In August I attended the national convention of the Knights of Columbus which was held in Philadelphia. The leadership of the Knights from around the country and from around the world, countries including Korea, Poland, Mexico, Canada, the Philippines and others, gather annually to review the work of the brotherhood and set budgets and agen-das for the coming year.
It was an impressive meeting of thousands of Knights, many of whom were accompanied by their wives. Ten Cardinals and about a hundred bishops also attended. A substantial representation of New Jersey Knights were present, including the recently installed State Officers and the former State of New Jersey Deputy, Andy Lipenta, who is from our diocese.
At the States Dinner, the annual Convention banquet, there were two speakers whose talks were riveting. The first speaker was the Most Reverend Bashar Matti Warda C.Ss.R, Chaldean Bishop of Erbil, Iraq who was followed by the Most Reverend Jean-Clement Jeanbutt, Greek Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo, Syria. These two Catholic Bishops spoke about the persecution their flocks are experiencing in the Middle East. Their message to the Knights of Columbus needs to be heard not only by Catholics but also by people of good will everywhere as what the Bishops reported does not receive much attention in the media. Yes, there are some voices calling attention to the suffering of Christians in Iraq and Syria, especially the voice of our Holy Father, Francis. But, too many, even among our Catholic faithful, are unaware of the persecution that is taking place against the Church and the faithful in that part of the world.
Persecution has been experienced by the Church since the days of the Apostles. That it continues in our time is shocking but it does. The violence, murder, disruption and destruction that Catholics and the Catholic Church are dealing with in some areas of Iraq and Syria at the hands of militant Islamic jihadists is senseless. They are even at war with their own people. These terrorists do not represent the Muslim religion as I know it through friends and acquaintances who are devout Muslims.
Bishops and priests have been abducted and murdered. People and institutions are the victims. The lives of Christian villagers are disrupted as they are forced to flee, abandoning their properties and their livelihoods. There are huge refugee camps forming near the Lebanon border. Church buildings have been destroyed and their contents looted. It is reported that in some cases the militants would permit the Christians to remain if they would denounce the Lord and give up the faith.
Both of these churches are ancient and trace their roots back to the time of the Apostles. On the day of Pentecost, as reported by Saint Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, people from Syria witnessed the Spirit filled Christians who took to the streets of Jerusalem; they heard the preaching and were baptized. The Church has existed in that part of the world for 2,000 years and now it faces annihilation. Christian families in the thousands are forced to leave their homes and their villages and become refugees. Rather than deny the faith and renounce Christ, they flee. Their plight cries out for attention, relief and response. Some of which is taking place through Catholic relief agencies, such as Aid to the Church in Need and the generosity of the Knights of Columbus.
Let us remember to pray for this suffering Church. Let us make sure that our government officials hear their cries in order to respond to their plight and seek resolution to the conflict. Our sisters and brothers in Syria and Iraq who form the Body of Christ, the Church, are suffering and are being persecuted for our faith.