persecuted Christians
-The three day fast of Nineveh (Baoutha) is required in the Orthodox Church, and is practiced by Chaldean Catholics, but it can also be practiced by other Christians.
Donate to agencies that help persecuted Christians
-Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA)
-Aid the Church in Need
The sufferings of persecuted Christians can always be eased through prayer. The Knights of Columbus have prepared an excellent prayer for persecuted Christians.
O God of all the nations,
the One God who is and was and always will be,
in your providence you willed that your Church
be united to the suffering of your Son.
Look with mercy on your servants who are
persecuted for their faith in you.
Grant them perseverance and courage to be
worthy imitators of Christ.
Bring your wisdom upon leaders of nations to
work for peace among all peoples.
May your Spirit open conversion for those who
contradict your will, that we may live in harmony.
Give us the grace to be united in truth and freedom,
and to always seek your will in our lives.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us
Download the prayer card.
*The below symbol signifies as "Nazarene." It is what ISIS uses to mark the homes and businesses of Christians. It now is used as symbol of solidarity with the persecuted Christians.