In a series of tweets over recent days, Pope Francis has raised an alarm to the international community pleading for us to protect and pray for "all those suffering violence in Iraq," and to live in solidarity with them.
VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - In a series of tweets over recent days, Pope Francis has raised an alarm to the international community pleading for us to protect and pray for "all those suffering violence in Iraq," and to live in solidarity with them.
Since August 9, Pope Francis has tweeted the following:
08/09/2014 I ask the international community to protect all those suffering violence in Iraq.
08/09/2014 Violence is not conquered by violence. Lord, send us the gift of peace. #prayforpeace
08/10/2014 Those driven from their homes in Iraq depend on us. I ask all to pray, and for those who are able, to give material assistance.
08/10/2014 The news coming from Iraq pains me. Lord, teach us to live in solidarity with all those who suffer.
08/10/2014 An appeal to all families: when you say your prayers, remember all those forced from their homes in Iraq. #PrayForPeace
08/11/2014 "I ask all Catholic parishes and communities to offer a special prayer this weekend for Iraqi Christians." #prayforpeace.
Yes, I want to Help Protect those Suffering in Iraq
Speaking on Vatican Radio on Monday, August 11, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See's Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva noted that "we are faced with a certain indifference at the practical level with the international community. It is difficult to convince-because of false modesty, I would say-the Western powers to take a strong stance in defense of the Christians."
At the United Nations, the Security Council has called for an end to "the systematic persecution of individuals from minority populations and those who refuse the extremist ideology of ISIL and associated armed groups." United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called "on the international community, especially those with the influence and resources to positively impact the situation, to support the Government and people of Iraq and to do all it can to help alleviate the suffering of the population affected by the current conflict in Iraq." No one has yet reported on any proposals for sending in peace-keeping forces to protect and defend the citizens of Iraq.
On August 8, President Obama authorized limited air strikes to protect the Iraqi Yezidi people and others living nearby and the American and some European governments have begun to drop humanitarian aid to the refugees fleeing from the criminal force perpetrating the genocide. On August 11, the USA began supplying arms directly to the Kurdish forces to help them to defend themselves. Many experienced observers question whether air strikes alone can stop the genocide or whether it represents more violence in response to violence rather than a commitment for restoring peace.
Commenting further on Vatican Radio, Archbishop Tomasi said, "At this moment, we hope the voice that is surging from different Christian and religious communities, from moderate Muslims, and from people of good will around the world may find the response of concrete humanitarian assistance that is provided for the Christians in northern Iraq as well as some political and even effective military protection."
On August 11, a group of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders in Denver calling itself the Peace Love and Coexistence (PLACE) Initiative appealed to President Obama "to work urgently through diplomatic channels and ethical intervention to stop the murder and persecution of Christians in the Middle East, their violent displacement from their native homelands, and the destruction of their homes, properties, churches and places of worship."
President Obama may authorize taking a stronger stance in defense of the Christians and others in Iraq, if he believes that the American people want the country to do so. Before that happens, he may need to hear from more American voices speaking out on behalf of those suffering in Iraq.
This is where people of faith in America can contribute first by praying for peace both individually and in groups and secondly by speaking out following the example of the PLACE initiative in Denver. "Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, the chairman of the Committee of International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has asked the U.S. bishops to invite the people of their dioceses to pray for peace in Iraq on Sunday, August 17. Not only on that day but on every day, people of faith can pray constantly as Pope Francis tweeted, "to remember all those forced from their homes in Iraq." Today, The Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue in Rome called on religious leaders around the world "to exercise their influence with the authorities to end these crimes, to punish those who commit them, and to reestablish the rule of law throughout the land ensuring the return home of those who have been displaced."
While most Americans want to distance themselves from the ongoing turmoil in Iraq, studies show that a large majority of Americans support action to stop genocide when they see evidence of it taking place. The national press in America has provided only limited coverage of the horrendous acts of violence taking place everyday against defenseless civilians in Iraq simply because of their faith. Beheadings of children, crucifixions of Christians, mass killings, rape, and torture have had limited coverage by the secular media. If the American people knew as much about the genocide in Iraq as they know about the suffering in the Holy Land, support for action would likely increase.
While Catholics and members of other faith communities may find it difficult to influence coverage by national news media, organizing local awareness campaigns and communicating with their members can help to raise the awareness and concern of the American people as a whole.
Many Catholic organizations and other faith communities have representatives at the United Nations who can appeal to the delegates of the member states represented on the Security Council in support of the plea for a "stronger stance" voiced by Archbishop Tomasi in Geneva.
People of faith will die for their beliefs in many parts of the world today, not just in Iraq and 75% of those being persecuted and killed are Christians, many of them Catholic Christians. The 2014 report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom categorizes 16 nations including Iraq and Syria as "countries of particular concern" for violations of religious freedom and places another 10 countries at a second level of concern. We cannot forget about the girls missing in Nigeria and the killings, displacements, and destruction taking place there, or the killing taking place in the Holy Land, the South Sudan, the Ukraine, and elsewhere. While we support our governments efforts to help find the kidnapped children in Nigeria and to work for peace in the Holy Land and other areas, the magnitude of the suffering in Iraq and the rapidity of its advancing calls for emergency action to overcome what Archbishop Tomasi called "the indifference at a practical level of the international community."
Yes, I want to Help those Suffering in Iraq
Responding to the emergency appeals of Pope Francis, Archbishop Tomasi, and others with prayer and practical ways such as those mentioned here presents a concrete opportunity for American Catholics to put our faith into practice in solidarity with each other and with Catholics and other people of faith around the country and the world. As American Catholics we have the freedom and right to represent the concerns of the suffering people of Iraq, including Christians, Shia Muslims, and Yezidi to our government with its existing presence in Iraq and at the United Nations. How many of us will heed Pope Francis' call?
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