Washington (AINA) -- A three day conference dedicated to aiding the Christians in north Iraq opened yesterday. Titled In Defense of Christians (IDC), the conference will bring together lawmakers, Eastern and Western churches, community leaders and various Christian groups to address the issue of the genocide being perpetrated against the Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) in north Iraq by ISIS and other Christians in the Middle East.
Since taking over Mosul in June 10, ISIS has moved into Assyrian areas in the Nineveh Plain. 200,000 Assyrians have fled their homes and are now living in church courtyards, refugees camps, abandoned and unfinished buildings, open fields and sidewalks -- in Ankawa, Arbel and Dohuk and its surrounding areas.
The conference opened on Tuesday night with an ecumenical prayer service conducted by clergy from Eastern and Western churches. The clergy included Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Patriarch Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros Rai, His Beatitude Patriarch John X, His Beatitude Gregory III, His Beatitude Moran Mor Ignatius Youssef III Younan, His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Bishop Angaelos, His Excellency Mar Ibrahim N. Ibrahim, Dr. Jim Garlow.
The service was conducted in Syriac (Aramaic), Greek, Arabic, Latin and English.
After the prayer service, Andrew Doran, the executive director of In Defense of Christians, welcomed the attendees, saying "we all share the goal to preserve and protect the Christians of the Middle East. Whatever steps will further this end IDC stands ready to support."
Mr. Doran said some have asked why Christianity is vital to the Middle east and why America should help the Christians of the Middle East, and he said "Christian institutions provide social service, health care and education for millions throughout the region [Middle East]...Christians are not only the lawyers, doctors and businessmen in their communities, they are also the servants...their very presence is the source of pluralism that has a moderating influence throughout the region."
The next speaker, Toufic Baaklini, the president of IDC, said IDC enables people to unite and work for the survival of the Christians of the Middle East, protecting them and helping them to remain rooted in the Middle East.
"Our brothers and sisters are suffering terribly," he said. "Our duty, the moral duty of the hundreds of you that are here today from all over the world, is to stand together under the banner of our common cause, the cause of faith, existence and tranquility."
The next speaker was John Ashcroft, former U.S. Attorney General, Governor and U.S. Senator.
Mr. Ashcroft began by saying "it is inspiring to be here this evening...your attendance here today is a testimony to the fact that we don't have to be uniform in order to have unity."
"Liberty is sourced in God," said Mr. Ashcroft. "Governments don't grant liberty, God endowed us with liberty at the creation...It always astounds me to think that there are those who want to impose one religion or another on people. Spirituality isn't the stuff of imposition, it's the stuff of inspiration."
"We are here because there are those who are the victims of individuals around the world, who are victimized because people seek to impose on them their idea of some construct of God, some construct of morality, some construct of human existence"
"Liberty is the value which God endowed us at creation...democracy is a process, liberty is an outcome."
The next speaker was Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Oriental Institute.
Cardinal Sandri said "it is very significant that the meeting is taking place between people of different Christian denominations and people of religion who believe as Christ the value of the freedom of the human person."
Cardinal Sandri condemned the atrocities committed by Muslims against Christians, including expulsions of thousands, crucifixions, forced conversions, payment of jizya, abductions and the destruction of places of worships.
A letter from the Vatican Secretary of State was read to the audience. The letter expressed support for the IDC summit and stated that the Holy Father has expressed great concern for the Christians of the Middle East, and he renews the rights of Christians be upheld so "...they may live with respect, freely professing their faith, without harm to their dignities, without being deprived of the necessities of life, and without being robbed of their future."