By John Burger


Posted 2015-03-15 08:28 GMT

A flurry of international advocacy for Christians under siege in the Middle East has been complemented this week by intensified prayer on their behalf, as Syria marks four years of civil war and a Vatican official spoke in support of the use of force in the region.

Aid to the Church in Need asked Pope Francis to extend his 24 hours of worldwide Eucharistic Adoration on March 13-14 by one day — to March 15 — to pray with the Christians of Syria and the Middle East for an end to violence and war in the region.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on the international coalition to do more to prevent abductions of minorities, such as the hostage-taking of hundreds of Assyrian Christians in northeastern Syria. The resolution also supported the concept of a safe haven for Christians and others at risk in parts of Iraq.

And on Friday, the Holy See, together with the Russian Federation and Lebanon, presented a declaration in support of Christians and members of other communities in the Middle East. The statement from the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva was presented during the assembly of the 28th Session of the UN’s Human Rights Council, reported Vatican Radio.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s representative in Geneva, in an interview with Crux’s John Allen after the presentation, called for a coordinated international force to stop the “so-called Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq from further assaults on Christians and other minority groups.

“We have to stop this kind of genocide,” said Archbishop Tomasi. “Otherwise we’ll be crying out in the future about why we didn’t so something, why we allowed such a terrible tragedy to happen.”

Tomasi said that any anti-ISIS coalition has to include the Muslim states of the Middle East, and can’t simply be a “Western approach.” He also said it should unfold under the aegis of the United Nations.

To be effective, Tomasi said, an anti-ISIS coalition must include “the countries most directly involved in the Middle East,” meaning the Islamic states of the region.

“What’s needed is a coordinated and well-thought-out coalition to do everything possible to achieve a political settlement without violence,” Tomasi said, “but if that’s not possible, then the use of force will be necessary.”

The archbishop told Vatican Radio that the joint declaration has been formally accepted and signed by 63 nations.

Another positive consequence, he said, is that the initiative has encouraged and prompted the French government to call for a special session of the UN Security Council to deal with the problems of Christians in the Middle East. At this meeting on March 27, Archbishop Tomasi said, the French foreign minister will be presenting to the Security Council in New York the need to defend Christians in the region.

Also on Friday, a delegation of Christian organizations presented a petition to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in New York calling for a Security Council resolution to facilitate arms to Christian militias fighting the Islamic State group, provide protection for minority populations at risk and humanitarian aid to be provided directly to those who most need it, and efforts to liberate upwards of 7,500 Yazidis and hundreds of Christians who are in the hands of ISIS.

“We asked for direct humanitarian aid. We’ve been asking for that for about eight months, not to go through the KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] or the central Baghdad government, because they both use this to get political leverage with humanitarian aid, and at the same time there’s a lot of corruption,” said David William Lazar, chairman of the American Mesopotamian Organization, in a telephone interview. “So a lot of aid does not get to us, and of what gets to us, the food is rotten already.”

The delegation, which included advocates for Christians, Copts and Yazidis, also met with the missions to the United Nations of the US, UK, European Union and Russian Federation. It advocated the continuation of military air strikes against the Islamic State group, but Lazar said air strikes are not enough.

Lazar said that a Christian militia initiative that he helped begin last year, the Nineveh Plain Protection Units, have finished basic training but need more equipment. “We’re lobbying the US and other governments to give us this equipment so we can protect ourselves and our people and fight ISIS,” he said.