Modern Calvary for Mid-East Christians

By John J. Metzler

PARIS — The headlines seem from another era; that of Christian persecution by militant Islam in the Middle East. Yet the modern political responses to this age-old conflict appear as ambivalent to what has emerged as an organized attempt by the militant State of Islam to impose a caliphate both on Christians as well as more secular Muslims. And yes, remind yourself this is the 21st century! Three forces have opposed this modern day persecution; the Catholic Church as one would expect, the United Nations, crucial in a political sense, and French public opinion. Pope Francis said, “To find the martyrs, it’s not necessary to go to the catacombs or the Coliseum. The martyrs live in a number of countries. The Church of the 21st century is a Church of the martyrs.” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the persecutions, “A crime against humanity.”

In a special statement on religious minorities in Mosul, Iraq, the Security Council “express their deep concern over reports of threats against religious and ethnic minorities in Mosul and other parts of Iraq controlled by the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) including the ultimatum to Christians to either leave the city, stay and pay a tribute, convert to Islam, or face imminent execution.” The Council condemned in the “strongest terms the systematic persecution of individuals from minority populations and those who refuse its extremist ideology in Iraq by ISIL and associated armed groups.”

Though the United States government has grudgingly conceded the scope of the problem, especially since June when jihadi militants seized large parts of northern Iraq threatening ancient Christian communities in Mosul and Nineveh province, few countries besides France, have viewed the persecution both as a political as well as a humanitarian problem.

France to its credit, or perhaps because of its unique experience in the Levant, especially Lebanon, Syria and to some degree Iraq, has kept the issue in the headlines. In a poll for the respected French daily Le Figaro, two out of three respondents say the government should intervene to protect the Christian minority. A front page editorial added, “The long silence of the West is a moral fault, and it’s a geopolitical error. It not only has to do with the cross, the star, or the crescent, what is in play is a cultural richness, a model of society and a political future.”