The United States Bishops have praised new legislation that will direct humanitarian relief to genocide victims in Iraq and Syria and hold Islamic State militants accountable for their crimes.
“Today is a signal of hope for the critically vulnerable of this region,” said Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, who also thanked the bill’s sponsors Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), as well as President Donald Trump who signed the bill into law Tuesday.
The House passed the bill unanimously on November 27 and the Senate did the same on October 11 after a grueling 17 months of deliberations.
At the signing, Mr. Trump said it was a “great honor” to bring H.R. 390 into law and remarked on his administration’s success in fighting the Islamic State. “This bill continues my administration’s efforts to direct U.S. assistance for persecuted communities including through faith-based programs,” Trump said.
In their statement, the U.S. bishops recalled the dire situation of Christians in the Middle East, whose numbers have plummeted in recent years.
“Less than 200,000 Christians remain in Iraq, down from 1.4 million in 2002 and 500,000 in 2013, before ISIS swept through the region on its genocidal campaign,” the statement reads. “Many of the remaining Christians in Iraq are displaced, mostly in Erbil in the Kurdistan region, and need desperate assistance to return to their homes and stay in Iraq.”
Along with the massive displacement of Christians, some 60,000 Yazidis fled to Europe, the statement says, and of those 550,000 Yazidis still in Iraq, “280,000 remain displaced and only 20 percent have been able to return to their historic homeland of Sinjar.”
Mr. Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, said in his own statement that the signing of the bill reveals the U.S. speaking “with bold moral clarity and political unanimity” on the question of religious persecution.
Anderson’s organization has donated more than $20 million to assist Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria with food, housing, and other needs. The Knights of Columbus, who were themselves involved in writing the bill, also spent $2 million to rebuild an entire Iraqi town that had been destroyed by ISIS.
“The Catholic Church has consistently raised its voice in support of the most vulnerable who are facing persecution and displacement in the Middle East and around the world,” the bishops stated, while recalling that Pope Francis has consistently denounced the persecution, torture, and killing of Christians in the Middle East, calling it a form of genocide that must end.
The USCCB “has joined with Pope Francis in condemning the actions of those who would persecute others solely for reasons of their faith and ethnicity,” they said.
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