Christians in the Middle East: Can the EU do anything to end this latter-day persecution?
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See at the UN in Geneva, has a record of raising many difficult issues in the area of human rights and tackling intractable problems with uncanny insight and courage. As this short interview shows, it is these qualities which the Archbishop brings to resolution of one of the most heart-breaking tragedies of our day, the twilight of Christianity in the lands which were the crucible of the Church.
The decision taken by Pope Francis to beatify Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador as a martyr is an acknowledgement that still in our time witness to the Christian faith often results in violent death. Beatification is official recognition of this heroism. Contemporaneous with the Pope’s formal announcement concerning the Central American bishop who has been the subject of much controversy and contention since his assassination on 24 march 1980 are the deaths of thousands of Christians and the systematic persecution of even more and the brutal expulsion from their ancestral homelands in the Middle East, where they have been present since the dawn of Christianity, at the hands of the radical firebrands who run “the so-called Islamic State”. The plight of these Christians has been flashing on and off the radar in Europe since last summer but sadly, when other pressing issues closer to either our home or our pockets demand our attention and claim the headlines, the systematic elimination of a Christian presence in the Middle East continues unabated.
The visit of Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, to the Middle East in mid February as well as his earlier very public interest expressed in the work of Aid to the Church in Need shortly before Christmas and the repeated concern he has expressed regarding “the indescribable agony” Middle Eastern Christians are going through have forced the plight of these martyrs in the making back as a leading story on BBC, CNN and the other leading news channels in the West.
One leading expert on the complex politics of the Middle East who has valiantly striven to keep the lot of the area’s Christians a burning issue of concern for the whole international community is Archbishop Silvano Tomasi. Mgr. Tomasi kindly agreed to answer a series of questions on this issue addressed to him by Europe Infos, particularly interested in what role, if any, the EU could and should play in resolving this great human tragedy and this brutal assault on a Christian civilization which has legitimate claims to being the oldest in the world.
Is there evidence to suggest that Christians in the Middle East are being persecuted because they are Christians? Or are they suffering because they do not want to subscribe to Islam?
Everyone who disagrees with “the so-called Islamic State” is at risk of persecution, even execution. It is a fact that when Christians are involved, if they were to renounce their faith they would be accepted, not killed nor forced into exile, or let away with paying special taxes to live in their own ancestral homes. We have seen fellow Christians beheaded simply because they refused to renounce their faith.
What concrete steps can the EU as such take to alleviate the persecution of Christians in the Middle East?
The EU should not be bashful in addressing the issue of the persecution of Christians. Human rights and the right to freedom of religion are also Christian entitlements. There is [on the EU] a humanitarian obligation, out of solidarity with these persecuted groups to provide food, shelter and education … and these are some concrete steps the EU can and should continue to undertake.
Can the EU do anything to enable Christians to remain in their home areas, or elsewhere in the Middle East?
The EU can lend its economic and political support so that the right to live in one’s own country and lead a decent life there be respected. The continuity of the Christian presence in the Middle East would be guaranteed by peace as the base for dialogue among the various components of these ancient, pluralistic societies.
Fr. Patrick H. Daly
COMECE General Secretary