1. A year ago we declared ISIS genocidal. Why are its victims still waiting for aid?: Time is running out to preserve these historic communities.

 By Carl Anderson, The Washington Post, March 21, 2017, 6:00 AM, PostEverything

On March 17, 2016, then-Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced to the world that the Islamic State was committing genocide against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. 

Despite the genocide designation, our government spent the rest of 2016 operating on a business-as-usual basis. The largest displaced Christian community in Iraq — in Irbil — received no U.S. government or U.N. aid before the genocide designation. And they have received none since.

Both the U.N. and the senior U.S. government officials there told our representative that this was the case because they prioritized individual needs, not group needs. When pressed, they admitted that they did not take into account the needs of communities — even if they had suffered genocide. This means that, when being considered for aid or resettlement, those who are the targets of genocide do not have their status as communities marked for extermination taken into account.

Unfortunately, ignoring the identity of these targeted groups plays into the hands of genocidal regimes. Such an attitude could well be a death sentence for these minority communities. What the Islamic State couldn’t accomplish, misguided aid policies just might: eliminating entire ethnic and religious minority groups from their historic homes.

The region’s Christians seem to be reaching a tipping point. Estimates vary, but the Christian population of Iraq has fallen from more than 1 million to less than 250,000 in recent years due in large part to the onslaught of the Islamic State. Syria’s Christian population has fallen precipitously as well. For these historic religious communities, extinction is a real possibility.

Allowing these current genocide survivors to suffer for the past two years has been a gross injustice and a blight on America’s foreign policy record. Overlooking these people after a declaration of genocide is unconscionable, and in fact, it is de facto discrimination against the Islamic State’s most vulnerable victims.

The Trump administration should right the wrongs these shattered communities have endured through our country’s inaction by immediately taking three helpful steps.

First, ensure that no community that suffered genocide is overlooked by — or excluded from — U.S. government aid programs… Second, the United States must demand that the United Nations also assist all communities that suffer genocide by including them in humanitarian and reconstruction aid. And finally, we should continue to work with the international community to defeat the Islamic State and bring the perpetrators of this genocide to justice.

Congress should also act by swiftly passing H.R. 390 — the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act — co-sponsored by Reps. Christopher H. Smith  (R-N.J.) and Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.). This bill would help ensure that much-needed aid reaches these decimated communities. Under this legislation, the U.S. government would be required to direct some aid to entities specifically assisting displaced people from communities of religious and ethnic minorities targeted for genocide.

Carl Anderson is CEO of the Knights of Columbus


2. The Christian, conservative case for foreign aid. 

By Sean Callahan and Richard Stearns, The Washington Post, March 21, 2017, 6:00 AM

The Bible is replete with references to caring for the poor in obedience to God. Jesus declares that loving our neighbor — wherever they live — is one of the greatest commandments, a corollary to loving God.

While the U.S. government doesn’t directly share this mandate, it plays a critical role in fulfilling the moral responsibility of all Americans to help those less fortunate. In fact, the U.S. government has always been a strong partner with American citizens in helping those in extreme poverty and crisis. 

At less than 1 percent of the federal budget — an amount analogous to the “widow’s mite” — foreign assistance promotes our values, our own prosperity and our nation’s security, all while providing a lifeline to the most vulnerable in the world, those Jesus called “the least of these.”

This isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. If the U.S. government isn’t on the ground saving lives and promoting recovery and development — in solidarity with thousands of American aid workers and American allies — then global crises will proliferate and cause destabilization that eventually reaches our shores.

Every year, generous Americans, churches and foundations support the life-saving work of organizations like World Vision and Catholic Relief Services to keep vulnerable children alive and enable communities to work toward standing on their own. They expect our government to mirror their generosity. The U.S. government and faith-based organizations are powerful partners in eradicating the most egregious forms of poverty hindering human potential.

This aid is not about nation-building, but rather spreading hope and goodwill in ways that raise America’s reputation around the world — and advance our own national economic interests.

Thanks to public and private investments, in the past 25 years we’ve seen the number of people living in extreme poverty slashed in half. The mortality rate for children under five has plummeted from 35,000 deaths per day in 1990 to under 17,000 today. Foreign aid works.

Richard Stearns is president of World Vision U.S. and the author of “The Hole in Our Gospel.” Sean Callahan is president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services.


3. Why an ‘African moment’ is unfolding in Catholicism. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, March 21, 2017

Because of demographics, the way that major global issues play out there, and the emergence of a new generation of Catholic leaders, Africa is destined to be where the Catholic future is forged in the early 21st century, meaning that an ‘African moment’ is upon the Church.

