As Christians in America commemorate Easter, we are reminded of those who celebrate Jesus’ resurrection in places hostile to Christianity. Consider the Middle East Christians facing genocide. In an interview with The Stream, Knights of Columbus spokesperson Andrew Walther suggests there is much we can gain from the strength of those brothers and sisters in the Lord.
A Source of Inspiration
Last year then-Secretary of State John Kerry labeled the mass killing of Christians in the Middle East genocide. Still they remain strong in their faith, said Walther, spokesperson for the Catholic group Knights of Columbus (KoC). “They face the brunt of genocide,” but they’re still hanging on, he said. He added that their strength in the face of hardship and genocide should be a source of inspiration for Christians in the U.S.
They are optimistic about the new Trump administration, too. “I’ve been told by Iraqi Christians [that] they see a new openness in the past few months on the part of the U.S. government. They hope it translates into action,” said Walther.
Most Syrian Christians are still displaced, often in smaller camps that don’t get attention from organizations and governments on hand to help. “Christians don’t end up on the radar,” said Walther. But they’ve seen many Christian areas liberated. Some people are moving home. Just the fact that people are moving back is a good sign, said Walther. “It’s a first step, there’s still a long way to go.” He added that despite the problems in the area, there is a palpable optimism that things will get better.
The Cradle of the Church
In Iraq, the Christian population is down 80 percent since 2003. And in Syria, the Christian population is down about 60 percent since their civil war began in 2011. This is troubling for many reasons, but for Walther it goes back to St. Paul and his conversion. “The Syrian Christians weren’t converted by St. Paul,” he explains. “They baptized St. Paul. The idea that this [group] could disappear should be alarming.” He added that the roots of Christianity could disappear from the cradle of the Church. However, his organization is working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Knights of Columbus
The Knights of Columbus has operated in the area since mid-2014 when ISIS really began taking over the territory. Walther said the KoC provide help through medical clinics, food, housing, catecheses programs among others. Just last month, the KoC pledged nearly $2 million to help the Syrian and Iraqi Christian refugees. The KoC use a variety of ways to help the people survive and rebuild.
But the assistance isn’t just for Christians, he is quick to point out. “Our clinics we fund and programs can’t turn anyone away,” he said, adding that it is a remarkable witness to non-Christians in the area who are served by Christian organizations.
Going On With Their Lives
Walther said he’d really like Americans to learn about the Christians in the area and how they’ve been persecuted for centuries. He also wants people to know that Syrian Christians “really want to go on with their lives, to go home and be full citizens in their country. They don’t want to be second-class citizens or discriminated against.” Much like the Western world, they’d like to celebrate Easter with family and contemplate Jesus’ gift to them of salvation without fear of persecution. But their faith has kept them strong, said Walther.
The Stream asked “What can Americans do?” Americans can pray for their brothers and sisters in the Middle East, said Walther, and help when possible through financial or other means. He adds that their strength in the face of genocide is an incredible testimony for American Christians and non-Christians alike. (For more from the author of “Easter and Syrian Genocide: What Americans Can Learn” please click HERE)