Update on the situation in the Middle EastThursday, September 4, 2014
The difficult situation in the Middle East continues to be a focus of attention in the media and among the leaders of faith communities. Following the recent appeal by the Executive Committee of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) “for mercy, compassion and justice in the Middle East and throughout the world”, the Conference wishes to draw attention to a number of related developments.
At the same time that His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Collins published a letter in the Globe and Mail titled “Canada can do more to help Christians under siege in Iraq”, the Catholic and Orthodox Patriarchs of the Middle East were collaborating in a series of initiatives. These began with a summit this past August 7, which issued a strongly worded criticism of the international community as well as of Middle Eastern governments and Muslim religious authorities which had not yet spoken out against the atrocities in the region. An English translation of their statement can be accessed on the website of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation here: http://hcef.org/publications/hcef-news/790793990-the-patriarchs-of-the-east-religious-extremism-is-a-major-threat-for-the-area-and-the-whole-world. Catholic News Service also reported on the summit, and has given permission to the CCCB to circulate its news story and to translate it into French.
Five Catholic and Orthodox Patriarchs later visited Irbil, Iraq, to meet with Iraqis who have been displaced because of violence and threats by ISIS. In a Catholic New Service report, His Beatitude Ignace Joseph III Younan, Patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church, described the situation in Northern Iraq as “pure and simple religious cleansing and attempted genocide”.
The Orthodox and Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East met again on August 27, this time near Beirut, to continue addressing the situation in the region, with a representative from the meeting later informing Pope Francis about their discussion.
Vatican News reported on August 28 that the Holy Father met with Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants, to discuss the plight of those fleeing the Islamist violence in Iraq. Cardinal Vegliò was quoted as saying the United Nations and other governments, especially those in Europe, have so far done too little by way of response. Reports from the United Nations last week estimated there are more than three million refugees from the Syrian civil war, while in Iraq there are a further 1.5 million refugees, nearly one million of whom are internally displaced Iraqis.
On September 3, 2014, the Holy Father, at his General Audience, assured Arabic-speaking pilgrims, and particularly the faithful in Iraq, that the Church, like a mother, “defends those who are defenceless and persecuted.”
Two days before, Pope Francis met with the parish priest of the only Catholic parish in Gaza, where a ceasefire continues between Israel and the Palestinian forces. Father Jorge Hernandez told Vatican Radio that ”You need to understand one thing… with war, nobody wins. No one! Each side will have to pay the consequences, in one way or another. Ultimately, no one gains from war, we all lose. We hope that God will bless us with the strength to begin again from the start.” http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-meets-with-gaza-priest-a-moment-of-grace-and
A similar perspective on the futility of violence was conveyed in an earlier statement in mid-July by the Executive Director of the Canadian ecumenical coalition Kairos, Ms. Jennifer Henry. The statement is available in English only on the Kairos website, at http://www.kairoscanada.org/dignity-rights/current-violence-and-military-action-in-israel-and-palestine/.
Canadian Muslims have also criticized violent extremism in the Middle East. A statement by the Canadian Council of Imams can be accessed at: http://www.canadiancouncilofimams.com/2014/08/for-immediate-release-canadian-council-of-imams-warns-canadian-muslims-about-isis-and-its-deviant-nature/
The Most Reverend Michael Fitzgerald, M.Afr., former President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, is giving a conference in Montreal on “Le dialogue interreligieux après Vatican II: progrès, problèmes, perspectives”. The evening is being organized by the Groupe InterFoi du Carrefour Foi et Spiritualité. Archbishop Fitzgerald will be talking at the parish church of Saint-Joseph-de-Bordeaux, 1650 Viel (near Acadie Nord), Montreal, on Thursday, September 25, 2014 at 7 p.m.