U.S. House of Representatives, State Dept. acknowledge genocide

Finally. This is a big deal.

After long, concerted efforts by individuals in Congress, human rights experts, humanitarian relief organizations, patriarchs and prelates, clergy and coalitions of citizens united with them, the U.S. made major advances this week toward stopping the atrocities ISIS has been committing against Christians and other religious minorities and getting aid and relief to those victims. The trigger to ratchet up new and urgent actions was twofold: passage of the Genocide Resolution in Congress, and acknowledgement by the State Department that what has been called persecution of Christians and other religious minorities actually constituted genocide.

Monday, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the Genocide Resolution, 393-0.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) today made the following statement after the United States House of Representatives unanimously passed his genocide resolution with a vote of 393-0. In a sign of overwhelming bipartisan unity, the resolution, H. Con. Res. 75, names and decries the ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities as “genocide.” By law, the State Department must make a genocide determination by March 17.

“It is my sincere hope that this trans-partisan resolution will further compel the State Department to join the building international consensus in calling the horrific ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and others by its proper name: ‘genocide,’” Fortenberry said.

A rapidly expanding international coalition has recognized that ISIS is committing genocide. The European Parliament, the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Pope Francis, and presidential candidates in both parties, among many others, are standing in solidarity to name and decry this genocide.

“At a time of deep political division in our nation,” Fortenberry continued, “the House has spoken with one voice to properly recognize and condemn this genocide—a threat to civilization itself. The genocide resolution elevates international consciousness and confronts the scandal of silence and indifference about ISIS’ targeted and systematic destruction of these endangered communities. A bipartisan and ecumenical alliance has formed to confront ISIS’ barbaric onslaught.”

Wednesday the 16th, Cong. Fortenberry spoke with me on radio about this vote, and the news he had just received that Secretary of State John Kerry would need more time to investigate the evidence, mystifying to those of us who knew that a joint effort by In Defense of Christians and the Knights of Columbus produced a nearly 300 page report specifically for Sec. Kerry and the State Dept. detailing that evidence. Outcries followed.

Hudson Institute’s renowned religious freedom activist Nina Shea published more questions about why it was taking State so long to deliberate something so obvious to all.

So did social commentator and author Kirsten Powers, in this USA Today piece.

ABC News reported that the House “overwhelmingly approved” the genocide resolution with “heavy bipartisan support”, but also that “the Obama administration officials have cautioned that a legal review is still under way and said it is likely Kerry will not meet Thursday’s deadline.”

And then, he did. Something happened to inspire or compel Secretary Kerry to make a surprise public announcement, Thursday morning.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that ISIS has been committing genocide against religious minorities in the Middle East — just the second time the executive branch has used the term in relation to an ongoing conflict.

The formal designation comes days after the House passed a nonbinding resolution by a 393-0 vote condemning ISIS atrocities as genocide.

“Daesh is genocidal by self proclamation, by ideology and by actions,” Kerry said in a televised address, using another name for the Sunni militant group [ISIS]. “We must recognize what Daesh is doing to its victims.”

“Naming these crimes is important but what is essential is to stop them,” he added.

Nina Shea discussed Kerry’s surprise announcement with me on radio Thursday, and the great need for this designation because of the scope of the atrocities. About an hour later, she posted this article giving credit and gratitude where it’s due.

History was made today. Secretary of State John Kerry officially recognized that ISIS is waging genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and Shiites in the areas under its control. This is only the second time the U.S. government has condemned an ongoing genocide: In 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell designated what was going in Darfur as genocide. And today’s declaration, as I wrote yesterday, almost didn’t happen — owing to resistance from some quarters.

Kerry’s announcement was a surprise, one that defied deliberately lowered expectations. There was a State Department notice just yesterday that any such designation required longer deliberation and wouldn’t be made in time to meet the March 17 congressionally mandated deadline. But at 9 a.m. Eastern, Secretary of State Kerry took to the podium and asserted: “In my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims. Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions — in what it says, what it believes, and what it does.”

This official American genocide designation is a critically important step. Genocide is internationally recognized as the most heinous human-rights offense. Legally, it is known as the “crime of crimes.” And while the Genocide Convention does not prescribe specific action to “prevent and protect” against genocide, the conscience does.

This designation will not only lift the morale of these shattered religious groups, it also has the potential of serving justice through the prosecution of those who aid and abet ISIS as fighters, cyber recruiters, financiers, arms suppliers, and artifact smugglers.

Military action is also important. Kerry discussed military measures that would help these victims of ISIS: “We are preparing for future efforts to liberate occupied territory — with an eye to the protection of minority communities. In particular, the liberation of Mosul, of Nineveh province in Iraq, and parts of Syria that are currently occupied by Daesh, and that will decide whether there is still a future for minority communities in this part of the Middle East. For those communities, the stakes in this campaign are utterly existential.”

Congressman Fortenberry told me what he’s been saying to everyone listening lately, that this is a threat to civilization itself. As of today, the U.S. has risen to join a growing international coalition of voices and forces that can, finally, do something to stop the spread of that threat, reverse it, and protect innocent people and the existence of whole populations. What can be done is newly on the table. What will be done comes next.

Does America suffer a malaise?

Or is it the consequence of a crisis of government?

There is certainly a dis-ease here and it has spread for quite a long time. Justin Dyer makes the attempt to diagnose.

On a stage in St. Paul, Minnesota (in 2008), the first-term Illinois senator (Barack Obama) positioned himself as a visionary leader ushering in a new era of American politics, shedding past partisan divisions and uniting a generation around the promises of hope and change.

So what went wrong?

Perhaps we were just not willing to work for that vision, to fight for it and believe in it. Or perhaps—as James Piereson suggests in Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America’s Postwar Political Order—Obama misread the moment, trying to make it into something it was not. In his new book, Piereson, president of the William E. Simon Foundation and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, argues that the Obama presidency marks the end of a political era rather than a beginning.

Intriguing. So far, Piereson posits, American political history can be divided into three major chapters, up to the present time. But now we’ve arrived at a grave turning point.

A major premise of Piereson’s book is that broad consensus “is required in order for a polity to meet its major challenges”; his thesis is that “such a consensus no longer exists in the United States.” (emphasis added) Without a consensus on basic priorities, Piereson predicts, our “problems will mount to a point where either they will be addressed through a ‘fourth revolution’”—ushering in a fourth major chapter in American political history—“or the polity will begin to disintegrate for lack of fundamental commitment.”

At the moment, a “broad consensus” is unimaginable. America is more divided and polarized and at odds than it has seemed to be in a very long time.

Simply put: we have a greying population with fewer workers and no consensus about the purpose and mission of our vast military infrastructure. At the same time, many of our state and local governments face unsustainable pension obligations born of the same demographic trends and short-term political calculations…

One thing both parties generally agree on is maintaining those government programs—Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security—that require massive amounts of money we don’t have. As Piereson suggests, the blueprint for a successful political order in the twenty-first century will require meaningful entitlement reform, pro-growth economic policies, regulation or elimination of public sector unions, and a reinvigorated American federalism. To this we undoubtedly must add a vibrant and healthy civil society.

How to get from here to there? Can anyone running for president right now, among other elected offices, aspire to envision such a plan, embody the leadership to execute it and inspire the necessary consensus so people will really invest in the growth of civil society to something once again healthy and vibrant? Really?

Or, as some people ask, can anyone inspire true hope for positive change?

In Reagan’s 1980 nomination-acceptance speech, he cited a “community of shared values.” He repeatedly paid homage to the power of individuals, in voluntary community, to overcome obstacles. He ran on a platform of bold new tax cuts (when tax cuts were not yet fully Republican orthodoxy), energy development, domestic spending cuts, a devolution of power to states and localities, and a bolstered military. The Republican platform that year called for a firm re-commitment to protecting private property from government intrusions…

Reagan’s announcement speech in November 1979 described an America that was “a living, breathing presence, unimpressed by what others say is impossible, proud of its own success; generous, yes, and naïve; sometimes wrong, never mean, always impatient to provide a better life for its people in a framework of a basic fairness and freedom.”

…Reagan said America could be great again not because he himself was a powerful magician who could make it so, but because the people themselves were resourceful and would succeed if only the government didn’t hamper them. As he said in his 1980 convention speech, “’Trust me’ government asks that we concentrate our hopes and dreams on one man; that we trust him to do what’s best for us. My view of government places trust not in one person or one party, but in those values that transcend persons and parties. The trust is where it belongs — in the people.”…

All of this — and more — should be promoted in terms of unlocking vast human potential, and especially American potential, not by administrative command-and-control but through the incentives and dynamism of ordered liberty in a strong, voluntary, civil society.

These visions are closely related. But how do people feeling adrift and unmoored from once shared principles recover the courage of conviction and motivation to speak out, encourage others and try to re-order liberty together, for “a strong, voluntary, civil society”?

Robert Royal at least offers some sobering thoughts to start this consequential election year.

In 2016, the disproportion between the magnitude of our problems and the smallness of the candidates who claim to be able to fix them is large, perhaps larger than ever before in our history.

(His respected and considered opinion. I don’t entirely share it all. It’s a taller task than in recent memory. One or two candidates may be up to it, “may” being the operative word.)

And here it gets, in his word, “interesting”.

The central difficulty is our core doubt about what America and Western civilization are – or might be – anymore. This is no mere policy question. The feeling is widespread and non-partisan. People across the political spectrum – and, I’ve found, in other developed nations as well – complain that they “don’t recognize” their own countries anymore. An extraordinary, almost unprecedented thing.

We’re like the Israelites in exile, except we haven’t gone anywhere…

Striking line.

Does anyone think that if we only get taxes right, or immigration, or foreign policy, or healthcare, we’ll be back on the right road? Important issues, to be sure, but singly or together don’t address the real problem: a failing national vision…

And we ourselves are deeply troubled. Many particulars need fixing in America, but the thing we lack, the thing no political candidate currently seems to be able to give us, is a renewed and realistic sense of ourselves – something that has to be rooted in a truth deeper than economics and politics, in the “Creator” our Founders invoked and the condition of the American people. Without that spirit of confidence about the foundation, reforms won’t mean much.

So maybe take heart from that Reagan address so filled with hope and inspiration, because inspired, hopeful people can overcome considerable challenges.

I have seen the human race through a period of unparalleled tumult and triumph…

I have not only seen, but lived the marvels of what historians have called the “American Century.” Yet, tonight is not a time to look backward. For while I take inspiration from the past, like most Americans, I live for the future. So this evening, for just a few minutes, I hope you will let me talk about a country that is forever young.

There was a time when empires were defined by land mass, subjugated peoples, and military might. But the United States is unique because we are an empire of ideals. For two hundred years we have been set apart by our faith in the ideals of democracy, of free men and free markets, and of the extraordinary possibilities that lie within seemingly ordinary men and women. We believe that no power of government is as formidable a force for good as the creativity and entrepreneurial drive of the American people.

Those are the ideals that invented revolutionary technologies and a culture envied by people everywhere. This powerful sense of energy has made America synonymous with opportunity the world over. And after generations of struggle, America is the moral force that defeated Communism and all those who would put the human soul itself into bondage.

For a host of reasons, we seem to be seeing a lot of human souls in bondage again, in one form or another.

A fellow named James Allen once wrote in his diary, “many thinking people believe America has seen its best days.” He wrote that July 26, 1775. There are still those who believe America is weakening; that our glory was the brief flash of time called the 20th century; that ours was a burst of greatness too bright and brilliant to sustain; that America’s purpose is past.

My friends, I utterly reject those views. That’s not the America we know…Whether we come from poverty or wealth; whether we are Afro-American or Irish-American; Christian or Jewish, from big cities or small towns, we are all equal in the eyes of God. But as Americans, that is not enough, we must be equal in the eyes of each other. We can no longer judge each other on the basis of what we are, but must, instead, start finding out who we are. In America, our origins matter less than our destinations and that is what democracy is all about.

So, wrapping up that moment in time and hopefully inspiring future generations…

I want you to know that I have always had the highest respect for you, for your common sense and intelligence and for your decency. I have always believed in you and in what you could accomplish for yourselves and for others.

And whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty’s lamp guiding your steps and opportunity’s arm steadying your way…

May each of you have the heart to conceive, the understanding to direct, and the hand to execute works that will make the world a little better for your having been here.

