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Saturday 23 August 2014

Speaking out for the ancient Christian Churches of the Middle East

An excellent article appeared in the NATIONAL POST today by Dr. Andrew Bennett, Canadian Ambassador for Religious Freedom. 
Last December Ambassador Bennett attended the celebration of priesthood for four Ordinariate priests at Notre Dame Basilica in Ottawa. One of these was your scribe. I am pleased to call Andrew a friend.
The article follows.

The ongoing destruction and dislocation of the Christian population in Iraq and Syria as a result of brutal persecution is a profound human tragedy. Entire communities, having fled their historic homes, now face the terrible choice imposed by the jihadists of the Islamic State: submit to Islam, leave, or be killed.
Images from the rolling deserts of Northern Iraq represent only the most recent episode in a harrowing trend. While Christian populations in the region have experienced ongoing decline over the past 60 years — comprising an estimated 18% of the regional population in 1948 vs. less than 8% in 2010 — the emergence of fundamentalist, political Islam has resulted in a dramatic escalation of violent persecution of Christian groups.
Church of the East Choir - One of the ancient churches dating to the second century A.D.
The rich spiritual and cultural heritage of the 2,000 year-old Christian communities established by the Apostles is now vanishing. The 1400-year history of co-existence between Christians, Muslims, and a myriad of other faiths — while not always respectful — is now ending. The cradle of Christianity in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East is being effectively de-Christianized.

In the past, we in the West have been reluctant to speak out on behalf of persecuted Christian groups abroad. Whether this reflects a domestic cultural instinct to shy away from public reference to religion, or a concern that such advocacy could be somehow cast as renewed Western imperialism, the consequences of continued silence are the same. Christians in the Middle East now live under the very real threat of eradication.

Canadians must speak out consistently and loudly in defence of the inherent human dignity of these persecuted people. While we must defend the freedom of religion of any and all communities under threat, the time to speak up for Christians in the Middle East is now.
The federal government has taken a clear and principled stand against the violence perpetrated by the Islamic State against innocent Iraqi civilians, including Yezidis and Christians. Five million dollars in additional aid is being provided to address now-dire humanitarian needs in Iraq. We also are assisting with the delivery of critical military supplies from contributing allies to Kurdish forces fighting in the region.
Ambassador Bennett with Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Our cherished Canadian values of freedom, human rights and the rule of law compel us to bear witness to the persecution of Christians in the Mideast. Those values compel us to call on those responsible to end their persecution, both those engaged directly in acts of violence such as the Islamic State and those forces and state actors behind them. We must shrug off fallacious appeals to non-interference in matters of religion, and to reject prevailing assumptions about the “intractability” of conflicts in the Middle East.
Canada is, by its very pluralist, multicultural, and multi-faith nature, uniquely called to promote freedom of religion abroad, and to protect those who face persecution simply because of the faith they profess or their choice to not profess any particular religious belief.
As noted recently by Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “The very notion of religious freedom is what the Islamic State is working to eradicate, and what the Iraqi and Syrian people and the international community cannot surrender.” The United States and our allies in the European Union have echoed this concern, condemning the atrocities and abuses of the Islamic State. And the Vatican, in Pope Francis’ own denunciation of the violence, has noted the unique responsibility of religious leaders, especially Muslim religious leaders, to speak out against Christian persecution. Taking up the call, a spokesman for Shi’a Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani recently called in Karbala for greater efforts to alleviate the suffering of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq.

I hope that all Canadians regardless of religious or philosophical persuasion will join me in speaking out against the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, not only in solidarity with the growing chorus of others around the world, but because to speak out is to defend and uphold the Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance. It is to cry out for an end to grotesque acts of violence against our fellow human beings, and most especially because it is the right thing to do.

Dr. Andrew Bennett, Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, is a sub-deacon in the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

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