Closing Remarks at
Defending Religious Freedom and Other Human Rights: Stopping Mass Atrocities Against Christians and Other Believers
28 April 2016
I’d like to conclude today’s Conference by reading from the very heartfelt letter Pope Francis wrote to the Christians of the Middle East 16 months ago, which summarize not only the sufferings we’ve heard about but focus us on our response.
“Sadly, afflictions and tribulations … in the Middle East … have been aggravated … because of the continuing hostilities in the region, but especially because of the work of a newer and disturbing terrorist organization, of previously unimaginable dimensions, which has perpetrated all kinds of abuses and inhuman acts. It has particularly affected a number of you, who have been brutally driven out of your native lands, where Christians have been present since apostolic times.
“Nor, in writing to you, can I remain silent about the members of other religious and ethnic groups who are also experiencing persecution and the effects of these conflicts. Every day I follow the new reports of the enormous suffering endured by many people in the Middle East. I think in particular of the children, the young mothers, the elderly, the homeless and all refugees, [and] the starving. … This suffering cries out to God and it calls for our commitment to prayer and concrete efforts to help in any way possible .…
“Your very presence is precious for the Middle East. You are a small flock, but one with a great responsibility in the land where Christianity was born and first spread. You are like leaven in the dough. Even more than the many contributions that the Church makes in the areas of education, healthcare and social services, which are esteemed by all, the greatest source of enrichment in the region is the presence of Christians themselves, your presence. …
“Your efforts to cooperate with people of other religions, with Jews and Muslims, is … the best antidote to the temptation to religious fundamentalism, which is a threat for followers of every religion. At the same time, dialogue is a service to justice and a necessary condition for the peace which all so ardently desire.
“The majority of you live in environments which are predominantly Muslim. You can help your Muslim fellow citizens to present with discernment a more authentic image of Islam, as so many of them desire, reiterating that Islam is a religion of peace, one that is compatible with respect for human rights and favors peaceful coexistence on the part of all. This will prove beneficial for them and for all society. The tragic situation faced by our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq, as well as by the Yazidi and members of other religious and ethnic communities, demands that all religious leaders clearly speak out to condemn these crimes unanimously and unambiguously, and to denounce the practice of invoking religion in order to justify them.
Dear brothers and sisters, even though you may not be numerous, you play a significant role. … The entire Church is close to you and supports you, with immense respect and affection for your communities and your mission. We will continue to assist you with our prayers and with every other means at our disposal.
“At the same time I continue to urge the international community to address your needs and those of other suffering minorities, above all by promoting peace through negotiation and diplomacy, for the sake of stemming and stopping as soon as possible the violence which has already caused so much harm. … How much longer must the Middle East suffer from the lack of peace?”
Pope Francis finished by emphasizing, “We must not resign ourselves to conflicts as if change were not possible!” Change is possible. And we are all being gravely summoned to be protagonists of that life-saving change.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you once again for your attendance today and for all you are doing and will do in the future to bring that change, to stop mass atrocities against Christians and other believers and to defend religious freedom and all human rights in the Middle East, Nigeria and beyond. We can amplify the cries of our suffering and persecuted brothers and sisters. I trust that all of us must do whatever we can to help them and stop the indescribable atrocities. We must.