By MSGR. RICHARD LOPEZ, Commentary | Published September 6, 2018
I believe it was in the 1996 Olympics that a local bank refused to cash a check from New Mexico, as they did not do so for “foreign countries.” The embarrassing truth is that in the United States we are often uninformed about peoples and geography.
This lack of knowledge is particularly obvious when I talk to others about the Middle East, the birthplace of our faith.
For example, people are often shocked when they hear about the existence of Iraqi Christians, not to mention Iraqi nuns. They would be more shocked if they knew that at one time Iraq was 20 percent Christian. The University of Baghdad was a Jesuit school, and those Iraqi nuns still run one of the biggest hospitals in Baghdad. Tragically 17 of these sisters have died in the brutality of the ISIS insanity.
History tells us that at one time the people of Middle East and North Africa were Christian, until the jihad of Islam swept through that part of the world. Today 11 million Christians struggle to keep the faith in the Middle East. Raymond Ibrahim, an Egyptian-American research librarian, translator and author, said that given the demographics of 1900, there now should be 100 million Christians in the Middle East, but the constant massacres and persistent discrimination have killed millions and forced other millions to flee.
Christianity is a Middle Eastern religion, and the Christians of Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt are the first Christians. They are custodians of our most ancient shrines, keepers of our earliest scriptures and documents, and our closest links to the apostles and the Mother of God. Many of them speak Aramaic, the very language of Christ, and all of them have suffered to keep the faith of Jesus.
In the book “Christians in Danger,” author Marc Fromager quotes the rector of the Iraqi seminary in Qaraqosh: “If you pick up the soil of Iraq in your hands, you can smell the blood of Christians, but Christians have always reacted with peace.” Ironically, in the world today Christians are the greatest victims of genocide. Fromager estimates that some 200 million Christians live in mortal danger because of their faith. The majority live in Muslim countries, while others live in places like China and North Korea.
Ironically, a 2018 ZENIT survey of American Catholics, conducted by Aid to the Church in Need-USA, revealed we are more concerned about global warming than the murder of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
In Pakistan where churches have been burned, children massacred and innocent people arrested for “blasphemy against Islam,” a young Pakistani Christian girl was convinced the United States was a Muslim nation. When she was corrected and told we are a majority Christian nation, she said, “Well, but why don’t they help us if they are Christians?’
Thousands of Christians languish in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and northern Iraq. The American government has decreed that Christians in the Middle East are victims of genocide, which entitles them to asylum, yet virtually none have been allowed into the United States. These people have seen their homes taken over and their children kidnapped, raped and crucified. They have seen their churches and shrines burned and their businesses ruined—all because they will not give up Christ.
We hear nothing, we see nothing, we do nothing.
A common belief is that the deepest pain in Hitler’s concentration camps, Stalin’s Gulag and now in the homes of displaced Christians in Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Nigeria—where people mourn their massacred relatives—is that nobody cares.
I have read that a rabbi who survived Dachau once said, “The question in our agony was not ‘Where is God?’ but rather ‘Where is humanity?’”
Our question should be: “Where are the Christians of the United States?”
Pete Hamill, an American author, said that as a child he could hear his father crying at night. His dad, who worked in a factory had a wooden leg that caused him terrible pain. Hamill said that as a child he vowed one day “he would honor that pain.”
In the months ahead, with the permission of The Georgia Bulletin, I will examine the Christian crisis to discover and communicate how we can honor the pain of those persecuted for righteousness’ sake and how ordinary Christians in the United States can help.
Msgr. Richard Lopez served for many years as a teacher at St. Pius X High School, Atlanta.