Church bells rang in the city of Mosul, Iraq for two thousand years. St. Thomas the Apostle preached the Gospel in Iraq and Syria soon after Christ ascended from the earth. St. Jude was martyred in Syria in the first century. Since that time, faithful Middle-Eastern Christian communities have lived through wars and persecutions, through famines and oppressions, proclaiming the Gospel despite tremendous obstacles. For two thousand years, Christ has been present in Iraq and Syria in the mystery of the Eucharist.
In fact, the region of Iraq and Syria has had sacred meaning even long before Jesus Christ walked this earth.
More than four thousand years ago, God made a covenant with Abraham ben Terah. The Lord promised that Abraham would be the father of nations and kings, and patriarch of the land of Israel. Through his covenant with Abraham, the Lord revealed himself: in the law, in the prophets, and in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ: God’s own son, and a descendent of Abraham.
Abraham was a native of Ur Kaśdim, an ancient city located on the plains of modern-day Iraq. To reach the Promised Land, Abraham journeyed through modern-day Syria.
God chose to begin the covenant that reached its fulfillment in Jesus Christ with a man from the region that is now Iraq. And across the plains and cities of modern-day Syria, God led Abraham, spoke to him, and formed him. Through Abraham, those places have ancient and sacred meaning.
But today, in the birthplace of Abraham and the resting place of martyrs, the Gospel has nearly been silenced. Since the rise of ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities have been slaughtered, beaten, raped, and exiled from their homes. Across Iraq and Syria, Christian children have been enslaved and tortured.
Christians have been simply decimated in ISIL territory: their long-vibrant communities are no longer. ISIL acts to eliminate non-Muslims in their territory with inhuman brutality, and unimaginable violence.
In no uncertain terms, ISIL is engaged in the systematic genocide of Christians and other religious minorities in its territory. This week, the United States House of Representatives passed a unanimous resolution condemning that genocide, and calling the United States government, and the United Nations, to recognize ISIL atrocities as genocide, and to act to stop them.
In our polarized nation, it is rare for the House of Representatives to act unanimously. But on this issue, there has been no disagreement. And I am very proud that my congressman, and my dear friend, Representative Jeff Fortenberry, has been Congress’ leading advocate for the defense of Middle Eastern Christians.
The State Department of the United States has been reluctant to classify ISIL atrocities against Christians as genocide. To do so would require action, commitment, and investment. But no just government can stand by as families are slaughtered, and children are tortured.
I join with the House of Representatives, and especially with Congressman Fortenberry, to ask our State Department to recognize, condemn, and oppose ISIL genocide. And I ask that you join with me, and with Christians around the world, in praying for the people of an ancient and sacred place: the birthplace of Abraham, and the resting place of holy martyrs.