Our hearts are moved by the terrible suffering of Christians and other innocent victims of violence in Iraq and Syria.
Several weeks ago, Pope Francis wrote to the Secretary General of the United Nations urging the international community to do all they can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against these ethnic and religious minorities. He decried how “Christians and other religious minorities have been forced to flee from their homes and witness the destruction of their places of worship and religious patrimony.”
Since January, about 1.2 million people have been displaced in Iraq as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has taken control of large areas of those countries. Christians and other religious minorities have been singled out for attack, simply for their faith. They were given a choice: abandon their Christian faith and convert to Islam, pay an exorbitant “infidel tax,” or die. Many have been killed. Over 100,000 have fled, refusing to renounce their Christian faith. What an example of faith and courage they are for us and for the world!
It is tragic to see the destruction of the Church in Iraq, where the faith has been lived and the Church has been alive since the early centuries of Christianity. The Islamic State militants overtook the city of Mosul and have captured many of the Christian villages and cities in the surrounding area. The Christians have fled, leaving their homes and businesses. They had to leave behind their possessions, often escaping with only the clothes on their backs. But they left with something more valuable and precious: their faith in Christ.
It is important that we stand in solidarity with these brothers and sisters in Christ through our prayers and financial support. Many of them are now living in community centers (churches, schools, parking lots) in the northern city of Irbil and in refugee camps elsewhere, like in Jordan, where they have been welcomed by King Abdullah and the Catholic community there. Our own Catholic Relief Services is among the organizations assisting the refugees with food, water, clothing, and shelter. CRS also is able to provide psychological and social support, trauma healing, education for the children, and help with longer-term resettlement.
On the weekend of September 6th and 7th, we will be taking up a Special Collection for the Middle East in all of our parishes. These funds will be used by CRS and other Catholic agencies working in partnership with the local Church to meet the most urgent humanitarian needs facing the peoples in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, and surrounding countries where refugees have fled. Collection funds will also be used to support Church programs to aid persecuted Christians and to respond to rebuilding needs of Catholic dioceses in the impacted areas. Thank you for your support of this special collection.
We cannot abandon or ignore our suffering brothers and sisters. They need to know that we are with them and have not forgotten them. We need to pray for them and help them with their needs. We and the international community must not be silent in the face of the persecution and destruction that has taken place and continues to take place.
The contempt for human life and religious liberty displayed by the Islamic State must be opposed. Their barbaric acts of terrorism must be condemned in the most absolute terms. Such acts strike at the heart of human dignity and are an offense against all humanity. The Church teaches the right to use force for purposes of legitimate defense as well as the duty to protect and help innocent victims who are not able to defend themselves from acts of aggression. The atrocities committed by the Islamic State must be condemned and their criminal activity stopped.
We saw the cruelty of ISIS in the murder of 40-year old American journalist James Foley two weeks ago. After two years of captivity, this Catholic man was brutally executed by decapitation. By all accounts, James Foley was a strong, loving, and courageous man of faith. Looking at the photo of him in the video before the execution, his eyes showed strength and resolve. I could not help think that this strength came from his faith. I read that in captivity, he showed courage and hope. He would pray the rosary on his fingers. His cruel death might seem like a defeat. I don’t think so, not in the larger scheme. Our Lord’s death and resurrection teaches us the victory of life and love. We pray that James Foley and so many other innocent victims of the Islamic State are received into the joy and peace of heaven.
We can be encouraged and inspired by the example of James Foley and the thousands of other Catholics who will not deny their faith, will not embrace hatred, and will not despair. Let us be spiritually close to them. Let us pray for those who are persecuted, those who are refugees, and for those who have died. Let us pray that our nation and the international community will stop the crimes against humanity being committed in the Middle East. And let us pray that the militants of ISIS will cease their terror campaign.
Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us!
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