Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Step in the Right Direction

The plight of Christians in the Middle East is finally getting the world's attention, thanks in large part to the diplomatic efforts of the Holy See. Yesterday, on March 13, 2015, the United Nations headquarters in Geneva issued a Joint Statement entitled, "Supporting the Human Rights of Christians and Other Communities, Particularly in the Middle East." The statement was drafted by representatives of the Holy See, Lebanon, and Russia and has been signed by the representatives of forty-six other countries, mostly in Europe but also in North and South America, one or two in Asia and Africa, and one in the Middle East (Iraq). This statement is a hopeful sign that the political will among world leaders to stop the barbaric terrorist aggression and persecution of innocent Christians and resolve the terrible humanitarian crisis afflicting the Middle East is beginning to develop and gain momentum. Much more than a UN joint statement is needed to accomplish this, of course, but nonetheless such an official communique  indicates a trend in the right direction.

This statement candidly acknowledges the facts of the situation. It correctly points out that the Middle East is the birthplace of some of the world's great religions, and acknowledges the positive contributions of these religions to human culture and society in the region. It maintains that Christians of the Middle East have the right to practice their faith and unequivocally condemns the horrible violence being perpetrated against them and their church buildings by ISIS and al-Qaeda. And it calls upon the international community to support the deeply rooted historical presence of all ethnic and religious communities in the Middle East.

How this will be accomplished is another question, but as the old saying goes, "Where there's a will, there's a way." I believe strongly that the international community, including our country which is largely responsible for the current situation in the Middle East, should work together through the UN to find ways to resolve it for the good of everyone. Let's keep world leaders in our prayers, that they collaborate in taking morally sound and effective measures to halt the violence and restore some measure of stability to the Middle East. And, of course, let's keep praying for the embattled and weary Christians of the Middle East.

Here is the text of the statement entitled "Supporting the Human Rights of Christians and Other Communities, Particularly in the Middle East":

The Middle East is living in a situation of instability and conflict that recently have been aggravated. The consequences are disastrous for the entire population of the region. The existence of many religious communities is seriously threatened. Christians are now especially affected. These days even their survival is in question.

Efforts to build a better future for all are frustrated. We witness a situation where violence, religious and ethnic hatred, fundamentalist radicalism, extremism, intolerance, exclusion, destruction of the social fabric of whole societies and communities are becoming the features of a non-viable political and social model, endangering the very existence of many communities, the Christian community in particular.

Millions of people have been either displaced or forced to leave their ancestral lands. Those who stay in conflict zones or areas controlled by terrorist groups live under the permanent threat of human rights violations, repression and abuses. Both communities and individuals fall victim to barbaric acts of violence: they are deprived of homes, driven from their native lands, sold into slavery, killed, beheaded and burnt alive. Dozens of Christian churches, and ancient shrines of all religions have been destroyed. The situation of Christians in the Middle East, a land on which they are living for centuries and have the right to remain, raises deep concerns. There are more and more reasons to fear seriously for the future of the Christian communities that have more than two thousand years of existence in this region, where Christianity has its full place, and began its long history. The positive contributions of Christians in the different countries and societies of the Middle East are well known and creative.

We are confident that governments, all civic and religious leaders in the Middle East, will join us in addressing this alarming situation by building together a culture of peaceful coexistence. In our globalized world, pluralism is an enrichment. The presence and the contributions of ethnic and religious communities reflect an ancient diversity and a common heritage. A future without the different communities in the Middle East will run a high risk of new forms of violence, exclusion, and the absence of peace and development.

We call upon the international community to support the deeply rooted historical presence of all ethnic and religious communities in the Middle East. Here world religions appeared, including Christianity. Now, they live a serious existential threat from the so-called "Islamic State" (Daesh) and Alqaida, and affiliated terrorist groups, which disrupts the life of all these communities, and creates the risk of complete disappearance for the Christians. This support will help the countries of the region to rebuild healthy plural societies and sound political systems, ensuring human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. Therefore we ask all States to reaffirm their commitment to respect the rights of everyone, in particular the right to freedom of religion, which is enshrined in the fundamental international human rights instruments.

© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

The states endorsing the Joint Statement on "Supporting the Human Rights of Christians and Other Communities, particularly in the Middle East" are: Russian Federation, Lebanon, Holy See, Andorra, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Congo, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Denmark, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

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