The Catholic Church and the Persecution of Christians in the Middle East: Can the Vatican help?

Source: http://nationalinterest.org/ feature/the-catholic-church- the-persecution-christians- the-middle-10371?page=show

Cheryl Benard,  May 6, 2014

“……In Iraq, Syria and Egypt, Christians face a relentless campaign of murder, kidnapping, arson, bombings and persecution. In Turkey, Lebanon and Palestine, the anti-Christian violence is less overt, but there, too, intimidation and discrimination have fueled a huge exodus. Islamic extremists and fundamentalists are determined to drive Christianity out of its birthplace in the Middle East—and they are succeeding. A few decades ago, 20 percent of the Middle East was Christian; today that is down to 4 percent. Iraq alone has lost 80 percent of its Christians during just the last ten years. By any standard, this is ethnic cleansing.

But the numbers, however dramatic, can’t express the human cost. The sectarian war and the random violence in Iraq and Syria are bad enough, but Christians face special targeting. Their churches are regularly mortared and firebombed, congregants killed by suicide bombers or assassins just for attending mass. In Iraq, I met priests who had been kidnapped, tortured and beaten. Their teeth had been knocked out with revolver handles and their spines broken with hammer blows, until finally, a ransom was scraped together and they were dumped on the street half-dead.

And what is Rome doing about all of this? Not very much. One almost gets the impression that religious persecution is too messy for today’s modern, ecumenical church……”

With great fanfare, before a crowd of 800,000, with 1,000 bishops and 150 cardinals in attendance and a TV audience of several millions, the Vatican recently added two new saints to its pantheon. Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II were canonized for having effected medical miracles that saved the lives of three women who had begged their intercession for, respectively, Parkinson’s, internal hemorrhages, and a brain disease.

Those were, obviously, marvelous outcomes for these three individuals. But pull back the lens just a bit and the mood of jubilation appears ill placed. In light of what is happening to Catholics in the Middle East, the crowd should have been praying for miracles on an entirely different scale.

In Iraq, Syria and Egypt, Christians face a relentless campaign of murder, kidnapping, arson, bombings and persecution. In Turkey, Lebanon and Palestine, the anti-Christian violence is less overt, but there, too, intimidation and discrimination have fueled a huge exodus. Islamic extremists and fundamentalists are determined to drive Christianity out of its birthplace in the Middle East—and they are succeeding. A few decades ago, 20 percent of the Middle East was Christian; today that is down to 4 percent. Iraq alone has lost 80 percent of its Christians during just the last ten years. By any standard, this is ethnic cleansing.

But the numbers, however dramatic, can’t express the human cost. The sectarian war and the random violence in Iraq and Syria are bad enough, but Christians face special targeting. Their churches are regularly mortared and firebombed, congregants killed by suicide bombers or assassins just for attending mass. In Iraq, I met priests who had been kidnapped, tortured and beaten. Their teeth had been knocked out with revolver handles and their spines broken with hammer blows, until finally, a ransom was scraped together and they were dumped on the street half-dead.

And what is Rome doing about all of this? Not very much. One almost gets the impression that religious persecution is too messy for today’s modern, ecumenical church. Consider how it has sanitized sainthood. Formerly, the path to sainthood was martyrdom—you became a saint by enduring agonizing trials and torments before being killed in horrific ways, all the while holding firm to your faith. Today you can live out your life in comfort, die a natural death, then heal an ailing person from beyond the grave, and be declared a saint. That’s much more civilized, but it obscures the harsh fact that Christians are still being hunted, tormented and killed in horrific ways, yet are heroically holding steadfast to the faith. Instead of being an inspiration, one feels that they are seen as a sort of embarrassing blemish on the pretty contemporary face of interfaith dialogue.

Consider, for instance, the statement by the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries, in which they finally ventured to address the issue at all. Well yes, they acknowledge therein, Christians are being persecuted…although maybe the word persecuted is too strong…True, they are being murdered and driven from their homes…but they can take comfort from the words of Jesus, “happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”…which is not to say, of course, that Christians are necessarily righteous! …waffle, waffle, waffle.

‘Persecuted’ is too strong a term? Tell that to the parents who lost their children when a convoy of school buses, ferrying students from the Christian area of Nineveh to their classes in Mosul, was ambushed. Tell that to the survivors of the massacre at Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad, who—with the words “you are all infidels”—were taken hostage by armed gunmen who went on to execute fifty-eight of the worshipers, including small children. Tell that to the hospital director in Mosul who was told that her position is too high for a Christian and she and her family would be killed if she did not voluntarily resign. Tell that to the Christians in the rebel-held Syrian city of Raqqa, who have been informed that they are now “dhimmis” and must pay a special tax for the privilege of staying alive in “Muslim lands”, though they may not maintain churches or give any public sign of Christian observance.

