Mid­dle East Chris­tians need help

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Opinion - Kathryn Lopez Colum­nist 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.

This year, as Chris­tians en­ter the holy sea­son of Ad­vent, a coali­tion of Chris­tian aid groups, in con­junc­tion with U.S. Catholic bish­ops, are hold­ing a day of prayer and week of aware­ness fo­cused on the peo­ple who re­main to­day in the re­gion where Je­sus Christ lived, whose fu­ture re­mains un­cer­tain.

The Chaldean arch­bishop of Er­bil, Iraq, Bashar Warda, is once again com­ing to the United States to make a fa­mil­iar plea. He in­sists “the Mid­dle East needs Je­sus Christ,” as he told me the last time I sat down with him. That does not mean he is go­ing to force Chris­tian­ity on Mus­lims and Jews in the re­gion, be­cause that’s not the way of Je­sus. But he does want to ask Amer­i­cans to think dif­fer­ently about the con­flict-torn area -- as home to Chris­tians from the be­gin­ning of Chris­tian­ity.

“You don’t ex­pect Mus­lims to carry on this good mes­sage of Je­sus. So, we have to help the Chris­tians to stay. And not just to stay, but to live in a dig­ni­fied way, and to be able to preach and to give Je­sus. Amid all this vi­o­lence, Je­sus is needed.”

“A vi­o­lent, trou­bled Mid­dle East needs mercy,” Warda told me. “Je­sus is mercy. ... Enough of wars, enough of vi­o­lence, enough of all th­ese atroc­i­ties. We have to help peo­ple live a peace­ful life. There’s no other choice.”

I’ve been think­ing about our in­ter­view as I read a book called “The Per­se­cu­tion and Geno­cide of Chris­tians in the Mid­dle East.” In one of the chap­ters, Jane Adolphe, a pro­fes­sor at Ave Maria School of Law, talks about the sex­ual vi­o­lence that vic­tims of ter­ror­ism, es­pe­cially women and chil­dren, ex­pe­ri­ence. She notes that re­gional and in­ter­na­tional dis­cus­sions of rad­i­cal Is­lam and sex­ual vi­o­lence of­ten leave out the word “Chris­tian,” but Adolphe points to the sex­ual en­slave­ment of Chris­tians by ISIS and notes in par­tic­u­lar the kid­nap­ping of 276 Chris­tian school­girls from their dor­mi­tory beds at gun­point in Nige­ria by Boko Haram, as their school and vil­lage were torched. Some of the girls were sub­se­quently left to die “de­filed and bloody, teth­ered to a tree,” as one jour­nal­ist put it. Oth­ers were “shot for be­ing un­co­op­er­a­tive and were buried in shal­low graves.” Oth­ers preg­nant, “most if not all of them, suf­fer (ing) from psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal in­juries.” As we dis­cuss all kinds of sex­ual as­saults and mis­be­hav­iors here at home, surely we have time to re­mem­ber th­ese girls and oth­ers like them.

Adolphe is quick to note that “(t)he em­pha­sis on Chris­tian vic­tims is not to sug­gest that in some way sex­ual vi­o­lence against them is more egre­gious than sex­ual at­tacks on other groups, but rather to un­der­line their plight given cer­tain mis­con­cep­tions re­gard­ing them cou­pled with the fact that in many in­ci­dents Chris­tians have deeper roots in a spe­cific re­gion than their crim­i­nal op­pres­sors. Sex­ual vi­o­lence has be­come a tac­tic of ter­ror, and it is a mis­take to be­lieve that Chris­tian women and chil­dren en­joy spe­cial pro­tec­tion.”

Sim­i­larly, Arch­bishop Warda, when you talk to him, does not want you to think of his peo­ple as help­less or hope­less vic­tims. “This is the Church of the East. 2,000 years. It’s a per­se­cuted Church. It’s the church of mar­tyrs. What sur­prised me is the care of God, his prov­i­dence that when­ever our peo­ple have asked me, ‘Where is God in all of this?’ I said, ‘Well, he was walk­ing with you all the way and he is among you.’”

“The Chris­tian mar­tyr nar­ra­tive,” Adolphe writes, “is cor­re­lated to the Pas­sion of Christ, the coura­geous per­se­ver­ance that is the path to ev­er­last­ing life: ‘Be glad and re­joice, for your re­ward is great in Heaven,’” as the book of Matthew tells us.

“Hope,” Arch­bishop Warda ex­plains, “is not a con­cept to be un­der­stood. It’s a way of life. If we want to live in a peace­ful com­mu­nity ... we have to work. ... We want to change the fu­ture, it starts now.”

A few good friends around the world would cer­tainly help Arch­bishop Warda and his cause.

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