The Islamic State’s genocide of Christians will have lasting effects not only on the Middle East’s culture but on world peace, a panel of Christian leaders and religious freedom advocates warned Tuesday.
At the inaugural Summit for Middle East Christians, bishops and scholars from around the world called for a global effort to stop the extermination of Christianity from where its roots were planted 2,000 years ago.
“For far too long the world has stood there watching these atrocities without lifting a finger while the local government has proved to be utterly incapable of saving the lives of its citizens,” said Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Cardinal Rai, Maronite patriarch of Antioch and all the East.
“Religious freedom is not just an American right, it’s a universal right,” Cardinal Patriarch Rai said. “Religious freedom is an essential part of human dignity, and without it, the world cannot know peace.”
President Obama is set to address the nation Wednesday night on how his administration will address the Islamic State, which calls the large swaths of Iraq and Syria it controls an Islamic “caliphate.” The terrorist group has used beheadings and mass murders to terrorize the region and has forced Christians to convert to Islam or face death.
Religious leaders at Tuesday’s summit at the National Press Club in Washington said it’s the international community’s responsibility to stop religious persecution.
“It’s a global evil, and, as such, we have to address the issue globally,” said Aram I Keshishian, Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church. “All nations, all religions, have an important role to play.”
The persecution of Middle Eastern Christians isn’t only the problem of the Middle East, Catholicos Aram I said, adding that he wants to see a “comprehensive global strategy” that includes economic, political, diplomatic and even military short- and long-term goals.
Similarly, Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, said too much responsibility is being put on the American president.
“I think every leader of every nation should be speaking about equality, speaking about the concept of protecting human rights,” he said. “The international community, those who have any faith, any sense of morals, any sense of ethics, any sense of right or wrong, cannot sit by.
“What is happening in the Middle East now is unthinkable. It would have been considered barbaric 1,400 years ago. Today it is absolutely unacceptable,” Bishop Angaelos said.
But Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and a leading Capitol Hill voice on human rights, said Mr. Obama should be sending a stronger message, and while “there has to be military intervention, it has to be done effectively.”
Tuesday’s panel was the first event of the three-day summit, which is taking place at various places around Washington, notably Capitol Hill. Religious leaders are meeting with members of Congress to discuss advocacy and education on the crisis in the Middle East.
While Tuesday’s panel was an opportunity to share practical ideas on what should be done to address the Middle East crisis, many of the speakers used their time to stress the importance of such a meeting and express hope that standing together in solidarity is a comfort and inspiration to those suffering.
“We’re all aware there are terrible things happening, atrocities being committed, people suffering mightily in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, throughout the Middle East,” said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington. “How do you call attention in an age where so much is happening, and things change so quickly, and attention spans are also short?
“We stand in solidarity. We stand with our sisters and brothers who suffer. We stand in solidarity [to say] we are with you in spirit; we are with you with purpose and resolve.”