The situation in Syria and Iraq is volatile, explosive and tragic, and remedies are not readily at hand. Still, there is much that Rome could and must do for its own.

Before we begin that discussion, though, we must remember that the Vatican is not just a prayerful, spiritual place—it is a political powerhouse of the first order. It commands an army of top-notch analysts and diplomats. Its diplomatic corps officially goes back to the year 1500, but its experience at navigating even the most Machiavellian corridors of worldly power predates that by centuries. Popes were not just moral authorities and observers of secular happenings, they were weighty players, shaping events in Europe, the colonies, and the world. Certainly, this formidable institution could come up with some effective strategies if it wanted to and hardly needs our advice. But here goes, anyway:

First, and beyond a doubt, Catholics are currently the victims of ethnic cleansing and religious persecution in the core historic region of the faith, and it is essential that Rome raise awareness about the issue. If nothing else, this would boost the morale of the afflicted, whose sense of abandonment and isolation is extreme. Visit Christian enclaves in these places, and you will constantly be asked: don’t other Christians know? Don’t they care? Why isn’t anyone helping us?

Secondly, this elevated attention would likely produce some helpful action, over time. It took years for the international community to take steps against the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, but without consistent media attention and moral outrage, the Bosnians would have had no chance at all.

Third, the Vatican maintains powerful networks of influence. Its humanitarian organizations and NGOs are among the most effective in the world. Its legates are respected mediators. Though—by its own choice—it restricted itself to observer status at the United Nations, still its influence there is significant. Its emissaries could act on multiple levels to protect, resettle, and otherwise assist and advise the flock.

Fourth, Rome should reach out to moderate Muslim opinion leaders and political figures, who generally take pride in their region’s long history of religious and ethnic diversity and tolerance. Most Muslims regret the loss of their Jewish communities, and do not wish the Christian minority to experience the same fate. They will forcefully tell you that Christians and Christianity are part of the fabric of their societies, which they do not want replaced with some radical Islamist vision of a Caliphate. These are natural allies and should be consulted for tactical, strategic and moral counsel and help.

Indeed, some Muslim leaders have stepped forward to push back against the ethnic cleansing of Christians. This is most dramatically the case in Iraqi Kurdistan, which has become a safe haven for that country’s Christians. In Erbil, the local Christian community—one of the oldest Christian settlements in the world and a bishop’s seat since the year AD 100—can count on the protection of the Kurdish Regional Government, but more than that, the government has welcomed Arab Christians fleeing from Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk. The Kurdistan Regional Government funded a beautiful, modern Catholic primary and secondary school and has given land for a Catholic University. They provided a new home for the Baghdad Seminary after that facility was destroyed. They have stood up, armed, trained and are paying the salaries of a Christian volunteer self-defense force in embattled neighboring Nineveh. They are hosting an order of Indian nuns, come to set up a nursing program. They have refurbished villages for displaced Arab Christian farmers. Bashar Warda, formerly Archbishop of Baghdad and now Archbishop of Erbil, is free to build as many churches and erect as many crosses and statues of the Virgin Mary as he likes; it is his decision to build apartments for refugees and young families instead and make do with the large, splendid, highly visible St. Joseph Cathedral, smack in the middle of Erbil. And why are the Kurds doing this? Not for good PR, apparently, as their efforts are going unremarked and unheralded, and they do not boast of them. Prime Minister Nichervan Barzani says tersely, of course he protects Kurdish Christians. “They are our citizens like everyone else.” OK, and the non-Kurdish Arab refugees? His Minister Ashti Hawrami has a simple, compelling answer. “As Kurds we know what it means to be persecuted,” he says, apparently having less trouble reaching a diagnosis of persecution than the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries.

Fifth, the Church should appreciate and encourage remarkable—and courageous—policies like the one in Kurdistan. With advice from moderate Muslim leaders, it should identify other potential Middle Eastern footholds for displaced Catholics, and support their efforts to take root there. It should assist the Erbil School of Nursing and the planned Catholic University and similar institutions that are useful to the public, regardless of faith, and thus help solidify positive social bonds.

Sixth and finally, the emphasis on interfaith dialogue is important but that does not negate the Church’s first obligation to its own faith and faithful. It should speak out consistently and with clarity against the abuse and persecution of its followers wherever that occurs.

It is not to the benefit of the Catholic Church to show itself indifferent, or powerless, in the face of the mortal peril of entire communities of its followers, or to stand idly by while Christianity is erased from whole geographic regions. In addition to its two new saints, it might invoke Saint Thomas More, patron of statesmen, or Saint Qardagh, the fourth century martyr and patron saint of Erbil. Or better still, it might bring its massive intellectual, spiritual and material resources to bear on behalf of its flock.

