(CNSNews.com) - An Anglican priest set the tone on Wednesday at an event to unveil a pledge and “call to action” signed by almost 200 faith leaders across the country to end the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
The Rev. Canon Andrew White, who operates a church and health clinic in Baghdad, Iraq, said the youth in his care asked him about their plight.
“They said, ‘Abuna, Abuna (Father, Father) has the world forgotten us?” White said at a gathering at the Capitol hosted by Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.). “Has the world forgotten that we are there?’"
"Yes, we can talk about being Christian,” White said, “but do we know that we are brothers and sisters?
“You might be here in D.C.,and I might be there in Baghdad,but we are one,” White said. “We are together.
“We are together the children of God,” White said.
The pledge says, in part: “Now facing existential threat to their presence in the lands where Christianity has its roots, the Churches of the Middle East fear they have been largely ignored by their coreligionists in the West … American religious leaders need to pray and speak with greater urgency about this human rights crisis.”
“I regularly meet with beleaguered Christians from this part of the world,” Wolf said at the press conference. “Their stories are eerily similar; believers kidnapped for ransom; churches – some full of worshippers – attacked; clergy targeted for killing.
“In the face of this violence, Christians are leaving in droves,” Wolf said.
White said this is true with his congregation in Baghdad,where he said radical Islamists have repeatedly targeted him and his parishioners.
“I used to say ‘I’m not leaving you, don’t you leave me,’” White said. “I can’t say that anymore, because I know if my loved ones stay, they might be killed,” White said.
“I know that if my loved ones remain, the chance of them surviving is very little," he said.
“I have been shot at,” White said. “I have been kidnapped. I have been thrown into rooms with chopped off fingers and toes,” White said. “I have had my church blown up and destroyed.
“I have had my clinic destroyed,” White said. “And yet, we always come back. We always build it again, immediately.”
White said the population of Christians in Iraq once numbered 1.5 million but is now less than 200,000.
A dozen faith leaders from across ecumenical lines spoke at the event, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Catholic Archbishop of Washington, D.C., who said atrocities against Christians in Egypt, Iraq and Syria continue because of “silence.”
“We’re simply trying to break that silence,” Wuerl said, adding that Americans should spread the “wonderful tradition” in the U.S. of respect and tolerance for people of all faiths.
Jerry Johnson, president and CEO of the National Religious Broadcasters, showed a video where an Islamist convert to Christianity was beheaded, stopping the film just before the graphic moment but telling attendees where they could access it on an Egyptian media website.
Wolf and Eshoo introduced legislation in the 112th and 113th Congresses to create a special envoy at the State Department to focus exclusively on the plight of religious minorities in South Central Asia and the Middle East. The legislation passed by a large bipartisan vote in the House in both sessions, but has been held up by the Senate.