Middle East bishops applaud Trump’s religious-liberty executive order

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Middle East bishops applaud Trump’s religious-liberty executive order

Edward Pentin/ ncregister.com and en.abouna.org

The content of President Donald Trump’s new executive order to promote religious freedom overseas was greatly overshadowed by the controversy that erupted at the time of its signing June 2. Church leaders in the Middle East contacted by the Register have enthusiastically welcomed the document.

The presidential directive, which President Trump signed at the White House after a controversial visit to the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., prioritizes international religious freedom in foreign policy and overseas government aid projects, budgets $50 million a year for programs that advance religious liberty worldwide, and requires relevant State Department officials to undergo training in international religious freedom.

The executive order also aims to develop recommendations to “prioritize the appropriate use of economic tools” to advance religious liberty “in countries of particular concern.”

CHALDEAN ARCHBISHOP BASHIR WARDA

“We welcome the recent Executive Order on Advancing Religious Freedom,” said Chaldean Archbishop Bashir Warda of Erbil, Iraq — an area that has lost hundreds of thousands of Christians since the 2003 Iraq War and the 2014-2017 invasion by the Islamic State group. “Having directly experienced persecution, crimes against humanity and genocide because of our commitment to our faith, we are deeply grateful for the efforts of the administration to maintain an international focus on this issue.”

SYRIAC CATHOLIC PATRIARCH YOUNAN

Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan told the Register he welcomed the “courage” President Trump showed in signing the order after visiting the Shrine of St. Pope John Paul II and hoped “there will be an effective follow-up” in the form of defending and preserving civil rights, creating jobs, promoting development and helping foster a true religious dialogue that they “dream of.”

In a June 5 statement, the patriarch said he also firmly hoped “effective humanitarian programs” announced in the executive order would “insure the survival of my community, as well as Christian minorities, in order to stay rooted in their ancestral homeland.”

Patriarch Younan stressed the extent of the “horrific persecution” Syriac Catholics have faced over the past decade in Iraq and Syria — something he said he and Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad told Vice President Mike Pence at a recent meeting. It is a “matter of survival,” he told the Register.

“We need effective solidarity from the U.S.A.,” which “should cherish religious freedom as a gift from God.” This needs to be “shown in deeds, not only words, avoiding ‘politically correct language’” that he said has “spread within Western politics, media and even within the Church.”

In his June 5 statement, Patriarch Younan asked President Trump to “help restore peace and reconciliation” to Syria and make it a priority to lift economic sanctions affecting the innocent. “Wherever religious freedom is guaranteed, sociopolitical freedoms will sooner or later follow,” he said.

IRAQI SYRIAC CATHOLIC BISHOP HABASH

Iraqi Syriac Catholic Bishop Yousif Habash, originally from Mosul and now at the Syriac Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance of Newark, said the order “is certainly very positive and worthy of consideration and appreciation.” Christians do not “wait for aid from far away to survive,” he stressed, but added that if such aid comes from “goodwill,” then it “certainly benefits Christians and serves them.”

Asked about their hopes for the correct implementation of the executive order, Bishop Habash urged that it be “just and fair” because “a lot of such help doesn’t bring the appropriate results.”

He asked that a committee be created, made up of “people of integrity” and who have “real knowledge” of the Christian communities concerned. He also recommended that a “transparent and strong work plan” be developed, that nuncio-approved statistics on any given situation be prepared, and institutions be registered.

He also advised a second committee deal with “grievances and complaints” and to help those most urgently in need. Particular attention, he said, should be given to those on low incomes needing health care, surgery and medicine, as well as young people without education.

Bishop Habash said what is “really very painful” is that Western governments “do not want to give importance to the Christian presence in the Middle East.” But in America, he said, “the pulse of Christianity is still alive and well,” and without Christianity, the world “could be a hell that is intolerable.”

This is why, he said, “evil wills fight America’s existence, the American spirit and its optimism, because America still believes that it is a nation under God.”

He added that if the U.S. wishes to “compensate for its mistakes that caused great losses to the Christians of Iraq, there is no other way and no other solution except with the support of Christians in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria.”
“When America works for justice and peace, it could be great and more powerful,” he added. “Only here lies the secret of its power, but God forbid, if it falls, the fall will be loud.”

PRIORITIZE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
While Church leaders in Iraq and Syria previously have praised the Trump administration for giving enhanced attention to their problems since the president took office in 2017, they also have sometimes been critical of failures to fulfill American promises of assistance.

Speaking to the Register in June 2018, Archbishop Warda said it was “a big disappointment” that there had been little progress up to that point in implementing a promise Vice President Pence made in October 2017 to channel U.S. assistance directly to Christians and other persecuted religious minorities in the Middle East.

And speaking with the Register at the end of Hungary’s first-ever government-sponsored conference in support of persecuted Christians in October 2017, Patriarch Younan appealed to the Trump administration to deliver “something real on the ground, not just words but a vision” to help Christians in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 09:52
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