Senate Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Democracy and Global Women’s Issues
December 9, 2014
Madam Chair, Ranking Member, members of the committee: My name is Francis Kalabat and I serve as Bishop of the Chaldean Diocese of St. Thomas in North America, which includes 12 churches in Michigan and Illinois representing more than 175,000 Chaldean Catholics in communion with Rome and His Holiness Pope Francis.
Thank you for allowing me to testify before you today. As I speak, the process of the eradication of Christians in Iraq and throughout the Middle East continues. Ten years ago, in Iraq alone, there were over 350 Churches; today there are fewer than forty. Many have been bombed or destroyed; others, especially in the historically Christian villages of northern Iraq, are being used as Islamic State facilities.
I am here today to give testimony to the suffering of our people in Iraq and throughout the diaspora in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey, and to seek further assistance from this body, Congress as a whole and the executive branch. The United States has a unique role and obligation in this conflict. Not only because we are the standard bearer and protector of international human rights, but also because the plight of Christians in Iraq today is a direct result of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
That effort, the poorly planned and executed goal of regime change and the more recent withdrawal of U.S. troops, left in its wake a weakened and decentralized national government, sectarian warfare and the practice of government by tribes or in some cases government by gang. The lack of national unity and a tepid Iraqi military has left a dangerous void—a void filled, hopefully only temporarily, by Islamic State—a group that is the anathema to the West, to Judeo-Christian values and to civilized international norms. This has meant devastating consequences to the people of Iraq, especially Christians who are being systematically uprooted from their homes in the historical birthplace of Christianity.
A couple hundred thousand Christian Iraqis have fled their homes since the militant Islamic State group swept through much of the north in June. Islamic State has been turning churches into prisons in the Iraq city of Mosul, which used to be the site of a large Christian community before it was driven out by this terrorist group. As an example, Fides News Agency reported last Tuesday that a number of detainees were recently sent to the ancient Chaldean church of the Immaculate Conception in the eastern part of the city. Sources have shared that the historically important St. George Monastery in the north has also been turned into a place for female detention, raising fears that women might be abused. Our Churches have been destroyed and many of our ancient manuscripts dating back to the tenth century have been destroyed in an effort to wipe out our identity.
Mosul has been emptied of Christians who, under the implementation of Sharia law, have been forced to convert to Islam, pay a tax, leave their homes or die for their faith. Many have been killed in the name of religion.
Allow me to quote from a letter from Sr. Maria Hanna, Prioress of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Iraq.
“After four months of exile there are no signs of hope that the situation here in Iraq will be resolved peacefully. Unable to think or make decisions, everything is vague and we feel as if we have been living a nightmare. Christianity in Iraq is bleeding; so many families have left, and many are leaving to Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, preparing themselves for second immigration and an uncertain future. We know not how long these families will be able to tolerate the burden and survive financially.
“The conditions remain the same for those of us in Iraq. Many still are forced to stay in unfinished buildings on construction sites. In one place, a mall has been remodeled to accommodate families, with the hall divided merely with partitions. Although they are better than tents, they resemble dark, damp cages with no ventilation. Most difficult of all is the lack of privacy.
“There have been some attempts to provide containers and rent houses and flats, but this is not enough as the number of displaced people increases each day. Many come from cold mountainous places. Psychologically, people are tired, worried, confused, and irritated – who would blame them? They are jobless, their children do not attend school, and young people are still waiting to start their academic year at the university – some tried to register at Kurdish universities, but they were not accepted. All this is causing tremendous strain on the families, and the result is abuse and relationships that are unhealthy. The problems are totally overwhelming, and it seems as if our efforts are amounting to nothing.
“People have been stripped of their dignity….”
Members of this Committee, I submit to you that when people lose their dignity, they despair and despair is a dark, lonely place. But as our Savior Jesus Christ has taught us, “Where there is despair, he will bring hope.” But it is incumbent on us—the United States, western nations and all God- loving people everywhere, to be the tools and the manifestation of this hope. Therefore, I call on this sub-committee and the United States government to resolve the following:
humanitarian aid to the displaced Christians and other minorities in the regions of Erbil and
Dohuk in northern Iraq.
must immediately be liberated with U.S. military assistance and refugees provided safe
passage to return to their villages and homes.
under the supervision of either the U.S. or United Nations, if other governments will participate. The air strikes alone are accomplishing very little and costing taxpayers a bundle.
Senators, I submit to you that the U.S. must finish what it started; Islamic State must be defeated quickly and permanently. They are a menace to the Iraqi and Syrian people and will be a permanent threat to the West if they are not dismantled. The situation that the ancient Christian people of Iraq find themselves in today is the direct result of 20 years of failed U.S. policy in Iraq. An additional 2.2 million Christians in Syria are facing the same fate. Our response and future actions as a government cannot be borne just from a sense of humanitarian responsibility but rather the moral obligation that accompanies the direct role that the U.S has played in the destabilization of Iraq and the region.
Jesuit Father Alex Bassili, socius to the Provincial of the Jesuits in Middle East Province, reported earlier today, Monday, April 7, 2014, at about 8 am, Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt was been abducted by armed men, who beat him and then murdered with two bullets in the head, in front of the Jesuit residence in Homs, Syria.
Father Frans van der Lugt (April 10, 1938-April 7, 2014) was born in the Netherlands and entered the Society of Jesus in 1959.
He was missioned to Syria for the last 50 years working in education as a psychologist and in a project for handicapped people. With the Syrian civil war Father wanted to remain with the local population in the Centre of Homs as a man of peace.
Our Lady, Queen of Peace pray for Father Frans van der Lugt.
Saint Ignatiius, pray for us.
Archbishop Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim was elected as the new Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch and All East. He will be the 123rd Patriarch in the Apostolic Lineage of St Peter replacing His Holiness Patriarch Zakka I Iwas who recently died.
The Synod of the Syriac Orthodox Church met in Damascus on 31 March 2014, called to elect the 123rd successor of St.Peter. This Apostolic See of Antioch is also the Supreme Head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church.
A biography is noted here. It’s worthy reading.
Archbishop Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim was born in Kamishly, Syria on May 3, 1965; he is the youngest son of Mr. & Mrs. Issa Karim. On Sunday, January 28, 1996, Karim was consecrated as Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicar to the Archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church for the Eastern United States Patriarch Zakka I Iwas. A position he leaves to take up his new ministry.
His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East. His Holiness passed away on March 21, 2014. after suffering a massive heart attack while in Germany working on health concerns.
His Holiness was the 122st patriarch having been elected in 1980. He was a successor to Saint Peter.
May God be merciful and memory be eternal.