Wit­ness and for­get­ting in the Mid­dle East

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Kathryn Lopez Colum­nist

There’s a “mem­o­ri­cide” hap­pen­ing in the Mid­dle East, as the pres­ence of Chris­tians there di­min­ishes to the point of po­ten­tial ex­tinc­tion. Read­ing a re­port of a fo­rum spon­sored by the Knights of Colum­bus about that topic, I was en­cour­aged to see the men­tion of mem­o­ri­cide did not come from the re­port’s spon­sor, but from El­iz­a­beth Pro­dro­mou, a se­nior fel­low in na­tional se­cu­rity and in­ter­na­tional pol­icy at the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, a think tank on the left. She her­self noted the left-right part­ner­ships that are hap­pen­ing and should hap­pen on this topic. Frankly, the Mid­dle Eastern Chris­tians’ plight is a di­rect re­sult of de­ci­sions made by lead­ers in both ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties in the United States.

Pro­dro­mou also made a point that I hope peo­ple take to heart. There’s al­ways push­back when one talks about Chris­tians in the Mid­dle East. Peo­ple want to know why you only care about Chris­tians. That’s not very Chris­tian, af­ter all. The prob­lem is the Chris­tians are being lost and for­got­ten. Refugee camps aren’t safe for them. In­ter­na­tional aid ef­forts don’t reach them. That’s why the Knights of Colum­bus has be­gun get­ting aid di­rectly to Iraq, caring for the dis­placed, Chris­tians and other­wise. She also noted “The condition of Chris­tians is a bell­wether to the safety and se­cu­rity of other marginal­ized groups.”

On read­ing the word mem­o­ri­cide, I thought of Bashar Matti Warda, the Chaldean arch­bishop of Er­bil, in north­ern Iraq. I talked with him a few times this sum­mer, dur­ing the pope’s visit to Krakow, and later in Toronto, dur­ing the Knights con­ven­tion there. We talked about why hav­ing Chris­tians in the Mid­dle East is so im­por­tant, why nonChris­tians and Chris­tians in the U.S. should care. I thought of it, too, in the con­text of for­mer Is­raeli prime min­is­ter Shi­mon Peres’ pass­ing and that elu­sive peace peo­ple talk about in that re­gion of the world.

“The Mid­dle East needs Je­sus,” Arch­bishop Warda says. And that means, “Chris­tians need to stay. And not just to stay, but to live in a dig­ni­fied way, and to be able to preach and to give Je­sus. In the midst of all this vi­o­lence, Je­sus is needed.”

The most star­tling thing Warda is do­ing is open­ing a univer­sity, the Catholic Univer­sity of Er­bil. “It’s a sign of strength,” he feels. “When peo­ple would de­stroy your churches and your monastery and try to de­stroy you, you have to come up with a clear mes­sage, not just in words that we are here and this is the fu­ture. It’s not just (that) we are here, but we also have some­thing strong here.

“I would like that the Church would have a role in re­build­ing the fu­ture,” he fur­ther ex­plains. I don’t like to see our peo­ple marginal­ized. Being a vic­tim is a sad story, but to ac­cept this sta­tus that you are a vic­tim is a tragedy. So you have to en­cour­age peo­ple to re­ally speak and act and to take an ac­tion, pro­vide also some de­cent jobs for our com­mu­nity.” And it also com­bats mem­o­ri­cide head-on. If you’re cre­at­ing new in­sti­tu­tions, investing in the fu­ture, peo­ple will be forced to rec­og­nize your pres­ence, and for that mat­ter, your past.

Pope Fran­cis has talked a lot about mem­ory and its im­por­tance in iden­tity -- know­ing who we are. He also talks a lot about these suf­fer­ing peo­ple, the per­se­cuted Chris­tians, say­ing that there are more Chris­tians per­se­cuted to­day than in the days of the early Church. If we get to know these peo­ple -- and sup­port them and their ef­forts -- we may even get to know our­selves again, and how we can truly make for great liv­ing, in grat­i­tude for the gift of life and lib­erty.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is se­nior fel­low at the Na­tional Re­view In­sti­tute, ed­i­tor-at-large of Na­tional Re­view On­line and found­ing di­rec­tor of Catholic Voices USA. She can be con­tacted at klopez@na­tion­al­re­view.com.

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