CHURCH leaders have called on Australians to stop turning a blind eye to the butchery of Christians, as well as Muslims and other groups, by radicals from Islamic State.
The Catholic Bishop of Parramatta, Anthony Fisher, said church leaders had been reluctant to speak out for fear of adding fuel to fire. “But, as fellow Christians and fellow human beings, we cannot turn a blind eye to this persecution and religious cleansing,’’ Bishop Fisher said. “The situation has deteriorated extraordinarily quickly. This is almost a classic case where intervention of some kind, such as the American strikes on extremists is warranted to defend innocent lives.’’
The Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, said people should think about what social psychosis was driving some young Muslims to give their lives fighting “on the altar of the demonic’’ for the Islamic State. “The situation needs prayer, action and deep reflection,’’ he said. “The extremists’ barbarism seems apocalyptic. It has nothing to do with real Islam or God and is blasphemy of a kind.’’
Australia’s newly consecrated Anglican Primate, Philip Freier, praised the Abbott government’s “rapid response in providing aid to the displaced thousands in Iraq’’. Archbishop Freier said the persecution of Christians facing forced conversion or death “was in danger of becoming genocide”.
Bishop Fisher said that while focusing on the atrocities against the Yazidis on Mount Sinjar, Australians had seemed “largely indifferent’’ to the beheadings and hangings of Christians, including children, by Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria. He called on Christians to launch a 21st-century “prayer crusade”.
After the declaration of the Islamic caliphate in late June, Christians were purged from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, a Christian enclave for centuries. Jihadist marauders marked Christian homes with the letter “N’’ for Nasare, a symbol derived from the word Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus. The Christians were given the option to convert to Islam or die. Thousands of Australians have adopted the symbol on Facebook. Many have followed the atrocities in graphic detail on numerous unofficial Catholic websites, grieving over images of children and babies being shot and decapitated and adults bleeding to death.
Archbishop Freier said Anglican Overseas Aid had launched an appeal to provide relief for the 1.2 million Iraqis fleeing the extremists and 200,000 Syrians who had sought refuge in northern Iraq. “I ask Anglicans and others to give sacrificially,’’ he said.
“Aid agencies cannot cope with the influx and the suffering is immense.”
When Archbishop Freier recently called for Christians facing slaughter to be given asylum in Australia he was surprised by two letters in Melbourne newspaper The Age. These claimed he was setting “a dangerous precedent’’ in a secular nation by showing favour to one group. One writer said it was “not very Christian’’. “From our safety and relative isolation, Australians should show solidarity and be mindful of the suffering of many different groups, including Muslims who disagree with the extremists,’’ he said.
The president of the Uniting Church in Australia, Andrew Dutney, condemned “horrific acts of brutality, most recently and tragically against journalists who’ve bravely sought to ensure the world does not look away from those who are suffering’’. “Our concern is not just that Christian communities that trace their origins right back to the first century are at risk of disappearing altogether in the Middle East but that these are our sisters and brothers in the body of Christ,’’ he said.
US Catholics yesterday mourned journalist James Foley, whose decapitation was displayed in a grisly video on Wednesday. A graduate of the Catholic Marquette University in Milwaukee, Foley once explained to students how he said the Rosary while detained in Tripoli a few years ago.
“It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed,’’ he said.
The administrator of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, Peter Comensoli, said he was encouraged by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono speaking out against the dangers of a caliphate in Southeast Asia. He has compared the Islamic State with the Third Reich and Khmer Rouge.
Sydney priest Paul Stenhouse was recently prevented from entering Syria because of violence. He said Westerners could intervene and provide aid but the conflict was between Islamic groups and would take many years to unfold.