Witness and forgetting in the Middle East
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.