Survival and Solidarity
6/1/2019by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson
Further steps must be taken to end the persecution of Christians in many places throughout the world
“TELL THEM I am dying because I am a Christian,” said Blessed Isidore Bakanja shortly before he was killed in 1909 in the Belgian Congo. Isidore was baptized as a young man. He frequently prayed the rosary and proudly wore a scapular. The overseers of the plantation where Isidore worked demanded that he renounce his baptism, fearing that if their native workers became “brothers” in Christ, the brutally harsh conditions of plantation life would have to change. When Isidore refused, he was beaten to death.
I had the privilege of attending the beatification of Isidore Bakanja at the Vatican in 1994, and I will always remember the emotion with which St. John Paul II spoke of him.
I thought of Blessed Isidore’s life and death as I read news accounts of a new report on the global persecution of Christians. The report, prepared for the British Government’s Foreign Office, concluded that the persecution of Christians in parts of the world is at “near genocide levels.”
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt believes that “political correctness” is partly responsible for the failure to confront the crisis. “There is a misplaced worry that it is somehow colonialist,” he said, “to talk about a religion that was associated with colonial powers.”
“What we have forgotten,” he continued, is that “the Christians that are being persecuted are some of the poorest people on the planet.”
A better understanding of the legal, economic and political status of Christians throughout the world is needed. Too often, desperate poverty and marginalization are compounded by political powerlessness and centuries-old traditions of discrimination in both law and practice.
Such circumstances make many Christians throughout the Middle East easy targets for extremists and victims easily ignored.
That is why during my trip to Iraq in March I met with the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Authority and on my return spoke with Vice President Mike Pence. Those conversations were encouraging, but much work remains.
My visit to Iraq was an opportunity to see firsthand the situation of the displaced Christians there, how their communities are struggling to survive and what the path to a sustainable future could look like.
In an excellent analysis of the current situation in Iraq, America magazine (April 19) recently asked the most fundamental question: “Can Christianity in northern Iraq survive after ISIS?”
The answer, of course, is that it is still too early to tell. But if Christianity does not survive there, it will not be because Iraqi Christians over the last century did not sacrifice their lives to maintain a Christian presence. And many who remain have sacrificed everything but their lives.
If Christianity does not survive in Iraq — and elsewhere in the region — it may well be a result of the silence and neglect by their brothers and sisters in the West.
These suffering Christians deserve our continued solidarity.
As noted in the America article, Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil has begun a number of development initiatives (many with our financial assistance) that could mean Christians will not “merely survive,” but will actually “thrive” in Iraq.
There is a roadmap for sustainability of the Christian community, but it requires continued material and financial support.
And not just in the Middle East.
As the recent church bombings in Sri Lanka tragically demonstrate, too many Christians throughout the world echo Isidore Bakanja’s words: “I am dying because I am a Christian.”
These atrocities must end.
The genocide of Christians must never again be allowed, and the Christian communities in places like Iraq must be helped to survive.
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