WATERBURY – Is Christianity under attack? Are Christians in the Middle East facing persecution and genocide at the hands of Muslim extremists? What can be done to wake up the Western world to “a tragedy of epic proportions” in Lebanon, Syria and other Middle Eastern nations?
These are some of the questions raised by George Marlin, an international scholar, lecturer and political analyst, during a 30-minute presentation before some 100 people at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception April 10.
“There are more Christian martyrs today than back in the early days of the church,” Mr. Marlin said. “It means priests being murdered. It means destruction of Christian homes and businesses en masse. It means criminal punishment for acting one’s faith in public. And it means kidnapping of children, particularly Christian girls who are being sold into slavery by ISIS, or being forced to convert and marry.”
Mr. Marlin is chairman of Aid to the Church in Need USA and is a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He is the author and editor of 12 books, including: Christian Persecutions in the Middle East, A 21st Century Tragedy (2015), on which his talk was based.
He said Aid to the Church in Need was established at the request of Pope Pius XII in 1947 to help persecuted Christians around the world.
He said that when ISIS began committing atrocities in 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry said their actions were “unthinkable” for the 21st century. “But the unthinkable is happening in the present time,” Mr. Marlin said. “And so part of the reason I wrote this book is to jolt the conscience of the West.”
Persecution is systemic in Middle Eastern countries, he said. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has destroyed Christian sites, institutions and media outlets. Good Friday was cancelled as a national holiday in 2007. Over a million Syrian refugees are registered in Lebanon, and 500,000 more are unregistered, he said. Twentyfive percent of the Lebanese population today are Syrians, mostly Christians, who have escaped ISIS, he said.
“Too many people in the West are sticking their heads in the ground and just trying to ignore it,” he said. “So my intent and the intent of Aid to the Church in Need is not only to help people but to bang the pots and pans and try to wake up the West to come to grips with what is happening.”
When ISIS jihadists beheaded 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in 2015, U.S. administration officials decried the murder of “Egyptian citizens,” Mr. Marlin said. “They weren’t murdered because they were Egyptian citizens. They were murdered because they were Egyptian Christians.”
Today there are no Christians left in ISIS-held territories, he said. “When ISIS took Mosul in June 2014, more than 120,000 Christians were forced to flee. Yet the world has not come to understand and confront the genocidal behavior of ISIS.”
He said, “The question we must ask is this: Are we witnessing a Christian genocide? The answer is yes.”
In March 2016, Secretary of State Kerry finally admitted that ISIS is committing genocide against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East. “The question now is, What’s next?” Mr. Marlin said.
After the presentation, Father Christopher M. Ford, rector of the basilica, led the congregation in prayer, asking God for an end to violence and for help for the refugees.
Jane Bate drove from Cheshire to hear Mr. Marlin’s talk. “I am beyond thrilled to see the matter of the persecuted Christians being addressed. I’ve been waiting to see churches take a stand,” she said. “We are not allowed to build churches or even repair churches over there, yet look at the growth of mosques over here. It’s very much a double standard.”
Marie Broderick, a Beacon Falls resident and a parishioner at the basilica, said, “I was devastated by the fact that Christian genocide is going on. It’s not being acknowledged in our country, and I think that’s a grave injustice.”
Asked what should be done, she said, “We need to pray, first of all, and then we need to be activists. We need to contact our representatives and tell them to acknowledge the fact that Christians are being persecuted.”