Middle East Christians called key witnesses of mercy, forgiveness

NEW YORK (CNS) — Protecting Christianity and religious pluralism in the Middle East and respecting the rights of all would open the path to peace in the region, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said at a dinner in New York Oct. 12.

“True peace is possible only when the fundamental rights and dignity of every person are respected. We continue to believe that fundamental human rights must include the freedom of conscience, the free exercise of religion, and equality under the law,” Anderson said.

He made the comments in accepting the Path to Peace Award, sponsored by the Path to Peace Foundation.

As president of the foundation, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations, presented the award to Anderson and the Knights of Columbus for the international fraternal organization’s life-saving work in the Middle East and “humanitarian work throughout the world.”

The dinner marked the 25th anniversary of the foundation, established to support the work of the Vatican’s U.N. mission.

In his remarks, Anderson said Christians in the Middle East have provided a remarkable witness by forgiving their persecutors. They are “the ones most deserving of an award and of all the support we can give them, especially in Iraq and Syria,” he said.

“For 2,000 years, these Christians have lived heroically. Pope Francis recently said: ‘Here lies the secret of (the Christian’s) mission … to proclaim (God’s) love and mercy even in the most resistant areas,’” Anderson said. “This is the history of Christians indigenous to the Middle East. They forgive, and by doing so they open the path to peace.

“Today, they have given up everything but their faith, for their faith,” he continued. “But even having lost so much, they have given a great gift, to their fellow citizens and to the world. The gift they have given is the example of forgiveness and mercy — the fundamental building blocks of peace.”

Anderson also called for an increased level of government funding directed to communities that have faced genocide to ensure their survival, and for “the creation of real equality regardless of religious belief.”

Anderson stated, “The regime of second-class citizenship faced by Christians in much of the region before the advent of ISIS (Islamic State) has been seen as the breeding ground for the genocide. We must insist that Christians and other non-majority communities are no longer marginalized.”

Noting that Western countries and those in the Middle East may not always have the same concept of rights, he added: “Dialogue is, of course, necessary if we are to make any progress in this regard. But dialogue is possible only when all the participants agree upon the meaning of the words they use.”

He also stated that direct funding must be made available for those communities who are victims of genocide. Currently, both U.S. and U.N. officials in Iraq have confirmed that they prioritize aid to individuals in need of assistance but do not consider the situation of groups — even if the groups have been targeted for genocide and now are in danger of extinction.

“The idea that we should help everyone is noble,” said Anderson. “But the idea that we should help only individuals and ignore communities facing extinction is not.”

He emphasized that “victims and survivors of genocide should be prioritized.”

By prioritizing direct funding and human rights, he said, “we will not only have saved the faith of a people, we will have ensured that their witness of mercy and reconciliation — which is the only authentic path to peace — continues to be a leaven in this region.”

In announcing that Anderson and the Knights would receive the Path to Peace Award, Archbishop Auza noted that under Anderson’s leadership, the Knights of Columbus “used their resources to put together a compelling 300-page report on the violence against Christians in the Middle East that compelled U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to declare what was happening to Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities in the region a genocide.”

Kerry made that declaration March 17, saying he was not judge and jury, but the Islamic State had self-defined itself as genocidal because of its actions against those religious groups. It was the first U.S. declaration of genocide since Sudanese actions in Darfur in 2004.

Previous winners of the Path to Peace Award include Kofi Annan and Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former U.N. secretaries-general; Cardinal Angelo Sodano, former Vatican secretary of state; Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao of East Timor; former President Corazon Aquino of the Philippines; former President Lech Walesa of Poland; Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg, a goodwill ambassador for UNESCO since 1997; and Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, of Mosul, Iraq, who was honored posthumously in 2009.

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