Just over a year ago, the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and the State Department all unanimously declared that ISIS was committing genocide against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. However, because of their status as “communities”, many of the most affected persons – an overwhelming number of whom are women and children, have still received none of the billions of dollars that are distributed around the world by our own government and by the U.N. annually.
On February 10, 2017, the chairmen of three USCCB Committees — Migration, Religious Liberty and International Justice and Peace, along with the board of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) issued a joint statement, “Solidarity at the Service of All People in the Middle East”, reconfirming the U.S. Church’s solidarity with Christians and all those who suffer in the Middle East. The primary message was that our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East need our solidarity, and the Middle East needs our Christian brothers and sisters.
However, a concern for our Christian brethren is inclusive and does not exclude a concern for all the peoples of the region who suffer violence and persecution, both minorities and majorities, both Muslims and Christians. Therefore, among the numerous recommendations that were made was the provision of generous U.S. humanitarian and development assistance to refugees, displaced persons and communities in Iraq and Syria as they rebuild, including funding for trusted faith-based non-governmental agencies like Catholic Relief Services and local Caritas agencies so that aid reaches all groups, including majority and minority communities.
At the end of March, Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, penned an op-ed in The Washington Post entitled, “A year ago we declared ISIS genocidal. Why are its victims still waiting for aid?”. Within his witness to Christ’s call to feed, to shelter and to be a voice for “the least of these”, Mr. Anderson stated that the situation of genocidal victims in the Middle East is a gross injustice and a blight on America’s foreign policy record. In fact, the article continued, it is de facto discrimination against the Islamic State’s most vulnerable victims. The column ended with a plea to our U.S. Congress for swift passage of H.R. 390 “Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017.”
This bi-partisan legislation, co-sponsored by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), ensures emergency relief to some of the most vulnerable victims in some of the most decimated areas of the world. Most importantly, it also requires the U.S. government to direct a portion of the aid to specifically assist displaced individuals and families from communities of religious and ethnic minorities targeted for genocide.
As a member of the board of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), but more importantly as your shepherd and as a proud Brother Knight, I have personally sent letters to each Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from our diocese — Reps. Vicki Hartzler (4th Dist.), Emanuel Cleaver (5th Dist.) and Sam Graves (6th Dist.). In addition to thanking each for his or her own vital service to families within our local communities, especially to our most vulnerable, I asked all of them to also join me and Carl Anderson in supporting the passage of H.R. 390.
In a show of solidarity with fellow Catholics in our diocese, with the Knights of Columbus who work so tirelessly on behalf of all of us to defend the life and dignity of the most vulnerable, and most importantly with those suffering violence and persecution in the Middle East, I humbly and prayerfully ask you to do the same.
To learn about the different ways in which you can contact your local Member of the U.S. House of Representatives about H.R. 390 “Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017”, please visit our Human Rights Office website at www.humanrightskcsj.org.
Additional information about the plight of Christians in the Middle East, along with the complete text of the following documents mentioned above can also be found on the Human Rights Office website:
• “Solidarity at the Service of All People in the Middle East”, the February 10 statement from USCCB and CRS leaders
• “A year ago we declared ISIS genocidal. Why are its victims still waiting for aid?”, Carl Anderson’s March 21 column in The Washington Post
• H.R. 390, the “Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017”
Tax-deductible donations to the Knights of Columbus to support Christian refugees can be made at www.christiansatrisk.org. 100 percent of all donations will be used to assist Christians and other religious minorities, primarily from Iraq and Syria.
CRS and their Caritas partners in the region provide for basic necessities and assistance with education, counseling and care for children, housing, and livelihood support. CRS also supports urgent medical care and emergency relief for tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in the areas most affected by the conflict. Over 90 percent of money donated to CRS goes directly to people in need. To make a donation, please visit www.crs.org.
— Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr.
Catholic Key, April 21, 2017 issue