The archbishop who serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has asked U.S. Catholics to sign a pledge calling for an end to the slaughter of Christians and members of other religious minority groups in the Middle East.
"Today, the people of God must speak up for our brothers and sisters facing genocide in the Middle East," said a March 14 statement from Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.C.C.B. president. "As a people of faith, we must convince the U.S. Department of State to include Christians in any formal declaration of genocide."
Secretary of State John Kerry must decide by mid-March whether to make a formal declaration of genocide over atrocities committed by Islamic State in areas it occupies in Iraq and Syria.
"The very future of the ancient Christian presence in the Middle East is at stake," Archbishop Kurtz said.
"With each passing day, the roll of modern martyrs grows. While we rejoice in their ultimate victory over death through the power of Jesus' love, we must also help our fellow Christians carry the cross of persecution and, as much as possible, help relieve their suffering," he added. By doing so, the Middle East and the world will be made safer for people of every faith to live in peace."
Archbishop Kurtz urged Catholics to sign a petition at www.stopthechristiangenocide.org that has been online since late February. The effort is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians.
"Extensive and irrefutable evidence supports a finding that the so-called Islamic State's mistreatment of Iraqi and Syrian Christians, as well as Yezidis and other vulnerable minorities, meets this definition," the petition says.
State Department officials hinted last October that a genocide designation was coming for the Yezidi minority in the region, but not for Christians. The comments led to a firestorm of protest from Christian groups that resulted in congressional action setting the March 17 deadline for Kerry to respond.