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A message from the bishop

We must act

(December 2017)
 
My dear friends,
 
A sad phenomenon has been taking place in many countries around the world. It has not made the headlines. You wouldn’t know about it unless you have been paying special attention. The persecution of Christians in the Middle East has been happening for  more than 1,000 years, but within the last three years, there has been a sharp spike in the number of cases reported.
 
Open Doors USA, a nonprofit organization that highlights the plight of persecuted Christians, estimates that 7,100 Christians died for their faith in 2015, which represents a 300 percent rise from 2013! And of course, this estimate does not account for the persecution that has happened in the two years since that number was released.
 
On March 17, 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the Islamic State was committing genocide against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. This was the second time our government had declared genocide in an ongoing situation. The first was Darfur, a region of Sudan. That genocide began in February 2003 when the Sudanese Liberation Movement and other rebel groups began fighting the government of Sudan, which they accused of oppressing Darfur's non-Arab population. The government responded to attacks by carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Darfur's non-Arabs, resulting in the deaths of roughly 300,000 civilians – to date.
 
In March of 2016, both the House and Senate passed a resolution that the Islamic State was committing genocide against religious and ethnic minorities, including Christians. Let us be clear on what that means. Genocide is the intentional killing of all the people of a nation, religion or racial group. The United States government, sadly, spent the rest of 2016 doing nothing to follow up on this declaration, despite this acknowledgment of ongoing genocide.
 
Not much was done in 2017 either, until late October. At that time, the administration announced that the U.S. Agency for International Development would direct financial support to churches, agencies and organizations working directly with persecuted communities victimized by the Islamic State and other terror groups. If this new development becomes a reality, it will boost the odds of the survival of Christianity in Iraq.
 
While this is welcome news, Christians, and indeed all people of goodwill, should sense in their hearts that they cannot be satisfied with government relief efforts alone. They must act themselves. On Nov. 26, the feast of Christ the King, the U.S. bishops called for a Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians and a week of awareness and education (Nov. 26-Dec. 2).
 
There are several small, yet meaningful, steps we can take here in our corner of West Michigan. First, we
can intentionally include our persecuted brothers and sisters in our daily prayers. Second, we can learn. For example, I invite you to read the findings from Under Caesar’s Sword, a joint research effort by the University of Notre Dame and Georgetown University. Third, we can donate. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) recommends the following aid organizations: Aid to the Church in Need, an international papal foundation; Catholic Near East Welfare Association, founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926; Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas relief agency of the USCCB; and the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization. Here, I give a special word of thanks and recognition to the Knights, who, under the leadership of Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, have committed more than $15 million to support Christians and other religious minorities primarily in Iraq and Syria. Taken together, these small actions can make a difference in the lives of those facing persecution and extermination.
 
During the Advent season, we are aware of the beauty of God’s plan, that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (Jn 3:14) As missionary disciples, we pray for the salvation of all souls, but we also must look to the physical needs of our suffering brothers and sisters in the human family.
 
May Christians in Iraq and Syria be granted courage, hope and perseverance as they bear heroic witness
to their faith. And may we, who provide spiritual and material assistance to refugees fleeing persecution and violence, continue to see the face of Christ in the most vulnerable people in our world today. 
 
Sincerely yours in the Lord,
Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak