H. G. Mar Paulus Benjamin Attends Washington, D.C. Religious Minorities Exhibit

In light of all the recent challenges religious minorities face throughout the Middle East, on July 19, 2012, the Congress of the United States, Washington DC introduced a resolution (H. RES. 732) that calls for the protection of the rights and freedoms of religious minorities in the Arab world, particularly in Egypt and Iraq. In addition, the new resolution encourages the newly elected Egyptian President and Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to ensure that the Constituent’s Assembly will draft a new constitution that is representative of all parts of Egyptian society, including the religious minorities. Also, the resolution calls upon the local and federal governments of Iraq to prosecute acts of violence against Assyrians and other minorities, and make the protection of ancient ethno-religious minorities in Iraq an urgent priority.

In part, the resolution states, “Whereas the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has reported that marginalization, discrimination, threats of death, kidnapping for ransom, and attacks and murders by terrorists have threatened the elimination of Iraq’s Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, and other ancient ethno-religious communities such as the Mandaeans and Yezidis.” (Page 4; paragraph 3 Res. H. RES. 732)

The resolution was first announced on the Capitol Hill, Washington DC, by four congressmen, namely Rep. Trent Franks, the founder and co-chair of the International Religious Freedom Cacaus, a bipartisan congressional caucus with over 70 members of Congress (R-AZ), Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC), Dr. Suzan D. Johnson Cook (U.S. Ambassador-at-large for religious Freedom) and Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett (Chairperson, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom).

The announcement was made during an exhibit held in the Rayburn Foyer on Capitol Hill, on Thursday, July 19, 2012 from 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm.

People of all religious minorities from the Middle East were invited by the congressman to take part in the exhibit. Among the invited guests was His Grace Mar Paulus Benjamin, the newly consecrated Bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East for the Eastern Diocese of the United States. Mar Paulus expressed his gratitude to all the congressmen for their efforts in advocating for the safety and security of religious minorities in the region and highlighted how respect for pluralism contributes to strong civil societies, specifically in Iraq. His Grace also spoke with all the groups that were present at the exhibit. The event was open to the public and there was a significant attendance.

The following groups were present at the time the resolution was introduced by the Congressman:

1. The Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East
2. Assyrian Aid Society
3. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
4. American Islamic Congress
5. American Jewish Committee
6. Coptic Solidarity
7. Mandaean Associations Union
8. Moment Magazine
9. National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i
10. The American Ezidi Center
11. Yezidi Human Rights Organization-International
12. National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i
13. The American Ezidi Center
14. Yezidi Human Rights Organization-International

Each group had set-up a table at the exhibit displaying information in reference to their organization, church, mosque, community etc. Accordingly, the Assyrian Church of the East had set-up a table and displayed its flag and many of the churches’ books, and the Assyrian flag. Also, an album of old and new pictures of the church, monasteries, prelates etc. were on display for the guests to view. The attendees expressed great interest in the Assyrian Church of the East and marveled at the church’s history and its accomplishments.

The purpose of this event was twofold: one, it was for the Congress of the United States to highlight the intense persecution of minorities, from the Coptic Christians in Egypt, the Bahia’s in Iran, to the Mandaean, Assyrian and Yezidi communities in Iraq. Two, it was to give an opportunity for all the different organizations/groups to interact with each other and with the members of Congress.

The Assyrian Church of the East’s presence was greatly encouraged by the congressman’s office and appreciated at the exhibit by the sponsors of the event. This was apparent in that all congressmen and the sponsors of the resolution when addressing the attendees thanked His Grace Mar Paulus for being present at the event. It is noteworthy that His Grace Bishop Mar Paulus took a detour from his pastoral visit to Yonkers, New York to be present at the exhibit. His Grace was pleased to be present to witness the announcement of the resolution by the congressman.

The event ended with the keynote speaker Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett who delivered a monumental speech. She called for religious pluralism in the Middle East and noted that it was a critical time for all to stand together on behalf of religious freedom. More broadly, she urged the United States to lead an international effort to support legal and political reforms for the equal protection of religious freedom as a foundation for stable, peaceful, and lasting democracies.

With/ Subdeacon Sargon Yaro

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