The most recent atrocities carried out by ISIS in Iraq and Syria merit the condemnation that the civilized world has made. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, rightly calls for dialogue as the way to peace. We all support that call because it must be ours as peacemakers. My friend Cardinal Tauran who is head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has told me how difficult is his responsibility of carrying on a dialogue but, as he correctly notes, the alternative is war which, in the long run, leads only to more violence.
That said, there is a tremendous imbalance in what is currently going on the Middle East. ISIS members are armed thugs who wreak havoc on the lives of innocent non combatants, namely the civilian population. This is not a conflict between two governments trying to defend their own citizens from an unjust aggressor. This is a lawless unjust aggressor of self-appointed militants who obey no laws of international or humanitarian conduct. These are bigots who target minorities, whether they be Christians or Yazidis or anyone else who will not bend to their cruel tyranny.
Any attempt to apply the principles of just war leads the conclusion that there exists no justification whatsoever for this organized and brutal carnage that sows fear and anguish in the hearts of all they encounter and flouts the laws of any civilized society and every religion or creed.
As Christians our concern and commitment must always be for the good of every human being regardless of their faith or lack of faith. Everyone is our brother and sister. Every human being has value and worth and a dignity that comes from God not from “man.” Yet it is not wrong for us to have a particular desire to reach out to our Christian brothers and sisters who are the heirs of churches that trace their origins even to apostolic times. The Church in the United States is doing its best to help the suffering in the Middle East through CRS (Catholic Relief Services). Cardinal Dolan and I share a responsibility for the good work of CNEWA, (Catholic Near East Welfare Association) which cares for refugees and assists Catholic hospitals and priests, religious sisters and brothers who are “on the ground” placing their own lives in jeopardy for the sake of the victims who have lost family, homes and all their material resources.
It is not wrong for us to raise our voices as well to insist that world leaders, including our own US government, act in concert with others to bring this horror to an end and go beyond statements about “degrading” these lawless forces to bring a halt to their actions and bring an end to their capacity to wreak havoc.
And again in concert with Pope Francis, all of us, without exception, must pray and pray and pray that God might change the hearts of the terrorists and move the will of responsible leaders to bring this to an end and to establish the basis for a new and lasting peace that recognizes the dignity of every person and the right of peoples and nations to live in peace and freedom in their own lands and under their own flags.