Cheryl Benard is the Director of Metis Analytics and the author of Civil Democratic Islam. She is currently researching the situation of Christians in Iraq.

Indonesia shrugs at rising religious violence: report Michael Bachelard

Indonesia has experienced a “sharp uptick” in religiously motivated violence, with Islamic gangs regularly attacking Christian churches as well as “deviant sects” of their own faith, a strongly worded new report has warned.

The report by Human Rights Watch warns that the Indonesian Government, police and military are “passively, and sometimes actively” condoning these new extremists, in contrast to the way they “wrestled to the ground” the terrorists of Jemaah Islamiah in the past decade.

The organisation accuses Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of responding “weakly” to the threat, with “lofty but empty rhetoric”.

“With JI they saw a clear and present danger,” said Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, Phelim Kine.

“Now, the government is failing to recognise this less spectacular but equally corrosive and dangerous strain of religious intolerance.” Mr Kine said there were “worrying echoes” of Pakistan’s state of siege against minority Islamic sects, and if intolerance and violence continued to increase in Indonesia, “the confidence of investors in the country . . . might not hold”.

The report, In Religion’s Name, says there were 264 violent attacks on religious minorities in 2012, a 20 per cent increase on 2010. It documents violence against the Ahmadiya, a minority sect of Islam which Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Ministry has declared “heretical”, and Shiite Muslims, as well as atheists and moderate Muslims. Since 2005, more than 430 churches have been forced to close.

But Wahyu, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Religious Affairs minister, Suryadharma Ali, denied the thrust of the report, saying Indonesia was “the example, or the laboratory of religious harmony”.

“It has the best religious harmony in the world. We can judge that because . . . we make all big days of the recognised religions in Indonesian holidays,” Wahyu said.

Neither Mr Yudhoyono’s office nor the police would comment before the report was released.

Many acts of violence were committed by a number of hardline groups such as the aggressive Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which emerged from the Sunni Islam majority after the fall of former president Suharto in 1998, the report says.

FPI recruits among the poor and disenfranchised and might be able to field 100,000 supporters. It was allegedly set up by police during unrest in 1998 to attack protesting students. Its official events have since been attended by the former governor of Jakarta, the national police chief and the religious affairs minister.

The country guarantees religious freedom in the constitution, but 156 statutes, regulations, decrees and by-laws subject “minority religions to official discrimination”, They include the 1965 blasphemy law, the 2006 ministerial decree on building houses of worship and the 2008 anti-Ahmadiyah decree.

In recent years the judicial system has often taken a harder line against minorities who are the victims of religious violence than against the perpetrators.

In 2011, when five Ahmadiyah followers were injured and three killed by an Islamist mob, police stood by, smoking and watching. The killers were not charged with murder, but “assault causing death” and were given sentences of six months or less. An Ahmadiya survivor and witness in their prosecution was later charged with provoking the attack and also given a six-month jail sentence.

A professed atheist, Alexander Aan, was last year sentenced to prison after being attacked by a mob, none of whom was punished.

But Wahyu, the spokesman from the Religious Affairs Ministry, one of the best-funded and most powerful ministries in the government, denied that recent controversies signalled a problem.

A Christian church barred by local officials from opening despite a Supreme Court ruling was “not about religious tolerance, it’s a land dispute”; violence against Ahmadiyah was not a religious problem because, “it’s not a religion, it’s a sect”; and a violent attack on a Shiite group in East Java was simply “a personal problem, it’s not about religion”, Wahyu said.

(“The Sydney Morning Herald,” February 28, 2013)

Jakarta Archbishop complains about church permits

The Archbishop of Jakarta Mgr. Ignatius Suharyo has complained about the difficulties faced by Christians in Indonesia in gaining building permits when they want to construct churches.
During Christmas celebrations in Jakarta Cathedral on Tuesday, Suharyo expressed his hopes that the government would soon resolve problems related to church-building permits.
“We are not allowed to build our own places of worship. Then we pray wherever we can, in often far from ideal circumstances. But we are not even allowed to do this either,” he said as quoted by kompas.com on Tuesday. “We don’t know what else to do.”
Suharyo referred to the ongoing disputes in the construction of the Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) in Bekasi and Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) in Bogor, West Java. The two churches have spent years struggling to obtain permits to build churches but have faced adamant rejection from several hardliner groups.
Suharyo mentioned another case of a church in Karawaci, Banten, which had to wait for 24 years before its building permit was issued.
Suharyo urged the government to take significant steps to resolve the problems, as he believed that every religion should have the same opportunities to build places of worship.
(Thejakartapost.com)

A Touching Story: My Mom

My mom only had one eye. I hated her She was such an embarrassment. She cooked for students and teachers to support the family. There was this one day during elementary school where my mom came to say hello to me. I was so embarrassed. How could she do this to me?

