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Monday, August 18, 2014

Islam, the Pope, and the End of Christianity in the Middle East

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When they were asked by (visiting) Christians whereof they give to their deities these diversified forms, they answered that their fathers did so before them. "Those who preceded us left them such, and such shall we transmit them to our posterity." This discussion centered around the natives' custom of cannibalism…The Travels of Marco Polo in Zipangu– current day Japan)
trappist nuns

The Trappist Nuns of Azeir, Syria 2013

It is not often that video clips viewed on the Internet will call attention to the presence of evil, but on three recent occasions I have viewed videos that have turned my stomach. Both the moral philosophers and Church Fathers knew man is capable of evil, but also believed that a strong and important religious life would reduce and/or eliminate those tendencies for most people, for they recognized that God is the final judge our actions.


But what if that sense of a strong religious conviction was a primary cause of those diabolical actions, as in the case of then residents of Zipangu? In his Provincial Letters, Blaise Pascal noted, "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." Could it possibly be true that in the 21st century one's religious fervor is the major factor responsible for the murders of untold numbers, including children, whose only crime was that they were faithful to another religion? Might that explain why the summary execution of about a dozen Syrians, the burying alive of an Iraqi man, or the slitting of a throat of an Iraqi woman all of whom refused to abandon their Christian beliefs, and all of which can be viewed, is currently acceptable in dealing with religious differences? But if one vehemently denies the legitimacy of that question, one is, once again, reduced to ask the foundational question: then why is this done in so barbaric a manner in the name of a religion?

Full disclosure: for more than two years, I have written about the attempts by jihadi Muslims who wage "holy war against the infidel," in both Syria and Iraq, and who seek to destroy completely the remnants of the remaining Christian culture in those two countries. Recall that in Syria areas of remaining Christians still speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ, but they can no longer openly worship, and they are not alone.

In the past two years or longer, the U.N. and other world bodies have stood idly by and done next to nothing to aid these people who are currently the targets of genocidal ragtag armies whose strength has increased over the past several years primarily due to the combination of indifference by the West, and strong financial support by other Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. 

Christianity has not been so endangered as it is today in the Middle East since the time of the Crusades. But if the U.S., the U.N., and other world bodies appear reluctant to aid the embattled Christians, what can be said of the Vatican's efforts? The answer to that question is both perplexing and disturbing at the same time, for much of the information about the Christians' horrific plight has been noted on the Vatican website, Fides.

More than two years ago, a Greek Melchite Archimandrite (a prior of a monastery), Rev. Philip Tournyol Clos, described the perilous situation for Christians in Syria who, fearing for their lives, were fleeing to Lebanon. In June of 2012, Mother Agnes Miriam de la Croix, Mother Superior of the Carmelite Convent in Homs, Syria, provided additional details at a talk at a church in Rome. Part of her (recorded) talk included this: "I've lived in Syria since 1994 under the regime of Assad, in which there was an enviable security (for Christians), but also a social fabric in which there was a form of peace among the groups." It should be added that Mother Superior spoke in a Methodist church in Rome, for not one Catholic parish would receive her!(Emphasis mine) The Melkite priest and Mother Superior's descriptions were confirmed by the American journalist, Michael Carl, and Martin Janssen, a Dutch journalist and human rights analyst.

In 2005, a group of nuns from the Cistercian Monastery of Valserena in Tuscany moved to Aleppo, Syria, to found a new monastic community there. The nuns were inspired to take up the work and legacy of seven monks who were martyred in 1997 in Algeria, and wanted to follow the example set by these men who had totally dedicated their lives to God and to their Algerian neighbors, both Christian and Muslim, something the nuns sought to achieve in Syria.

In an effort to raise international awareness of the plight of Syrian Christians, the nuns sent a letter to President Obama last year, in which they wrote: "All has been destroyed: a nation destroyed, generations of young people exterminated, children growing up wielding weapons, women winding up alone and targeted by various types of violence…families, traditions, homes, religious buildings, monuments that tell and preserve history and therefore the roots of a people…all destroyed. They are trying to kill hope, but we must hold on to it with all our might. To those who truly have a heart for Syria (for mankind, for truth…) we ask for prayer…abounding, heartfelt, courageous prayer." 

The nuns did not receive a response.

