On Friday, September 11th, In Defense of Christians (IDC) concluded its Inaugural National Leadership Convention (NLC) with its Second Annual Solidarity Dinner in Washington DC, “Mobilizing America for Christians in the Middle East.” Headline speakers included David Saperstein, Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom; Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus; and Ignatius Ephrem Joseph III Younan, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East of the Syriacs.
The gala brought to conclusion three full days of intensive media and advocacy work on the part of hundreds of Americans of Middle Eastern Christian descent. Christian Diaspora converged in Washington to voice their concern over the genocide of minority communities in the Middle East.
At the National Press Club on Wednesday, September 9th, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (NE-R), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Religious Minorities in the Middle East, made the official public announcement of House Congressional Resolution 75, which decries the genocide against Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, presented to Congress that same day. “Christianity in the Middle East is shattered,” said Fortenberry, “The ancient faith tradition lies beaten, broken, and dying. Yet Christians in Iraq and Syria are hanging on in the face of the Islamic State’s barbarous onslaught. This is genocide. The international community must confront the scandalous silence about their plight. Christians, Yezidis, and other religious minorities have every right to remain in their ancestral homelands.”
Experts including Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom; Professor Robert Destro of the Columbia School of Law; Dr. Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch; and Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, engaged a robust discussion in the presence of press and public, shedding light on the Christian genocide.
On Thursday, September 10th, over two dozen congressmen addressed a room of NLC participants, heralding their support for the bill. Following that, IDC members visited nearly 300 congressional offices, pressing for deeper political commitment on the issue.
The NLC incorporated a moment of ecumenical prayer, symbol of Christian solidarity, co-celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington; Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Archbishop of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America; Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Maronite Catholic Church in America; Canon Alistair Macdonald-Radcliffe, Director General of the World Dialogue Council; Stan Holmes of Core Fellowship, and other national religious leaders.
IDC also celebrated Middle Eastern Christian art and culture with artists, filmmakers, writers, and performers from the region, at the French embassy on Thursday evening.
Other notable programming included a gathering of religious, policy and academic experts addressing “Building Bridges between Eastern and Western Christianity,” led by Tim Shah of Georgetown University, and a panel discussion of stories shared by advocates working with displaced Christian communities, led by Michael La Civita of Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Experts included Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy; Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review; Stan Holmes of Core Fellowship; Nermien Riad of Coptic Orphans; Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Maronite Catholic Church; Alistair McDonald Radcliff of the World Dialogue Council; Dr. Paul Heck of Georgetown University; Dr. Ray Hashem of The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center; Bashar Hameed, president of the Nineveh Provincial Council; Father Nabil Haddad, executive director of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center; Ed Clancy, director of Evangelization and Outreach at Aid to the Church in Need; and Nahren Enweya, an Assyrian American activist.
Participants left IDC’s inaugural National Leadership Convention emboldened in their resolve to mobilize America for Christians in the Middle East, by expanding awareness on national and community levels and coordinating advocacy with American and international policy makers.
Concluding the NLC and Solidarity Dinner, IDC presented Dr. Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his tireless work in human rights. Toufic Baaklini, president of IDC, and Andrew Doran, senior advisor to IDC, presented Dr. Farr with a crucifix from a church in Mosul, Iraq to be held in safe-keeping until it could be returned upon the restoration of Christianity in the region.