Does that sound outdated considering the times we’re now facing, and all that’s gone on since then, and all that fills the global news cycles now? We face an existential threat, we’ve grown so diverse (it was inevitable and can be good) and splintered (which is always bad) that recovering such values expressed not that long ago, but a lifetime ago, is daunting for some and undesirable for others.

However, as Justin Dyer wraps up his diagnosis of Our American Illness:

Now—before the next revolution—it is time to think on a practical level about what it will take to restore health to the American political system.

Genocide Resolution needs congressional attention

Signatures. It needs signatures on the bottom line.

It’s more than words on paper, but let’s start with the words.

Members of Congress introduced a resolution on Thursday to label the atrocities committed by the Islamic State against Christians and other religious minorities “genocide.”

“Christians in Iraq and Syria are hanging on in the face of the Islamic State’s barbarous onslaught. This is genocide,” stated Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., who helped introduce the resolution. Fortenberry is co-chair of the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus.

“The international community must confront the scandalous silence about their plight. Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities have every right to remain in their ancestral homelands,” he continued.

Six representatives — three Democrats and three Republicans — introduced the bipartisan resolution. On Thursday, advocates with the non-partisan group In Defense of Christians met with more than 250 congressional offices, asking them to support the resolution.

Quoting from the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the document states that the atrocities committed against Christians and the other religious minorities in the Middle East meet the convention’s definition of genocide.

That’s hugely important, say experts I’ve spoken with on this particular topic on radio in the past month. Call it what it is, name it, and especially declare that it is genocide, says Princeton Professor Robert George, Chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. And Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University. And Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, Co-Chair of the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus and author of this Resolution.

The resolution also called for governments to stop the atrocities and for U.N. member states to sign on to a “concurrent resolution” and “with an urgent appeal to the Arab states that wish to uphold religious freedom, tolerance and justice.” The parties must also help set up “domestic, regional and international tribunals to punish those responsible for the ongoing crimes.”

Skeptics who think Congress pushes a lot of paper and gets little done should pay attention to this. It carries weight, and can have an impact.

USCIRF Chief Robert George told me this will task Congress with a different mission, once the language of ‘genocide’ is used officially. Renowned international human rights advocate Dr. Thomas Farr told me that passing a resolution in Congress requires action by the U.S. government, “by treaty and by law”. It “creates a gateway” for the United States to provide humanitarian aid, protection and faster refugee processing for victims of the atrocities, calling them what they are, ‘crimes against humanity’, said Cong. Fortenberry, one of the leaders helping In Defense of Christians expand and extend the campaign of awareness and relief in a network of global advocacy and activism.

Along with human rights hero Congressman Frank Wolf, Dr. Farr has long passionately worked for religious freedom and protection of minorities from persecution and now, genocide. Here’s the letter both collaborated on to ask President Obama to call what is happening what it is, genocide.

We write as an informal and diverse group of non-governmental organizations and individuals who are scholars, religious leaders, and human rights advocates to express our grave concern for religious minorities, among them Yezidis, Christians and Shia Muslims, at the hands of the Islamic State. We urge you to formally declare the systematic destruction of these ancient communities a genocide.

Mounting evidence indisputably shows the Islamic State’s ongoing genocidal campaign in the Middle East through its attempts to create a global caliphate devoid of religious freedom and diversity. For more than a year, the news headlines have been replete with stories of almost unimaginable human suffering caused by the Islamic State. Religious minorities in these lands, among them the ancient Christian, Yezidi and Shia Muslim communities, have suffered grave injustices: displacement, forced conversion, kidnapping, rape and death…

A report released in March from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights on the human rights situation in Iraq states, “It is reasonable to conclude that some of these incidents, considering the overall information, may constitute genocide.” Furthermore, the report calls for the Security Council “to remain seized of and address, in the strongest terms, information that points to genocide.” It is imperative that the United States government and the global community universally acknowledge this issue as such.

As opposed to previous such instances in modern history, there has been no attempt by the Islamic State to conceal its actions. On the contrary, the group shamelessly broadcasts decapitations, crucifixions, forced drownings and other horrors with the sole purpose of spreading its message of destruction and recruiting more agents to the ranks of its diabolical insurgency. Under the Islamic State, religious minorities now face an existential crisis and live on the edge of extinction in the lands that many have inhabited since antiquity. These communities will continue on a trajectory of tragic and precipitous decline into eventual non existence without swift moral leadership on behalf of the administration and the international community.

(Emphasis added.)

It is our belief that officially declaring and subsequently halting this genocide and its spread is a matter of vital moral and strategic importance for the United States, the international community, and the overall state of religious freedom around the world. Perhaps equally as important, such a declaration will give a stronger voice to the long suffering victims while furthering and sharpening ideological engagement against those currently at the forefront of this campaign.

We humbly request that your office publicly acknowledge and denounce the Islamic State’s actions as genocide and act with all due haste to ensure that this ongoing, abominable crime is halted, prevented and punished and that the religious freedom and human dignity of all people currently suffering under the Islamic State are allowed to flourish.

Meanwhile

The Islamist genocide — and there can be no doubt that it is genocide, despite world silence – of the Christians, Yazidis, Mandeans, and other defenseless ethno-religious minorities of Syria and Iraq continues. The killing of these peoples is deliberate and brutal and is rooted in religious hatred of the “infidel.” It is meted out in sudden violent executions, mass deportations, and the gradual, methodical destruction of their civilizations. Washington is blind to this genocide that occurs alongside, but is separate from, a sectarian Muslim power struggle. It has failed to defend them militarily. Now it is failing to provide humanitarian help in the only manner left: resettling the survivors out of harm’s way, in countries where they will be able to rebuild their families and preserve their unique ancient cultures without fear. Rescue is the very minimum we can do to help these victims of genocide.

Read it and weep.

Nina Shea concludes, for now, with this:

Dakhil says the Yazidis feel abandoned by Washington and the world. Iraqi Christian and Mandean representatives have recently said the same to me. Many of these peoples are desperate to leave the region. They do not want to leave to seek economic opportunities, or even to escape the wartime deprivations, but to save their lives and the lives of their children. They are not being targeted because they are political dissidents or bear arms in conflict. They are targeted solely for religious reasons. This is genocide and we are morally and legally bound to help them. A military resolution to this crisis will be too late for these peoples. Catholic priest Father Douglas Bazi, the director of the renowned Mar Elias refugee encampment for Iraqi Christians in Erbil, tells me: “Help us live. Help us leave.” They need visas. The West can easily provide them, and it must.

While we wait for the US president to respond, the UK Prime Minister got engaged.

David Cameron has given his support to a new report into the persecution of Christians around the world.

In a statement read out at the launch of Aid to the Church in Need’s ‘Persecuted and Forgotten? A report on Christians oppressed for their faith 2013-15? at the House of Lords today, the Prime Minister said that, “Every day in countries across the world, Christians are systematically discriminated against, exploited and even driven from their homes because of their faith.”

“No believer should have to live in fear, and this is why (the British) Government is committed to promoting religious freedom and tolerance at home and around the world,” he added.

“It is also why the work of organisations such as Aid to the Church in Need is so crucial. This report serves as a voice for the voiceless, from their prison cells and the places far from home where they have sought refuge. Now is not the time for silence. We must stand together and fight for a world where no one is persecuted because of what they believe.”

According to the report, Christianity is on course to disappear from Iraq “possibly within five years” unless the international community offer substantial assistance to the persecuted faithful there.

This is a global alert.

The report features a foreword by Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria, whose city has been destroyed by fighting.

In it he wrote: “My own cathedral has been bombed six times and is now unusable. My home has also been hit more than 10 times. We are facing the rage of an extremist jihad; we may disappear soon. In both Syria and Iraq, Christian communities – along with other vulnerable minorities – are defenceless against assaults by Daesh (ISIS). We are the prime target of the so-called caliphate’s religious cleansing campaign.”

This isn’t another news story to shake our heads at and say ‘that’s too bad, someone ought to do something.’ This is a coalition of international leaders trying to do something.

Recently, the In Defense of Christians (IDC) organization presented Dr. Thomas Farr with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his tireless work in human rights. Two international leading officials of IDC presented Dr. Farr with a crucifix from a church in Mosul, Iraq to be held in safe-keeping until it could be returned upon the restoration of Christianity in the region.

I only learned that after he last spoke with me, recently, on radio. It gave even more gravity to his urgent appeal for citizens in the US to call on their Members of Congress, the men and women people elected to serve there, to support two pieces of urgent legislation in the House of Representatives.

H.R. 1150:

…amending the International Religious Freedom Act to give Ambassador Saperstein the status that other ambassadors at large at the Department of State enjoy, the authority to develop an interagency strategy to protect global religious freedom, and the resources he needs to implement that strategy. It would also mandate training for all foreign service officers, deputy chiefs of mission, and country ambassadors. This training would ensure that our diplomats fully understand and can effectively defend the free expression of religion worldwide, the enduring value of religious freedom and its relationship to national security, and how to advance the cause of religious liberty in our foreign policy. (emphasis added)

And H.R 75 (down the list of ‘Whereas’ specifications):

Whereas, on July 10, 2015, Pope Francis, Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, declared that Middle Eastern Christians are facing genocide, a reality that must be ‘‘denounced’’ and that ‘‘In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocideand I stress the word genocide—is taking place, and it must end.’’ (emphasis added)

The people are calling on government, purported and in fact elected to be the leaders of the free world, to DO something, for crying out loud.

And if they lack ideas, many suggestions are contained therein.

International Women’s Day

How and whether it was observed depends on perspective.

I happened to be in Rome, in the middle of a brief visit with my son, who came by the hotel in time to head to St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus and read me the message on his cell phone from Vodafone (in Italian) which said something like ‘If the world is an epic, it is thanks to woman.’ The message then said in celebration, free internet access would be given to all subscribers that day… And I asked him to repeat that. Neither of us knew anything about this Festa taking place on a day already important to me and marked for celebration for other reasons. So he said it’s apparently Women’s Day in Italy, and we thought it nice that the cell phone company started it off with a nice message. It was a little baffling to us both, since Italy celebrates Mother’s Day as the US does, and this day was set apart from that to celebrate all women, which we did not know.

Then we headed to St. Peter’s. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Sometime late that day, a splendid one in Rome with family spending hours outside in glorious weather walking, dining, strolling, talking, enjoying gelato, with more strolling amid countless other families, I went online ever so briefly. And learned that articles and blog posts were dedicated to revealing the origins of International Women’s Day in socialism and communism, something most citizens of the US never knew because it’s not celebrated here and hardly noticed as an international story.

But when we read that, it stood so at odds with our experience in Rome, the first experience of this occasion. Whatever it is or was for anyone else anywhere, here’s how I first encountered the Day of the Woman (besides the Vodafone message my son read to me).

At the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis finished his remarks relating to the Sunday Gospel with these remarks.

…“a greeting to all women! To all the women who work every day to build a more human and welcoming society. And a fraternal thank you to those who in a thousand ways bear witness to the Gospel and work in the Church. This is for us an opportunity to reaffirm the importance and the necessity of their presence in life. A world where women are marginalised is a barren world, because women not only bring life, but they also give us the ability to see beyond – they see beyond themselves – and they transmit to us the ability to understand the world through different eyes, to hear things with more creative, more patient, more tender hearts. A prayer and a special blessing for all women present here in the square and for all women! Greetings!”

It was a beautiful finish to a message that sent us off on what I said was a glorious day, and along the way we saw everywhere the Italian bouquets of ‘mimosas’, the small yellow flowers that symbolize the day, and I was greeted by shop owners and restaurant hosts with a warm ‘Buona Festa!’

Reading the stories online later about the socialist roots of the day, decades earlier, I thought of the many times we had crisscrossed the Pantheon walking around Rome those days. It was originally erected as a pagan temple or building of some sort, possibly dedicated to many gods. It was later consecrated as the church of St. Mary and the Martyrs. Which seemed emblematic to me, of meeting something where it is and bringing to it a Christian presence, reflecting the glory of what Pope Benedict referred to as the ‘new humanism.’

Like when my family visited Ireland and came upon the Hill of Slane, on which St. Patrick lit a Paschal fire to rival the ‘festival fire’ on the opposite Hill of Tara lit by a pagan king, initiating a longstanding, sacred Catholic Easter Vigil rite.

In other words, it is indeed what you make of it.

So since my initiation into this festival honoring women on March 8th happened as it did in Rome, hearing Pope Francis honor the role of women as he did, it seemed to me a current day acknowledgement of the unique role of women recognized by the Second Vatican Council in its closing remarks, among countless individual ones by popes and councils. After addressing different, diverse identity groups, the Council fathers said this:

And now it is to you that we address ourselves, women of all states — girls, wives, mothers and widows, to you also, consecrated virgins and women living alone — you constitute half of the immense human family. As you know, the Church is proud to have glorified and liberated woman, and in the course of the centuries, in diversity of characters, to have brought into relief her basic equality with man. But the hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of woman is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is under-going so deep a transformation, women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling.

Simply not falling? That’s it? Yes, that is what they were saying.

You women have always had as your lot the protection of the home, the love of beginnings and an understanding of cradles. You are present in the mystery of a life beginning. You offer consolation in the departure of death. Our technology runs the risk of becoming inhuman. Reconcile men with life and above all, we beseech you, watch carefully over the future of our race. Hold back the hand of man who, in a moment of folly, might attempt to destroy human civilization.

Wives, mothers of families, the first educators of the human race in the intimacy of the family circle, pass on to your sons and your daughters the traditions of your fathers at the same time that you prepare them for an unsearchable future. Always remember that by her children a mother belongs to that future which perhaps she will not see.

How beautiful is that?

And you, women living alone, realize what you can accomplish through your dedicated vocation. Society is appealing to you on all sides. Not even families can live without the help of those who have no families.

How sensitive an understanding of roles that was, and is.

Especially you, consecrated virgins, in a world where egoism and the search for pleasure would become law, be the guardians of purity, unselfishness and piety. Jesus who has given to conjugal love all its plenitudes, has also exalted the renouncement of human love when this is for the sake of divine love and for the service of all.

Lastly, women in trial, who stand upright at the foot of the cross like Mary, you who so often in history have given to men the strength to battle unto the very end and to give witness to the point of martyrdom, aid them now still once more to retain courage in their great undertakings, while at the same time maintaining patience and an esteem for humble beginnings.

What a profound statement of understanding, acknowledgement, appreciation and appeal this is, even in its brevity.

Women, you do know how to make truth sweet, tender and accessible, make it your task to bring the spirit of this council into institutions, schools, homes and daily life. Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world.

This needs to be recalled now. We are presently in the midst of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Next Monday, my radio program will be dedicated to the proceedings of some lively, engaging, and intense meetings. And to giving voice to women who speak to the role of life giver, nurturer, caregiver, humanizer, peacemaker, and the witness of what Vatican II saw as “the vocation of woman…achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved.”

Which beats the hell out of whatever socialists and communists intended by fabricating something like an international women’s day according to their designs.

Reports from the front with ISIS: “Death has become a way of life here.”

Why does this continue? Why hasn’t ISIS been stopped, long ago? Why are they advancing?

NBC News Richard Engel addresses the root problem in this report.

He’s reporting on the situation on the ground where the US president claims to be ‘partnering‘ with forces to drive back ISIS.

Engel said the U.S. doesn’t exactly have an ideal partner on the ground — not even in the Iraqi Security Forces, and certainly not in Syria. The Iraqi army has been heavily depleted over the past few months and reconstituted with Iranian advisers and ground forces. And many Sunni villagers, he says, are “afraid” of the Iraqi army.

“They don’t want the Iraqi army to come into their villages. So we talk about a partner on the ground that we are going to team up with to rid Iraq of ISIS. Well, that partner on the ground, in many cases, is a reason that many people support ISIS in this country.”

And he continues to speak out from the front line, calling attention to the Kurds who desperately need help from the ‘international community.’ Because they need relief and support.

But what the Kurdish fighters lack in equipment, they make up for in fighting spirit. After ISIS swept violently into Iraq in June, the Kurds regrouped and have managed to take back much of the ground they lost. The men here say they are fighting for their homeland and for their families.

“We will stand here and fight for as long as we have to,” Capt. Massud Aziz Osman said. “We are fighting against everyone’s enemy.”

Like many here, Osman, a father of four, says that the Kurds have been left to fight alone, abandoned by the Iraqi army and offered only limited support by the U.S. and its allies.

“ISIS is the common enemy,” he says, “and anyone who isn’t here fighting them is without a god or a faith.”

But Kurdish officials say determination alone may not be enough to see this battle through. They have recently become more vocal — calling for increased aid from the international coalition.

I’ve had a number of guests on radio in recent weeks, examining this crisis from every angle more days than not. They are deeply and wholly committed to facing, naming, confronting and eliminating the greatest existential threat of our time.

Former Congressman Frank Wolf co-founded ‘The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative‘, an actively committed, on the ground, front line organization giving voice to leaders of Christian leaders representing thousands of the faithful, which should be tenfold that number. They’re doing everything in their power to call for action, policy changes and humanitarian assistance to ensure freedom, protection and human dignity for Christians threatened by extinction in the ancient land of their birth. A group  of religious leaders they recently visited in Iraq lamented:

This is not just the end of Christianity but the end of our ethnicity who have lived here for thousands of years. We believe this is genocide.

They continued: We do not have opportunities for education. We do not have opportunities for work. We do not have opportunities for healthcare. What is left for us?

Consider the brutal reality, not reported in most media:

The Islamic State’s desecration and destruction of historic sites of religious and cultural heritage is unprecedented in Iraq. In Mosul, IS has turned an 800-year-old house of worship into a place of torture. Another church in Mosul that has existed for 150 years is being utilized as a prison, and yet still another is serving as a weapons storehouse.

All of the religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq face this deplorable reality. Yezidis note that this is the 73rd intentional targeting of their community. What has changed with the Islamic State is the speed and scope by which these religious and ethnic communities are being decimated. The Nineveh Plains had been one of the last relatively safe havens for Christians, Yezidis, Shabak, Turkmen and other minority groups, but with the fall of Mosul and surrounding areas in the summer of 2014, Iraq’s minorities have no place to go and are nearing the precipice of total disappearance.

This is appalling, a shock to the senses, a call to action. Something frequent guest Nina Shea has been doing for a long time, reporting on the raw reality and calling for what must be done.

President Obama must acknowledge that ISIS has religious objectives, that its actions are not simply random acts of “extreme violence,” and that ISIS aims to make the region – and beyond– pure for Islam. Maybe then, America’s generals would recognize that Christian, as well as Yizidi, communities are prime targets for ISIS, that Kurdish militias need to be equipped and pressed to protect them and air strikes need to be more seriously deployed.

And how has the president responded?

With at least an apparently distinct lack of gravity and sense severity of the threat and necessary response.

In an interview on foreign policy, president Obama said something that prompted the questioner to ask how he thought the media covers terrorism, and whether they sometimes overstate the level of alarm people should have about terrorism. The president’s response was ‘Absolutely. If it bleeds, it leads.’

It’s bleeding, Mr. President. It’s time to lead.

Terrorists’ rampage against Christians

They keep upping the outrage to provoke the West. Is the West sufficiently provoked?

How can we tell? What would it take for ‘the international community’ to do something forceful and consequential to engage this enemy of civilization and at least pause if not halt the violence that’s so extreme, it’s breathtaking in its savagery? Who will even call it what it is?

Iraq’s UN Ambassador, for one.Iraq’s U.N. ambassador alleged Tuesday that Islamic State militants were committing genocide, a day ahead of an emergency Security Council session.

The session comes in the wake of the extremist group’s claim that it massacred 21 Christian Egyptians in Libya.

Mohamed Ali Al-Hakim told Security Council members, “These terrorist groups have desecrated all human values. They have committed the most heinous criminal terrorist acts against the Iraqi people, whether Shi’ite, Sunni, Christians, Turkmen, Shabak or Yazidis. These are, in fact, crimes of genocide committed against humanity that must be held accountable before international justice.”

He spoke as reports surfaced that the charred remains of dozens of people had been found in the Iraqi town of al-Baghdadi, which came under Islamic State control last week.

While civilized people were still trying to catch their breath and sensibilities after the mass and highly publicized beheadings of 21 Christians, news that “the charred remains of dozens of people had been found” in a strategically located Iraqi town emerged, though very few media outlets have reported on it so far. BBC has.

The VOA news story continues, giving voice to the outrage mounting over these atrocities.

Egypt’s foreign minister is in New York for the meeting after President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi asked the council on Tuesday to mandate international military intervention in Libya.

“What happened is a hateful crime against humanity, not only against Egyptians,” el-Sissi told France’s Europe 1 radio, a day after his forces retaliated against the killings by launching airstrikes against what Cairo said were Islamic State militants in eastern Libya.

“I address this message here to Europeans and the French in particular,” he said. “I said it to the French president four months ago when I met him: Watch out — what’s happening in Libya will transform the country into a breeding ground that will threaten the entire region, not just Egypt, but Egypt, the Mediterranean basin and Europe.”

Precisely the point the terrorists want to make clear. This story on the anguished, urgent outcry of Pope Francis over the horrific violence, is revealing.

Pope Francis said: “The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a blood that cries out to the Lord.”

“It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Lutherans,” the Pope continued. “They are Christians. Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ.”

A video of the decapitation of the 21 Copts kidnapped in Libya at the beginning of January was posted online by jihadist websites Sunday. The footage shows black-clad militants leading their captives in orange jumpsuits along a beach before forcing them to kneel.

The title of the video is: “A Message Signed With Blood To The Nation Of The Cross.” One caption reads: “The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church.”

The wording of the message was a clear intent to provoke outrage, instill terror, and show disdain. Note this:

Before the mass beheading, one of the militants stands with a knife in his hand and says: “Safety for you crusaders is something you can only wish for.”

Where have we recently heard reference to “crusaders”? Oh yes, the president. This appears to be a signal that he was heard abroad.

It was also deviously designed as a signal of another sort.

Images from the video show waves of the Mediterranean breaking on the beach, turning red from the blood of the victims.

The killings took place less than 500 miles from the southern tip of Italy, raising concerns that ISIS has established a direct affiliate within striking distance of Europe. One of the militants in the video speaks directly to their intention, saying the group now plans to “conquer Rome,” the Associated Press reported.

That has come up before verbally. Now they’ve added a visual, to further intimidate and cast fear. In Rome, Francis will show no fear, but he’s both emotional and determined in his remarks about this brutality against innocents.

In the face of the brutal slayings, Pope Francis urged all Christians to work even harder for unity among themselves.

“As we recall these brothers and sisters who were killed only because they confessed Christ,” he said, “I ask that we encourage one another to go forward with this ecumenism that is emboldening us, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians”.

The president will not acknowledge that, nor that Islamic terrorism is Islamic terrorism. He called the beheaded Christians ‘Egyptian civilians.’ But it’s important to call things what they are, and Pope Francis does.

Pope Francis on Monday castigated the Islamic State barbarians who beheaded 21 Coptic Christians purely for their religious beliefs — and he called the victims “martyrs” whose blood “is a testimony which cries out to be heard.”

“Their only words were: ‘Jesus, help me,’?” the sickened pontiff said. “They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians.”

Here are their names. Pray for them, their families, their communities, and an end to the violence.

Invoking the Crusades

Did Obama do a moral equivalency of Christian Crusaders with Islamic terrorists today?

Well, yes. But he won’t call them “Islamic”, though that’s what they call themselves.

Expert analysts are talking daily now about the president’s refusal to address the threat we face globally. Time after time he’s had the opportunity, notably in the State of the Union address in January.

But in addressing the National Prayer Breakfast last week, Obama turned it into a chance to call religious extremism out. Of sorts.

In his comments at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, President Obama condemned violence in the name of religion and pointed to religious groups other than the Islamic State that have perpetrated acts of terror in human history.

Note, other than the Islamic State, which has mutilated, crucified, beheaded, raped, enslaved, burned alive, beaten to death, tortured and terrorized countless populations of innocent women, children, men, elderly, anyone and everyone in their path.

Obama continued with this astonishing statement:

“Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place,” the president said, “remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Oh geesh. This is more than a ‘here we go again’ moment. This is critical mass. The president of the United States. Going there.

Our news is increasingly made up of one outrageous act of barbarism committed in the name of Allah after another…

Against this backdrop of horror, our President feels the need to step back and take the long view. Instead of talking about Islam’s connection to the slavery of young girls right now, the President wants to lecture us on Christianity’s connection to slavery 150 years ago. Instead of condemning ISIS’ undeniable connection to Muhammad right now, he wants to re-focus our attention on the Crusaders and the Inquisition. Instead of condemning the Charlie Hebdo attackers Islamic extremism in a clear voice he wants to also condemn those who insult the faith of others (as if these two things were equally problematic).

This is not a much needed exercise in humility. This is a dodge, a cop out.

The ongoing threat to peace and human dignity from religion is not coming from Christianity, nor does it stem from Christian arrogance. The Christians being slaughtered in Nigeria, in Syria and Iraq, and in Egypt do not need a lecture on humility. The President ought to drop the moral equivalence and confront the threat we face in the here and now. And if he feels the need to lecture on religious humility, there is one religion that desperately needs to grasp the concept, right now in this century. In case it’s not already clear, that religion is not Christianity.

So in the name of Christianity, and for the purpose of clarifying the history of the Crusades now that we have this window opportunity, here are a couple of good articles by academics who know what they’re talking about.

Author and historian Thomas Madden.

Most people in the West do not believe that they have been prosecuting a continuous Crusade against Islam since the Middle Ages. But most do believe that the Crusades started the problems that plague and endanger us today. Westerners in general (and Catholics in particular) find the Crusades a deeply embarrassing episode in their history. As the Ridley Scott movie Kingdom of Heaven graphically proclaimed, the Crusades were unprovoked campaigns of intolerance preached by deranged churchmen and fought by religious zealots against a sophisticated and peaceful Muslim world. According to the Hollywood version, the blind violence of the Crusades gave birth to jihad, as the Muslims fought to defend themselves and their world. And for what? The city of Jerusalem, which was both “nothing and everything,” a place filled with religion that “drives men mad.”

On September 11, 2001, there were only a few professional historians of the Crusades in America. I was the one who was not retired. As a result, my phone began ringing and didn’t stop for years. In the hundreds of interviews I have given since that terrible day, the most common question has been, “How did the Crusades lead to the terrorist attacks against the West today?” I always answered: “They did not. The Crusades were a medieval phenomenon with no connection to modern Islamist terrorism.”

But you have to be open to learning the truth to accept that and stay with the article, short as it is. Madden knows this, too well.

It is generally thought that Christians attacked Muslims without provocation to seize their lands and forcibly convert them. The Crusaders were Europe’s lacklands and ne’er-do-wells, who marched against the infidels out of blind zealotry and a desire for booty and land. As such, the Crusades betrayed Christianity itself. They transformed “turn the other cheek” into “kill them all; God will know his own.”

Every word of this is wrong. Historians of the Crusades have long known that it is wrong, but they find it extraordinarily difficult to be heard across a chasm of entrenched preconceptions.

Which obviously includes the president.

Madden continued teaching, for those who were open to learning. Here’s a piece he wrote two years later.

Many historians had been trying for some time to set the record straight on the Crusades — misconceptions are all too common. These historians are not revisionists, but mainstream scholars offering the fruit of several decades of very careful, very serious scholarship. For them, current interest is a “teaching moment,” an opportunity to explain the Crusades while people are actually listening. It won’t last long, so here goes…

Misconceptions about the Crusades are all too common. The Crusades are generally portrayed as a series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics. They are supposed to have been the epitome of self-righteousness and intolerance, a black stain on the history of the Catholic Church in particular and Western civilization in general. A breed of proto-imperialists, the Crusaders introduced Western aggression to the peaceful Middle East and then deformed the enlightened Muslim culture, leaving it in ruins. For variations on this theme, one need not look far. See, for example, Steven Runciman’s famous three-volume epic, History of the Crusades, or the BBC/A&E documentary, The Crusades, hosted by Terry Jones. Both are terrible history yet wonderfully entertaining.

So what is the truth about the Crusades? Scholars are still working some of that out. But much can already be said with certainty. For starters, the Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression — an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.

Christians in the eleventh century were not paranoid fanatics. Muslims really were gunning for them. While Muslims can be peaceful, Islam was born in war and grew the same way. From the time of Mohammed, the means of Muslim expansion was always the sword. Muslim thought divides the world into two spheres, the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. Christianity — and for that matter any other non-Muslim religion — has no abode.

It’s an extensive piece, well worth reading to learn the history of the Crusades. Take the time for it, too few people in media and politics will.

But they should get this from Madden’s conclusion:

From the safe distance of many centuries, it is easy enough to scowl in disgust at the Crusades. Religion, after all, is nothing to fight wars over. But we should be mindful that our medieval ancestors would have been equally disgusted by our infinitely more destructive wars fought in the name of political ideologies. And yet, both the medieval and the modern soldier fight ultimately for their own world and all that makes it up. Both are willing to suffer enormous sacrifice, provided that it is in the service of something they hold dear, something greater than themselves. Whether we admire the Crusaders or not, it is a fact that the world we know today would not exist without their efforts. The ancient faith of Christianity, with its respect for women and antipathy toward slavery, not only survived but flourished.

Rally and march against radical ideology that dehumanizes

Are we talking about the Charlie Hebdo unity rally and demonstration? Or the March for Life?

There’s a thought experiment. Robert Royal calls it “Magical Thinking” and  helps us think through it here.

“I am Charlie,” the common slogan, is silly and emblematic of how we express ourselves publicly about moral matters these days. But no shame on that crowd for saying – no matter in how confused a fashion – that we don’t allow some people to kill others, simply because they think they have a right to.

What shall we say, though, about the people who have remained largely passive in a world in which 1.32 billion babies have been aborted since 1980?

Or an America that has killed, without losing much sleep, 57.5 million babies since 1973?

More than Stalin (40 million).

Way more than Hitler (30 million).

Chairman Mao edges us out (60 million), but he had a bigger population to work with. And anyway, we’re catching up.

Out of those 57.5 million, 17.3 million black babies were aborted. It’s hard to get your head around such numbers, so this may help: That would be like eliminating the entire black populations of New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Houston, Memphis, Baltimore, Washington DC, Dallas, Columbus, San Diego, Phoenix, Indianapolis, Boston – combined. And more than twice. Put a different way, it amounts to almost half the current African-American population.

If America’s police departments did that, we’d be seeing a lot more than demonstrations about “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

Perspective is everything, especially if it’s keen and clear and not seen through an ideological lens. Young adults and adolescents in greater numbers every year, along with other generations of Americans from the Roe era to the children in strollers, get the truth of the pro-life cause and movement.

