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geno20160224T1209 0327 CNS PETITION GENOCIDE 800A woman attends Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Baghdad, Iraq, in this May 10, 2009, file photo. (CNS photo/Ali Haider, EPA)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – As a mid-March deadline approached for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to make a decision on whether to make a declaration of genocide in the Middle East, the Knights of Columbus, based in New Haven, Conn., and the Washington-based group In Defense of Christians have mounted a petition campaign asking Kerry to make a genocide declaration.

"America must end its silence about the ongoing genocide against Christians and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria," the petition says.

It cites as evidence of genocide the assassinations of church leaders, mass murders and deportations, torture, kidnapping for ransom, forcible conversions to Islam, and the sexual enslavement and systematic rape of girls and women, as well as destruction of Christian churches, monasteries, cemeteries and artifacts.

"The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines 'genocide' as killing and certain acts 'committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,'" the petition says.

"Extensive and irrefutable evidence supports a finding that the so-called Islamic State's mistreatment of Iraqi and Syrian Christians, as well as Yazidis and other vulnerable minorities, meets this definition."

The State Department is required by law to make a decision one way or the other about genocide.

The petition, found at, notes others who have made their own declaration of genocide in the Middle East, including the Feb. 4 declaration by the European Parliament, and the Feb. 12 joint declaration signed by Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. Pope Francis had previously called Islamic State's actions genocide himself, The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and Genocide Watch are among other groups that have issued statements.

Presidential aspirants Hillary Clinton – who was Kerry's predecessor as secretary of state – as well as Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Marco Rubio, R-Florida, also have called it genocide.

The petition already has several high-profile Catholic signers. Among the clergy, they include Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York; Archbishops Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, the USCCB president, and William E. Lori of Baltimore; and Bishops Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Gregory Mansour of the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Maronite Diocese of St. Maron.

Among the lay Catholic signers are Supreme Knight Carl Anderson; Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Georgetown University's Berkeley Center; Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican; and the Ethics and Public Policy Center's George Weigel, who wrote an authorized biography of St. John Paul II.

On Capitol Hill Dec. 9, several groups testified at a House hearing urging the Sate Department declare the situation genocide. On Dec. 4, Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl was among 30 Christian leaders who asked to meet with Kerry to discuss the issue.

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.