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8/12/2014 9:18:00 AM
Christian patriarchs denounce silence on persecution in Mideast
Catholic News Service

BEIRUT — Mideast Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs denounced the "total international silence" on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and called for Muslim religious authorities to issue fatwas, or legal edicts, banning attacks against Christians and "other innocents."

The prelates met Aug. 7 at the summer seat of the Maronite Catholic Church in Diman for a special summit to address the crisis facing Christians in Iraq and Syria. Their statement was issued before the U.S. authorized targeted airstrikes against Islamist insurgents in northern Iraq if they threaten American personnel.

"We strongly deplore the expulsion of our sons from Mosul and Ninevah, regions that were known for religious coexistence," the patriarchs said in a statement following their meeting.

They stressed that the expulsion of all Christians from the region was not voluntary displacement to seek a temporary escape from death but rather "was planned by the organization of the Islamic State ... and other jihadi groups that forced them to abandon their homes solely because of their religious affiliation, in direct violation of all agreements and international charters."

"This unjust decision made on behalf of Islam is a serious setback for the Arab and Islamic region," they said.

The night of Aug. 6-7, Iraq's largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, near Mosul, and surrounding villages on the Ninevah Plains fell to the Islamic State, resulting in the exodus of nearly 100,000 Christians. Mosul was captured by Islamic State forces in June, also resulting in an exodus of Christians.

Many ethnic Yezidi, squeezed between the Kurds and the advancing Islamic State fighters and the Syrian army, have had to flee their homes in the middle of a punishing Iraqi summer with little but the clothes they wore.

The patriarchs stressed that they are not asking for protection of Christians.

"We have rights and we believe it is the duty of international organizations to maintain their credibility and prohibit forced demographic change imposed on Christians and other religious  communities."

The patriarchs said they were "appalled by ... the growing of religious extremism" in the region. They called on countries that "support, organize and arm terrorist organizations to stop their activities," warning that religious extremism "will have negative consequences on those who did not resist it." They also said it was important to find out who was financing the extremists.

The patriarchs criticized the "weak, timid and inadequate" response of Islamic, Arab and international circles, a stance they said "does not reflect the seriousness of this phenomenon and its repercussions on the historical demographic diversity of the peoples of the region."

"We call upon the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic  Conference, the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court to take swift, effective and immediate salvaging action," the statement said.

"We appeal to the Islamic authorities -- Sunni and Shiite -- to issue fatwas banning attacks on Christians and other innocent people and their property," the patriarchs said.

"We also call upon all parliaments in the Arab and Islamic countries to issue laws" against religious discrimination against minorities by which violators would be held accountable to the law for misconduct.

Noting that Christians have a mission to continue in the Middle East, they criticized European nations that "encourage the exodus of Christians, ostensibly to protect them."

Instead, "what is needed from the international community through the U.N. Security Council," the patriarchs said, "is to take a firm decision to ensure the return of the people to their lands by all possible means and in the quickest possible time."

"It is the duty of international bodies to stop the forced demographic change in the region," they said.

Regarding the war in Syria, the patriarchs called upon stakeholders and countries that provide money and weapons to fuel the conflict "to stop this war, and to find political solutions to bring about a just, comprehensive and lasting peace, and the possibility of the return of displaced Syrians to their homes and lands, and get them out of the misery in which they live." They also questioned international indifference about the April 2013 kidnapping of two Orthodox bishops, who remain missing.

They called the Israeli shelling of the Gaza Strip "inhumane" and demanded "the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and the lifting of the siege on its sector, its people and the release of prisoners and an end to the fighting," in which nearly 2,000 Palestinians were killed in four weeks. "This is a crime against humanity."

Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, presided over the meeting. The other participants were: Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II; Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni; Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham; Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan; Catholicos Aram of Cilicia, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church; Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X of Antioch; and Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad, representing Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako. The Vatican nuncio to Lebanon, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, also attended.

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