Bishops urge more peace efforts to help displaced Iraqi Christians

IMAGE: CNS photo/Dale Gavlak

By Dale Gavlak

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — With
crises in Syria and Iraq deepening, Catholic bishops on a solidarity visit with
the “forgotten” Christians of the Middle East are urging stepped-up
peace efforts to resolve conflicts tearing apart the troubled region.

Highlighting the ongoing plight
of Iraqi Christian refugees who face another winter of displacement, 18 months
after fleeing persecution by Islamic State militants, is also their top

“They want a future which
is full of peace,” Bishop Declan Lang of Bristol, England, said of the
Iraqi Christians who attended a packed, solemn Mass at Our Lady of Peace Center
on the hilly, tree-lined outskirts of the Jordanian capital.

“These people are of
tremendous faith, and that’s where they find their identity. What we are trying
to say to them is that you are not forgotten,” Bishop Lang told Catholic
News Service.

Bishop Lang has been leading 12
bishops from Europe, South Africa and North America on the third and final leg
of a pilgrimage to encourage Christians in the Holy Land. Known as the Holy
Land Coordination, the annual event was set up at the invitation of the Holy
See at the end of the last century to offer support to local Christian
communities of the Holy Land.

The bishops earlier traveled to the
Gaza Strip and the West Bank to encourage a Palestinian Christian population
increasingly dwindling in the land of Jesus’ birth.

But the bishops told Catholic
News Service that it also was important to hear from Iraqi Christians and other refugees,
so the wider Christian community can effectively help them.

“It’s important that we
remind our governments and the general population of the situation of Iraqi
Christians,” Bishop Lang said of the some 8,000 Iraqi Christians currently
sheltering in neighboring Jordan.

They fled their ancient homeland
of more than 14 centuries after Islamic State militants told them to convert to
Islam, be killed or leave. Tens of thousands are internally displaced in
northern Iraq.

“So one of the
responsibilities and obligations that we have is to keep reminding people of
the stress and distress of the Iraqi refugees,” Bishop Lang said.

One Iraqi Christian, identified
only as Bashar, said after the Mass, “My family and I sadly feel that we
can never go back to our home in Mosul.” A mechanical engineer, the man
had once owned his own telecom company in Iraq’s second-biggest city, which is
currently in the hands of Islamic State.

“The military didn’t
protect us, and our Muslim neighbors betrayed us, even robbing us of our
personal possessions. So we believe that the only future for us is somewhere in
the West,” said the man, who now shelters with his family of four at the
center’s compound because he has lost his savings.

Bishop Lionel Gendron of St. Jean-Longueuil, Quebec,
told CNS that one of the first things he plans to do is talk to the new
Canadian government about the issue of opening more resettlement opportunities
to Iraqi Christians.

“I will insist on the fact.
Iraqis are practically not allowed to go back to their country,” the
Canadian bishop said. “Many Syrians left (their country) because of the
war and the political situation, while the Iraqis left mainly because of their

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las
Cruces, New Mexico, told CNS that “the time for peace is now.”

While praising the work of the
international Catholic charity, Caritas, which aids more than 1 million Syrian
and Iraqi refugees and the other humanitarian efforts in Jordan, he called them
“a band-aid.”

“It’s not sustainable in
the long run,” said Bishop Cantu, who serves as chairman of the U.S.
bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace. “We have to look at
the root causes of these issues. It’s in everyone’s interest to build peace, so
we will certainly be advocating for that as we return.”

“It’s also important that
the U.S. take in its fair share of refugees,” Bishop Cantu said of the
increasingly divisive issue in the United States.

Stephen Colecchi, director of
the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of International Justice and
Peace, accompanied Bishop Cantu on the visit. He said the office’s work on
behalf of “all the peoples of the Middle East” has involved
supporting a resolution in Congress declaring that Iraqi Christians and Yezidis
have suffered genocide at the hands of Islamic State militants. He said his
office also has worked to encourage the U.S. to accept its “fair share of
refugees” and “invest in more resources for countries, like Jordan,
to cope with the refugee influx, so they are not destabilized.”

Colecchi emphasized the need for
active international peace efforts that recognize the rights of religious
minorities in the Middle East.

“We’ve got to work for
peace and ultimately stop the atrocities of Islamic State and the flow of
refugees,” he said.

“A more united and
effective response is needed to that kind of extremism from which Muslims are
suffering and particularly, Christians and Yezidis, are targeted by,”
Colecchi added.

Among the other bishops who took
part in the Holy Land Coordination were Bishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town,
South Africa; Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney of Birmingham, England; Bishop
John McAreavey of Dromore, Ireland; and Bishop William Nolan of Galloway,

– – –

Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Original Article