Remarks of Supreme Knight Carl Anderson
News Conference on Christian Refugee Relief Fund
Aug. 4, 2015
Thank you very much for being here with us today. I am pleased that we have Archbishop Jeanbart from Syria and Archbishop Warda from Iraq here, and they will be able to give you specific insights into the situation for Christians and others in their countries.
Today, the persecution of Christians is a worldwide problem. The Pew Forum notes that Christians are harassed by governments or social groups in 102 of 198 countries. It further explains that more Christians face persecution today than at any point since the early days of Christianity.
In fact, according to the International Society for Human Rights, 80 percent of religious discrimination in our world today is directed against Christians. A terrible microcosm of this phenomenon is occurring in Iraq and Syria, where Christians have been murdered, enslaved and driven from their homes in staggering numbers.
In Iraq, an estimated 125,000 Christians have been driven from Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh region.
In Syria, an estimated 700,000 Christians have been displaced. Many of these have been officially designated as internally displaced persons, rather than refugees. It is not only a semantic difference. It has legal consequence not nearly enough is being done for these innocent victims.
The Knights of Columbus International Convention is held in a different city each year. Eighty-nine years ago our convention was held in this city. At that 1926 convention, the Knights of Columbus announced that it would take up the cause of Mexican Catholics, who were being persecuted and killed there by their government. We raised awareness about the issue, and financially helped many refugees who fled north. We were able to do much good, for many people.
Today, we are compelled as an organization to speak up for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. Pope Francis has called the conditions in which Christian refugees live there intolerable. He has said that the situation calls for our commitment to prayer and concrete efforts to help. He has said that their suffering has reduced him to tears. He has called it genocide.
I should point out that the concept of genocide then called widescale systematic crimes of barbarity was first created in the 1930s in response to the killing of Christians in the Middle East, including in Iraq.
Today, we are both thankful and inspired by the Holy Fathers expression of his gratitude for this vital mission we have undertaken. In the papal greeting to our convention, which will be read this afternoon, we learned that our Holy Father is profoundly gratitude for the efforts of the Knights to raise public attention to this grave humanitarian tragedy.
The pope also expressed his gratitude for the practical solidarity shown to suffering individuals through [our] Christian Refugee Relief Fund. To date, we have provided more than $3 million in assistance to those in the Middle East. We have provided general relief funds to be distributed by the Vatican, as well specific funds for building new housing for displaced families in Erbil, and providing medical care in that city where many refugees have fled. And in Aleppo too we are helping with needs of the population there.
Starting today, we will do even more. We have unveiled a new portal with information and the opportunity to help: ChristiansAtRisk.org and are using the hashtag ChristiansAtRisk to raise awareness as well.
We will continue our national television advertising efforts.
We will ask our more than 10,000 local councils to raise awareness through education and fundraising at the local council level.
We will make Olive Wood crosses crafted in Bethlehem available to our councils to sell at parish fundraisers, and our members will find other ways to raise money as well.
We will continue to identify key partners with projects in the region.
We have already helped with general needs, with housing, and with health care. But we know there is so much more to do. Food and education are sorely needed. More housing, more medical care, more of everything is needed by those who have, literally, nothing.
And the Knights of Columbus will reimburse all administrative costs of this program. 100 percent of the money raised will go directly to aiding those in need and to raising awareness on their behalf so that even more people can assist them.
As we help tell the story of these suffering Christians, your presence here today is very important. The media is integral to telling this story. We cannot forget what is happening to these people, simply because they choose to believe in the one who taught us to love one another.
Thank you very much, and now I am pleased to introduce Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq.