Tom Gallagher from the National Catholic Reporter is part of the team that accompanied Cardinal Timothy Dolan and CNEWA on the pastoral visit to Iraq this week. He had a chance to interview the cardinal and get some initial impressions from his trip:
NCR: In addition to prayer, what practical assistance can dioceses, parishes, Catholic organizations and individuals do to assist Christians persecuted and suffering in Iraq and the Middle East?
Dolan: One of the reasons we come here is to get the word out and let people know what’s happening. First of all, I know you didn’t intend it this way, Tom, but we can never diminish the value of prayer. And that has to be first and foremost. If I’ve ever seen that vindicated, it’s in the vivid faith of the people here. I mean prayer, worship, liturgy, faith means the world to them. And as one lady told us yesterday, “Where else are we going to go, but to our faith?” We can never diminish prayer. I know you didn’t intend it that way.
What can we do? I think we need to get practical. Let’s start supporting vigorously organizations like the Catholic Near East Welfare Association…
…Number two: Let’s advocate. Do you remember when [President] Ronald Reagan for the first time met with [Soviet Union President] Mikhail Gorbachev? He told the American people that he had a list in his pocket of the names of people who were in prison for their religious beliefs in the Soviet Union. He intended to ask Mikhail Gorbachev about each of them. And it worked.
We hold in high regard the advocacy of our Jewish neighbors, especially in New York. They are first to tell us, people like Bishop Murphy and me, “What’s taking you so long? Why are you afraid to advocate with the government on behalf of your people?” We need to do that.
I’ve been moved with the fact that I haven’t detected any anger against the United States among these wonderful people [the internally displaced Christian Iraqis]. In fact, I detect a love for America, almost a trust that America could do something for them. And we can’t let them down. We’ve got to do it. I’m not just talking about humanitarian aid. I’m talking about the plea from them [displaced Iraqi Christians] that we heard over and over again: “We just want to go home. We just want to go home.” So let’s advocate.