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Knights to send $2 million to restore Christian town in Iraq

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In 2014, the Islamic State removed hundreds of families of religious minorities from their homes in Karamdes, a mostly Christian town on the Ninevah Plain in Iraq. Just over two years later, the town, also known as Karemlash, was liberated.

A Catholic church destroyed by Islamic State militants in Karamdes, Iraq, is examined by a priest following the predominantly Christian town's 2016 liberation. (CNS photo/Archdiocese of Irbil)

A Catholic church destroyed by Islamic State militants in Karamdes, Iraq, is examined by a priest following the predominantly Christian town’s 2016 liberation. (CNS photo/Archdiocese of Irbil)

The Knights of Columbus will raise $2 million to assist these families in returning to their homes, according to Knights CEO Carl Anderson, who announced their pledge at the Knights’ 135th annual Supreme Convention being held Aug. 1-3 in St. Louis.

“The terrorists desecrated churches and graves and looted and destroyed homes,” Anderson said in his annual report, which was livestreamed from the convention. “Now we will ensure that hundreds of Christian families driven from their homes can return to these two locations and help to ensure a pluralistic future for Iraq.”

The Knights are following the example of the Hungarian government, whose new spending bill allowed for $2 million to be sent to the Archdiocese of Irbil in Iraq, assisting with the rebuilding of a Christian community near Mosul, Iraq.

Families who were previously displaced from their homes were able to return to their homeland because of the government of Hungary. This example served as proof to the Knights of the impact of returning families to their homes.

The cost of resettling one family is around $2,000, the amount the Knights are encouraging councils, parishes and individuals to donate.

“These Christian communities are a priceless treasure for the church,” Anderson said to the Knights attending the convention. “They have every right to live.”

The Knights have actively sought to provide humanitarian aid to Christians in Iraq, as well as Syria and the surrounding areas, donating over $13 million. In June, Anderson joined Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California, in speaking in a news conference to urge the Senate to pass legislation that would provide U.S. humanitarian aid to the Archdiocese of Irbil, after the House unanimously voted in favor of the bill.

Pope Francis commended the Knights for their work in the Middle East in a letter sent to the Knights at the convention from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. The pope professed his “gratitude for the commitment of the Knights to supporting our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East,” according to the letter.

Pope Francis also described the Knights’ relief fund as “an eloquent sign of your order’s firm commitment to solidarity and communion with our fellow Christians.”

In a news conference July 27, Secretary of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert reaffirmed the use of the word “genocide” to describe the situation of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.

“When we look at Iraq and we look at what has happened to some of the Yezidis, some of the Christians, the secretary (Rex Tillerson) believes, and he firmly believes, that that was genocide,” Nauert said.

In March 2016, then-Secretary of State John Kerry first declared that that ISIS militants’ actions in Iraq and Syria against minority Christian, Yezidi and Shiite Muslim groups was genocide.

The Knights of Columbus also will join the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for a “Week of Awareness” for persecuted Christians, which will begin Nov. 26 with a day of prayer for persecuted Christians.

In his annual report, Anderson urged each council of Knights to mark this day with “highest priority.”

“Our work has truly changed history,” Anderson said.

The work to rebuild Karamdes will begin the first week of August and any funds raised will go directly to the project.

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Catholic governor nominated for religious freedom ambassador post

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback got emotional about international religious freedom in a news conference livestreamed July 27 from his home state.

“At noon today, I went and did something that is simple and done by millions of Americans every day,” Brownback said. “But other people in different parts of the world, they risk their lives or could face death, and some have faced death for doing it.”

President Donald Trump nominated Republican Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas as an ambassador of for religious freedom July 26. Brownback, a Catholic, is pictured in a 2007 photo. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

President Donald Trump nominated Republican Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas as an ambassador of for religious freedom July 26. Brownback, a Catholic, is pictured in a 2007 photo. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

“I took Communion. And people face death around the world, for this simple act.”

President Donald Trump nominated Brownback to the position of ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom, according to a White House announcement July 26.

The governor tweeted Wednesday night, “Religious freedom is the first freedom. The choice of what you do with your own soul. I am honored to serve such an important cause.”

The governor has a long record of upholding religious freedom, since his support of the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 as a U.S. Senator. This is the act which created office for which he was just nominated. In 2002, Brownback became a Catholic.

If approved by the Senate, Brownback will work with foreign policy makers to preserve religious freedom worldwide as the head of the office of international religious freedom in the U.S. State Department.

According to World, an online magazine, Brownback said, “The level of persecution continues to grow,” and that since the office was created, not enough has been done.

Senate approval is unlikely to occur prior to lawmakers leaving for their summer recess. His position cannot be confirmed without Senate approval.

With his predicted resignation from governorship if the nomination is confirmed, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a fellow Catholic and two-time running mate of Brownback, will assume the role as governor.

Brownback has served on the Hill in various capacities including as congressman for Kansas’ second congressional district in 1994 and as U.S. senator for 14 years. In 2010, Brownback was elected governor of Kansas.

His record has been far from favorable due to his experimental tax cuts, with a 2016 New York Times survey naming him the most unpopular governor, with only 26 percent approval rating. His tax cuts, which were implemented in 2012, severely cut back Kansas’ revenue to the point of threatening its schools and other programs. The Kansas Legislature, with a Republican majority, reversed these tax cuts in early June, returning tax rates to their levels prior to Brownback’s term.

But despite his tax policy failure, Brownback said in the July 27 news conference that he is most proud of the pro-life legislation that has passed under his governorship. He said that he has signed 19 pro-life bills.

“The one thing I am most pleased about is that we have really moved as a culture of life state,” Brownback said. “And we are not going back.”

Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, who is chairman of the House panel on global human rights, said Brownback has the experience to effectively promote religious freedom around the world.

“He is a man of deep religious faith and will work tirelessly to combat religious persecution and extremism,” Smith, a Catholic, said in a statement. “I congratulate him on his recent nomination and urge the Senate to move quickly on his confirmation — religious minorities abroad depend on it.”

Brownback spoke about his run as governor, senator and congressman throughout the years for the state of Kansas. But also about how his experience with the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 has prepared him for this potential new role.

“International religious freedom is going the wrong way, its getting worse,” Brownback said. “It hasn’t improved. We passed a bill in 1998 and the situation hasn’ improved. You could argue that it has gotten worse.” 

The governor confirmed that he has not spoken with anyone within the Senate and so a timeline on his nomination vote is unknown.

By Josephine von Dohlen

 

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Bishops urge renewed dedication to efforts to protect religious liberty

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Catholic News Service

 

WASHINGTON  — In launching this year’s Fortnight for Freedom, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is calling for renewed dedication to protecting religious freedom.

“Freedom for Mission” is the theme of the 2017 Fortnight for Freedom, taking place June 21 to July 4. The 14-day observance of action, education and prayer focused on religious freedom began in 2012, stemming from a 12-page statement released that June by the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty titled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.” Read more »

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