Sponsored by the University of Notre Dame, [the conference titled “African Christian Theology: Memories and Mission for the 21st Century”] brings together a cross-section of Africa’s leading Catholic thinkers and pastors, including many of the continent’s biggest ecclesiastical heavy-hitters: Cardinals Francis Arinze and John Onaiyekan of Nigeria, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo of the Democratic Republic of Congo (who’s also a member of Pope Francis’s “C9” council of cardinal advisers), and Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, who heads the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and acts as the point man for a great deal of Francis’s peace-and-justice agenda.

The conference program quotes a 1957 book titled Des Prêtres noires s’intérrogent to lay out the vision, challenging “the assumption that Africa represented a cultural and religious tabula rasa for the implementation of a Christian civilization from Europe” and arguing that “room must be made for African genius and contribution in the establishment of the Catholica, not only among the peoples of Africa … but in the wider world as a whole.”

Sixty years later, that’s precisely what’s happening, and for at least three interrelated reasons.

First is demography. During the 20th century, the Catholic population of sub-Saharan Africa went from 1.9 million to more than 130 million – a staggering growth rate of 6,708 percent. 

Africa’s overall Catholic population today is estimated to be around 200 million, meaning almost three times the size of the Catholic population of North America (unless you include Mexico) and approaching that of Europe. By 2050, based on projections from the World Christian Database, Africa should have over 450 million Catholics, becoming by far the world’s largest Catholic continent.

Second, there’s almost no issue of global relevance today which isn’t playing out in especially acute ways in Africa, and in which Catholic leaders aren’t protagonists – from climate change to war, from human trafficking to terrorism and religious violence, from the fight against poverty and HIV/AIDS to the struggle for justice in international relations, it’s all happening in Africa.

Third, a new generation of African Catholic leaders has arisen that’s far less bashful about asserting itself in global conversations, including at the Vatican.

For all those reasons, Ladies and Gentlemen, there is an “African moment” upon us in Catholicism. If we’re to function at all in the global church in the early 21st century, we need to hear the voices of Africa – and this week’s stellar summit in Rome promises to be a great place to start.


4. Historic restoration of Jesus’ burial shrine completed. 

By Daniel Estrin, Associated Press, March 20, 2017, 2:00 PM

Just in time for Easter, a Greek restoration team has completed a historic renovation of the Edicule, the shrine that tradition says houses the cave where Jesus was buried and rose to heaven.

The [World Monuments] fund provided an initial $1.4 million for the $4 million restoration, thanks to a donation by the widow of the founder of Atlantic Records. Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also chipped in about 150,000 euros each, along with other private and church donations, Burnham said.

The limestone and marble structure stands at the center of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, one of the world’s oldest churches — a 12th-century building standing on 4th-century remains. The shrine needed urgent attention after years of exposure to environmental factors like water, humidity and candle smoke.

Three main Christian denominations jealously guard separate sections of the church, but they put aside their longstanding religious rivalries to give their blessing for the restoration. In 2015, Israeli police briefly shut down the building after Israel’s Antiquities Authority deemed it unsafe, and repairs began in June 2016.


5. Will Gorsuch Be Confirmed in Time to Rule on ‘Major’ Church-State Case?

By Joan Desmond, National Catholic Register, March 20, 2017

Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, survived his first day of confirmation hearings on Monday as the Senate Judiciary Committee dug in for battle. 

Added to the tension of the high-wire televised proceedings is a tight time frame: Republicans want Gorsuch to be confirmed by April 19, when oral arguments are scheduled for a major church-state case, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer.

Newly confirmed justices must be in court for the oral arguments in a case, or they are not permitted to rule on it.

Missouri-based Trinity Lutheran Church challenged a state law that bars religious schools from receiving public funds. The high court will be asked to address this question: “Whether the exclusion of churches from an otherwise neutral and secular aid program violates the Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses when the state has no valid Establishment Clause concern.”

In the case, Trinity Lutheran’s preschool applied for a public benefit grant to a state program that helps schools with playground safety improvements, and then filed suit after its application was turned down because the preschool is church-affiliated.

If the justices rule in the school’s favor, the decision could pave the way for school voucher initiatives in states where such efforts have been successfully challenged as a violation of the Establishment Clause.

“The confirmation hearings started on Monday and will last several days,” the Times reported.

“In the last three decades, it has taken a median of 15 days from the start of the hearings for the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote, and another nine days for the full Senate to act, according to the Congressional Research Service,” the Times noted.

“That works out to April 13, after the Senate is scheduled to leave town.”