Interfaith Forum Confronts Crisis For Christians in Middle East


Cardinal Dolan delivered closing remarks during an interfaith forum, “The Crisis for Christians in the Middle East,” on Dec. 5 at the Sheen Center in Lower Manhattan, an event he described as “extraordinarily illuminating.”

“All of you,” he told those assembled, “have helped me keep a very solemn promise.” As archbishop of New York, he explained, many of his brother bishops from the Middle East frequently visit him, as do priests, religious women and men and lay faithful from those persecuted lands. And he himself, he added, has been honored to visit them in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

His brother bishops, he said, plead with him, “‘Please don’t forget us. We feel alone. We are desperate. We feel isolated.’

“And over and over again,” he continued, “I whisper to them, ‘We will not forget you; I promise.’”

“You have helped me keep that same promise, that we will not forget,” he told the preeminent group of scholars, civic officials, religious leaders and representatives of humanitarian organizations, as well as symposium participants.

“We have a God who is calling us to a sense of justice, we have a God who is calling us to advocacy and charity,” the cardinal said. “These people we can’t forget, my dear friends. They look to us as believers, they look to us as Americans.”

Underscoring strategies shared throughout the afternoon and evening gathering, the cardinal cited the importance of prayer, organized advocacy, publicity and assistance, and he specifically cited aid from Catholic agencies and organizations “such as our Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), the Knights of Malta, the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Relief Services, Aid to the Church in Need, Caritas International…and there are many, many others.”

Observing that the forum has “wisely” concentrated on the suffering of Christians in the Middle East, the cardinal cautioned, “We can’t forget Africa, India, China, Indonesia or Pakistan and, unfortunately, other nations, where the systematic, well-choreographed persecution of Christians goes on...”

Also among the distinguished speakers were Retired U.S. Army General Raymond T. Odierno, who served as the 38th chief of staff for the Army from 2011 to 2015, and Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder, an international philanthropist who has served as president of the World Jewish Congress since 2007. Appointed U.S. Ambassador to Austria by President Ronald Reagan, Ambassador Lauder served in the U.S. Pentagon as deputy assistant secretary of Defense for European and NATO Affairs.

General Odierno addressed “Strategies for Creating Stability in the Region,” in conversation with Judith Miller, an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

“What we’ve seen over the last 15 years for sure, and probably longer, is a growing idea of religious intolerance in the Middle East,” Odierno said, and across several different religions.

“What you’re seeing is, as people are now grappling for power in the Middle East, specifically in Iraq and Syria,” among other places, “what they try to do is create a fervor of support,” he said, adding, “the best way to create a fervor of support in some cases is using religion. We’ve watched this happen over thousands of years, where people use religion for that reason.”

He cited as examples Al Qaeda and ISIS.

The problems become compounded, Odierno continued, through failing and failed governments, which are unable to provide protections for all of the different populations.

“Jews know what happens when the world is silent to mass slaughter,” Lauder said. “We learned that lesson the hard way.”

The world response to Kristallnacht was silence, he said, adding that world silence led to the Holocaust.

Lauder’s talk was, “Who Will Stand Up for Christians?”

“Today we are witnessing the world’s complete indifference to the slaughter and displacement of Christians throughout the Middle East,” Lauder said.

“The reason I am here today is to remind all of you of what silence brings: it brings suffering, it brings death, it brings more shame on the rest of the world.”

In his advocacy in recent years on behalf of persecuted Christians, the cardinal, also in his closing remarks, said he had “not found a stronger ally than our Jewish neighbors.”

The Jewish community, “particularly here in New York,” he said, are “exceptionally loyal partners with us in this sacred endeavor.”

Among other offerings at the forum were “How We Got to Where We Are Today and the Humanitarian Toll,” that included as panelists Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of CNEWA, and Jack Tannous, assistant professor of history at Princeton University, moderated by Michael Reynolds, associate professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton.

“Current Conditions for Christians” was billed as a conversation led by Robert Nicholson, executive director of the Philos Project, with Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty; Juliana Taimoorazy, founder of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, and Nina Shea, a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute, where she directs the Center for Religious Freedom.