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On August 10, 2014 during the traditional Angelus prayer, Pope Francis finally asked for prayers for the suffering populations in the Middle East. He spoke of the news reports describing the carnage and barbarism now being seen in these two countries. He concluded with this: Hatred is not to be carried in the name of God! War is not to be waged in the name of God!, although I'm not sure that Pope Pius V would have expressed it that way. That message was taken up by the Vatican's Permanent Observer at the U.N., Archbishop Silvio Tomasi, but he added this caveat: "It is difficult to convince the Western powers to take a strong stance in the defense of the Christians."

Anyone familiar with the plight of these souls knows of the hellish conditions they now live under, and may for the foreseeable future, for it is apparent that there is an unwillingness by the major Western powers to do anything significant to address the situation. Note, however, that Archbishop Tomasi spoke only of "Western powers," for he has, intentionally or not, failed to mention Russian involvement. And therein lies a tale.

In late October of last year, President Putin of Russia addressed the situation of Syria's Orthodox by promising to grant Russian citizenship to these beleaguered Christians if that would resolve the problem. A month earlier, Russia also did something else: on the anniversary of the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, September 11, the spiritual leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kiril, sent President Obama a letter imploring the president to listen to the cries of all religious leaders who "unanimously" opposed military intervention against the Assad regime; otherwise, there was "the threat of mass extermination or exile" for Syria's remaining Christians, a prediction that has come true with a vengeance. What this indicates is that current Russian foreign policy now includes the possibility of a Russian "Protectorate" in Syria, and a return to a Czarist foreign policy in the area, which may unnerve Western military strategists, but like it or not, it is Putin's Russia that now is considered the savior of Christianity in the region.

But there is another aspect of this catastrophe that will not go away: why did it take the Vatican two years to begin its campaign to alert the world of the dangers to Christians in the Middle East, when the death and destruction were clearly visible? Surely, the Vatican's Nuncios in the region were reporting the targeted massacres of Christians, including children, and what can only be described as "religious cleansing." Granted, much of Vatican diplomacy is carried out sotto voce, and their diplomats may have been exhorting world leaders to recognize their responsibilities in salvaging Christianity, but I cannot help but believe there is another element to the delay.

At times during my assignment to the US Embassy to The Holy See, within the Vatican I'd notice a Catholic priest walking arm in arm with a mullah or imam. At Assisi in 1986 and a decade later, at the behest of Pope John Paul II, whose "Outreach" to Muslims was in full swing, an imam, along with other religious leaders, stood at the altar, and in one famous moment photographed for posterity the pope kissed the Koran, an action that astounded traditional Catholics. In May, 2001 Pope John Paul II became the first pope to visit a mosque – this one in Damascus, Syria – a visit which may confirm what Mother Superior de la Croix maintained: Syrian Christians were far better treated there than in other Moslem countries.

Although Pope Benedict carried on the policy of ecumenical outreach, on the basis of one sentence in his speech at Regensburg (2006) in which he cited Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos's condemnation of Islam: Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached..."  set off alarms inside the Vatican resulting in the issuance of a "clarification;" otherwise, the much still sought after rapprochement with Islam would be irreparably and irretrievably set back, as shown when Morocco withdrew its ambassador over the remarks, and Yemen threatened to do so.

In the intervening 8 years, however, the ecumenical landscape has changed dramatically, and an aggressively deadly and dangerous Islam now has become the modus operandi of large sections of the Middle East, exposing the Copts of Egypt, the Chaldeans of Iraq, and the Melchite Catholics and Orthodox of Syria to the threat of  annihilation.

Despite all of the evidence, Pope Francis seeks to continue the illusion that today's Islamic jihadi can be influenced and/or controlled by dealing with its more pacific parts and personalities, although the contradictory reality surrounds the pontiff. The Vatican's steadfast unwillingness to connect the dots that clearly lead to Islam's ultimate goal, at least by those who currently control it, which is nothing more – or less – than the elimination of all Christians in the Middle East, is a recipe for disaster for Christians both Orthodox and Catholic in that region.  Like the natives of Zipangu, that goal they learned from their forefathers.

Last modified on Monday, August 18, 2014
Vincent Chiarello | Remnant Columnist

Born on the Day of St. Patrick in 1937 in Brooklyn, N.Y., he was a high school history teacher until 1970, when he entered the U.S. Foreign Service. His overseas assignments included U.S. embassies in Colombia, Guatemala, Spain, Norway and Italy; his last assignment was to the U.S. Embassy to The Holy See. He is married to Cynthia (nee Goldsmith) and has three children. They attend a Traditional Latin Mass in Northern Virginia.