I was privileged to attend an extraordinary conference last week in Washington DC on ‘The Persecution of Christians in the Holy Lands and the Middle East’. It is hard to imagine a more timely and important conference subject. Three Archbishops, three US Senators, members of the current US government, academics and lawyers were among those who spoke. Clergy from many churches were present including Greek Orthodox, Catholics, Copts and Arameans.

Bishop Angaelos talking at the conference

I was particularly impressed by Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church for his wisdom; Senator James Lankford for his commitment to the cause and forthrightness in expressing his Christian faith; Senator Marco Rubio for his humility, wisdom and sincerity; Anna Koulouris, Adviser to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, for her bravery in tackling the issue of West Bank settlers’ persecution of Christians; and Lauren Green of Fox News for the balanced and gracious way she chaired the panel discussion.

US Senator and former candidate for the Republican Party presidential nomination, Marco Rubio

I made some excellent connections with some of these people and it was good to know that Fox News may be interested in covering our ‘Voices of Iraq’ programme.

Johnny Messo, President of the World Council of Arameans, spoke of ‘the looming threat of the death of Christianity in the Middle East’ and put forward an insightful 7 point plan which included the need for employment and education opportunities for the Christian minorities, something which is very close to my heart and which we at FRRME hope to pursue with greater vigour in 2018 and beyond.

Bishop Angaelos spoke of the need to ‘speak truth to power’ by lobbying governments at home and in the Middle East to achieve the protection and peace which these minorities so desperately need.

Archbishop Kawak of the Syriac Orthodox Church spoke of the need for dialogue and economic development. We hope to be able to launch a scheme for small business loans in Iraq for those returning to their homes after the defeat of ISIS.

Lunch in the Kennedy Caucus Room where many hearings have been held, including McCarthy and Watergate

I had a good conversation with Bishop Angaelos about the passage in 2 Corinthians chapter 4 which seems to so relevant to the situation of Christians in Iraq, namely: ” We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” 

As we approach the joy of Christmas let us remember the Christians of the Middle East where Christ was born and pray for peace and tolerance there.

Mike Simpson

14th December 2017

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