Kathryn Lopez: Christian examples and warnings

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 27, 2020

By Kathryn Lopez

“In times of trouble, it’s always the most vulnerable who suffer the worst,” Archbishop Bashar Warda, Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Erbil, Iraq, said just before Thanksgiving, at a mostly virtual global conference focusing on persecuted Christians and other religious minorities around the globe.

Warda does not speak to Westerners as a beggar, but as a realist. It’s a reality that we are in some part responsible for.

Speaking of Iraq, where Christians and other minorities have experienced extreme persecution, Warda said: “International war was followed by civil war, followed by violence and persecution and displacement, followed by even more violent war and then genocide …” And the list went on.

“It pains me greatly to say this,” Warda continued, “but I must be honest with you. We Christians of Iraq are now down to our last remnant people: less than 250,000 by all counts, and should the world forget us in this time, it’s quite likely that we will have disappeared by the time the world chooses to look upon us again.”

That’s a daunting thought, as Christians have been in Iraq for thousands of years.

That said, they are still there right now, and they are fighting to stay there.

They are not asking us to fix the situation for them, but they are asking us to care.

I’m always struck by the gratitude that Iraqi Christians have for those who do pay attention to their plight. And there is also a kind of optimism, despite their circumstances: Not long after Warda’s remarks, news broke that Pope Francis will visit Iraq in the new year. That’s potentially a game changer for the Christians and other persecuted religious minorities there.

Since the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has been talking about the fact that there are more persecuted Christians in the world now than in the early years of Christianity. That’s a huge responsibility for we Christians who are free to express our faith.

It’s also why our religious-freedom conflicts here at home matter in bigger ways that we may realize. When the religious order the Little Sisters of the Poor have to go to the Supreme Court to defend their conscience rights not once, but twice, and when the government has used the Coronavirus pandemic to place arbitrary and irrational restrictions on places of worship, we should be alarmed and vigilant.

The most alarming thing Archbishop Warda said was about the United States. After chronicling all the people fighting for religious freedom around the world, he said he is not alone in being frightened watching what’s happening in our country. The persecuted look to us “for leadership and stability, but it’s getting harder to do so. They see “a deeply fractured country” and this year, “acts of destruction and physical attacks on religious symbols and institutions.” These are not “simply random events,” Warda said. From his “bitter experience,” they are “calling cards for a far greater danger that lies at the end of this dark path. We worry greatly about what is to come.”

We are part of a marvelous experiment in pluralism here in the United States, making us a beacon of freedom to the world. We owe it to our God, our Founders and all the persecuted people around the world at this very moment to be better stewards of the gifts entrusted to us.

“It is always the most vulnerable who suffer the worst,” Warda repeated. “We Christians of Iraq hope that the political situation in the U.S. will follow a peaceful and stable process.” Let’s move forward as better citizens with Warda’s warning in mind as motivation, and the courage of the persecuted serving as inspiration.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book “A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living.” She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York. She can be contacted at klopez@nationalreview.com.