Home/Jonathan Coppage/The Optimism of the Cross in the Face of Genocide

The Optimism of the Cross in the Face of Genocide

Mar Mattai monastery outside Mosul, continually inhabited by monks since the 4th century A.D. Chris De Bruyn / cc

A year and three months ago, the militant group then calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) captured the vital Iraqi city of Mosul as government forces melted away. The sudden loss of such an important city seized the world’s attention, and the brutality with which ISIS then purged Mosul of its Christian and other religious minorities shocked those newly focused eyes.

A year ago this past Friday, the newly founded organization In Defense of Christians (IDC) reached the culmination of a three-day summit bringing a historic collection of the heads of the oldest churches in Christianity to Washington in order to raise awareness of the plight of Christians and plead for assistance. The solidarity gala dinner closing the summit was keynoted and summarily crashed by Senator Ted Cruz, who threatened to overshadow the calls for unity with a provocative speech that ended with the senator storming off stage.

While Cruz’s cynical performance was roundly and harshlycriticized in many conservative circles, there was no denying that the spectacle was a distraction that threatened to overshadow the progress made. Many feared that the potential opening for rallying broad support to the defense of persecuted Christians was closed as Senator Cruz walked off the stage.

Last week IDC returned to Washington, however, and opened its convention with a bang: the announcement of bipartisan legislation introduced in the House to officially recognize the persecution of Middle Eastern Christians as a genocide, as Kelley Vlahos reports. The bill picked up dozens of cosponsors within days.

This year’s solidarity dinner did not culminate with angry denunciations, but with a sobering, powerful presentation. As Georgetown professor Thomas Farr was honored with a lifetime achievement recognition of his career fighting for religious liberty, IDC senior advisor Andrew Doran announced that Dr. Farr would be entrusted with a crucifix.

When ISIS troops rolled into Mosul, St. Joseph’s Chaldean church soon joined the rest of the 45 Christian institutions in Mosul in being destroyed, shuttered, or converted into mosques. As Doran related, the church bells fell silent in Mosul for the first time in nearly 2,000 years. The guardians of St. Joseph’s were able to seize a crucifix from the church as they fled before the oncoming militants, and they carried that crucifix across the Atlantic where it was placed in the hands of Dr. Farr “not to keep but for safeguarding and its eventual return.” The presentation looked forward to a day when Farr and his team would be able to travel to a Mosul liberated, and return the crucifix to its rightful home within St. Joseph’s: a day when the bells would once again be able to be heard tolling above the ancient city.

There were strong speeches given that evening by Ambassadors and Beatitudes, Canons and Supreme Knights, but the entrance of that small cross and chain, fastened behind the glass of the frame, brought the audience to its feet in a hushed reverence. Where cynicism had sparked shouts from the seated a year before, the reckless optimism of the cross summoned the whole hall to stand and witness a promise that genocide would not have the last word in the cradle of Christianity.

about the author

Jonathan Coppage is a TAC associate editor. He received a BA in Political Science from North Carolina State University, and previously attended the University of Chicago, where he studied in the Fundamentals: Issues and Texts great books concentration. Jonathan also worked at The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society. Jon can be followed on Twitter @JonCoppage, or reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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