I ignored her, threw her a hateful look and ran out. The next day at school one of my classmates said, EEEE, your mom only has one eye!

‘I wanted to bury myself. I also wanted my mom to just disappear.

I confronted her that day and said, If you’re only gonna make me a laughing stock, why don’t you just die?’

My mom did not respond I didn’t even stop to think for a second about what I had said, because I was full of anger. I was oblivious to her feelings. I wanted out of that house, and have nothing to do with her. So I studied real hard, got a chance to go abroad to study. Then, I got married. I bought a house of my own. I had kids of my own. I was happy with my life, my kids and the comforts. Then one day, my Mother came to visit me. She hadn’t seen me in years and she didn’t even meet her grandchildren. When she stood by the door, my children laughed at her, and I yelled at her for coming over uninvited. I screamed at her, How dare you come to my house and scare my children!’ GET OUT OFHERE! NOW!!!’

And to this, my mother quietly answered, Oh, I’m so sorry. I may have gotten the wrong address,’ and she disappeared out of sight.

One day, a letter regarding a school reunion came to my house. So I lied to my wife that I was going on a business trip. After the reunion, I went to the old shack just out of curiosity. My neighbours said that she died. I did not shed a single tear. They handed me a letter that she had wanted me to have. My dearest son, I think of you all the time. I’m sorry that I came to your house and scared your children. I was so glad when I heard you were coming for the reunion. But I may not be able to even get out of bed to see you. I’m sorry that I was a constant embarrassment to you when you were growing up. You see…when you were very little, you got into an accident, and lost your eye. As a mother, I couldn’t stand watching you having to grow up with one eye. So I gave you mine. I was so proud of my son who was seeing a whole new world for me, in my place, with that eye. With all my love to you, Your mother.’

MORAL LESSON: Always LOVE your parents. They are a blessing to you.
NOTE: We only have one mom, so love her, you will come to cry when she’s gone…..
�I LOVE U MOM�

Asian-American Dilemma: Good News Is Bad News

Asian characters: ethisc of hardwork, family values,

Ideas

Last week, the Pew Research Center released a report called “The Rise of Asian Americans,” offering a portrait seemingly full of good news. Asian Americans, Pew said, are on the whole more educated, affluent and happier than other Americans. They hew more strongly to family values and an ethic of hard work. And, quietly, these 17 million Asian Americans have surpassed Hispanics as the largest and fastest-growing cohort of immigrants to the U.S.

(MORE:Christopher J. Ferguson: What You Need to Know About the New Census Numbers on Hispanic Births)

The report made headlines everywhere: “Asians Top of the Immigration Class” was a typical, if somewhat ham-handed, one. The leading advocacy groups for Asian Americans were silent for a beat. Then they decried the report. It was “disparaging,” “shallow,” “disturbing.” It perpetuated a patronizing stereotype of Asians as dutiful nerds, a…

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Indonesia Court to rule on Bali Bomber

Patek, whose real name is Hisyam bin Alizein, has apologized to the victims’ families, Christians and to the government, saying he was not in favor of going through with the attack against partying tourists, but that he could not speak out against other senior members of the group.

Read more: http://world.time.com/2012/06/21/indonesia-court-to-rule-on-bali-bomber/#ixzz1z42MXNPH

Singapore Pastor Allegedly Used Church Funds to Finance Wife’s Pop Music SInger

Where is t he ingerity? Comercialism? We will see the truth

 

Singapore Pastor Allegedly Used Church Funds to Finance Wife’s Pop Music Career

NewsFeed

Kong Hee, the founding pastor of Singapore’s largest church, was arrested this week on charges that he misused up to $18 million in church funds to finance his wife’s career as a pop singer.

An investigation by Singapore’s Commission on Charities alleged that Kong had misappropriated millions of dollars from the City Harvest Church’s charity fund, the Wall Street Journal reported. Four other church executives were arrested in connection with the crime. Kong’s wife, Ho Yeow Sun (whose pop name is Sun Ho) was not arrested, but has been removed from her executive position on the church’s board.

Wondering what $18 million will buy an aspiring pop star these days? Evidently, an album produced by Wyclef Jean, a no. 1 hit on the Billboard dance charts and a $20,000 a month Hollywood Hills mansion, according to the Straits Times. (By comparison, Grammy Award winner Alicia Keyes earned $10 million

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