St. George's Orthodox Christian Cathedral here in Wichita focused on the "Persecuted Christian Communities of the Middle East", especially in Syria and Iraq, but also commenting on the status of Christians in Lebanon, whence many of the members or the ancestors of St. George's have come. The complimentary lunch was excellent, by the way, a foretaste of the annual Lebanese dinner with ruz and yuknee! The turnout in the morning was excellent; some people had to leave after lunch for other Saturday activities. I attended three of the four presentations and left for Confession before the panel discussion and Great Vespers.
Two groups have joined forces to help the Christians in the Middle East: IDC (In Defense of Christians) and the Knights of Columbus. IDC was represented at this meeting: their partnership with the KofC was just announced. The goals of these efforts are humanitarian aid of course, but also to obtain passage of H.Con.Res.75 and United States Department of State acknowledgement that the atrocities committed against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East as Genocide; and to help stop this genocide by creating an International Protected Zone for indigenous Christians near Mosul, Iraq (near the ancient city of Nineveh). The IDC representative, Ninar Keyrouz, was a little vague about how the International Protected Zone would work, saying that lots of details need to be worked out. Unless ISIS is destroyed, how would the international community even carve out the safe zone? Even if ISIS was kicked out of Iraq, will the Christians in that safe zone need a permanent defense from the international community?
The stories about the ISIS take over of Mosul and other Christian communities are harrowing: looting, executions, kidnapping of children and young girls, dispersal of families, the choice of conversion or death/exile, the betrayal and brutality, the destruction of churches, monasteries and other ancient Christian art, architecture, and artifacts. ISIS is focused on eliminating Christians from their ancestral home and destroying all signs of their civilization and heritage in their efforts to create the Caliphate. Sometimes the speakers seemed to place too much significance on the ethnic heritage, in my humble opinion.
One of the main calls to action of the day was to sign the petition to Secretary Kerry for the U.S. to call these attacks on Christians in Iraq and Syria what they are: Genocide--and thus marshal international support and protection for Christians in the Middle East. In the past, we have ignored too many genocides: in Europe under Nazi Germany, in the Ottoman Empire, etc. Those of us attending the event on Saturday were urged to become more aware and to spread awareness of what is happening to Christians in the Middle East: this time, we must acknowledge the crime of genocide and prevent it from happening again. Here is a prayer from the Knights of Columbus so that we may pray as if everything depends on God (because it does) and yet work as if everything depends on us.