It should not surprise America that the pro-life movement is growing younger and stronger. Incredible advances in science have made it possible for young women such as myself to first greet our children and witness their miraculous development beginning when they aren’t much bigger than a legume. Today’s women track their baby’s developments with any number of smartphone apps. Today’s children are growing up in a world where ultrasound pictures of their siblings are taped to the family refrigerator. Today’s would-be parents are bringing children into the world where tremendous medical advances keep nudging backward the age at which babies born prematurely can be kept alive…

The 2014 midterm elections saw a huge number of legislators who self-identify as pro-life elected to office. Pro-choice darling Wendy Davis was a spectacular failure, and candidates like Mark Udall, who campaigned on abortion rights, not only lost but were criticized for emphasizing their pro-choice positions. The war on woman rhetoric the abortion rights camp has been using will likely be retired, especially when the youngest woman in history was elected to Congress last year, and she is a staunchly pro-life woman in fiercely pro-choice state.

The tide has turned, the truth of human life and dignity is again self-evident to more Americans. The March is getting bigger, younger, more joyful and hopeful every year. It’s joined by burgeoning groups of witnesses to the demonstrable ravages of abortion, like Silent No More Awareness Campaign, Created Equal, Centurions, And Then There Were None, Rachel’s Vineyard, Live Action, and so many others.

The media mostly didn’t cover the March for Life. But they’re rendered more irrelevant every year by ignoring hundreds of thousands of exuberant young people pouring into the nation’s capitol, cramming Constitution Avenue and the streets and avenues crisscrossing Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. Especially when participants take to social media to share the news themselves.

And it’s those thinkers and writers who are engaging the culture with challenging responses to the tired slogans of a dying movement that claims the right to kill in the name of an ideology of ‘freedom of choice.’

Here’s a good example.

I don’t have the right to force someone to be pregnant. I don’t have the right to force someone to continue to be pregnant. I don’t have the right to force someone to become a mother against her will. I simply don’t.

And neither does anyone else…

What we, as a society, do have the right to do is to require, and we do that all the time.

It is an accepted norm of human society that we require parents (this includes mothers) to care for their minor children. We do not accept conditions and exceptions to this rule. The age, sex, stage of development, and location of the child do not in any way preclude the obligation, the societal requirement, that the parents ensure that that child’s basic needs are met. This is true whether the child is living in the same residence as the parents or not. The obligation remains intact even if the minor child is away at boarding school, or living with relatives. Human society requires that the parents of each child be responsible and answerable for his/her health and safety.

In the event that the biological parents choose to pass the obligation for raising that child along to someone else (adoption), we still require that that happens in a way which is in the best interest of the child.

And it’s about time we look out, once again, for the best interests of the child.

This is not a new and radical position. The social contract which exists between parent and child is ingrained within every culture on Earth. This basic understanding of the duty owed by parents to their offspring predates its being codified into written law. There has never been a human civilization which did not hold this expectation for parents.

Now pay attention to this:

What is new is the position we now hold. Western society has decided that in the unfortunate instances when the biological parents of a child are incapable of caring for their child, we as a society will step in as a safety net, and see to his/her health and safety collectively. We recognize and so value each life that we have made the historically unprecedented decision to fulfill the parental obligation even in the absence of parental ability.

It is this basic human premise and recognition of human value which Pro-Life people call upon with regard to what is owed the child in the womb. We acknowledge the biological fact of the humanity of that developing human being, and require of its mother the same societal norm which exists for the well-being of all children. We expect that the parents of that child will meet and fulfill the basic needs of that child. In the event that they feel incapable of caring for that child long term, we place upon them the same obligation which is already in place – that they transfer the care of that child to someone else in a manner which safeguards the health, safety, and well-being of that child.

Recognition and protection of the right to life and human dignity are preeminent, the right upon which all others build. Rallies for the rights to free expression of speech, even of the most vile and obscene sort, no matter how many world leaders lead the march, make no sense whatsoever if that first and fundamental right is subjected to an ideological bias against life deemed disagreeable.

Pope Francis and ‘soft power’ diplomacy

He doesn’t soft-peddle his approach.

In another airplane press conference on an apostolic journey abroad, Francis called out anyone who commits violence in the name of religion. And while he emphasized the importance of free expression, he admitted it necessarily has limits.

Here’s the transcript of his remarks. A key exchange, on the tension between freedom of religion, and freedom of speech:

Sebastien Maynard (La Croix): Holy Father, yesterday during Mass, you spoke about religious liberty as a fundamental human right. With respect to other religions, how far can the freedom of expression extend, since this latter is a fundamental human right, too?

Pope Francis: Thanks for the question, that is smart, it is good. I think that both are fundamental human rights, religious liberty and liberty of expression. You can’t … Let’s think, are you French? Let’s go to Paris. Let’s speak clearly. You cannot hide a truth. Everyone has the right to practice their religion, their own religion without offending, freely. And that’s what we do, what we all want to do.

But…

Secondly, you cannot offend or make war, kill in the name of your religion, in the name of God. What has happened now astonishes us…Killing in the name of God is an aberration against God. I think this is the main thing with freedom of religion. You can practice with freedom without offending but without imposing or killing.

The freedom of expression… Every one of us has not just the freedom, the right, but also the obligation to say what he thinks to help build the common good. The obligation. If we think of a congressman, a senator, if he doesn’t say what he thinks is the true path, he doesn’t collaborate in the common good. We have the obligation to freely have this liberty, but without offending. It’s true that you cannot react violently. But, if Dr. Gasbarri, my great friend, says something against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke, you cannot insult the faith of others, you cannot make fun of the faith.

Pope Benedict, in a speech, I don’t remember which, he spoke of this post-positivist mentality, of the post-positivist metaphysics that brought people to believe that religions or religious expressions are a type of lower culture: that they are tolerated but that there’s not much to them, that they are in not part of an enlightened culture. And this is a lecacy of the Enlightenment. So many people speak against others’ religions. They make fun of them. Let’s say they “giocatalizzano” (make a playng out of) the religion of others. But they are provoking, and what can happen is what I said about Dr. Gasbarri if he says something about my mother. There is a limit. Every religion has dignity; I cannot mock a religion that respects human life and the human person. And this is a limit. I’ve used this example of the limit to say that in the freedom of expression there are limits, like the example I gave of my mother. I don’t know if I was able to respond to the question. Thanks.

This is so Francis-like. Honest and sincere, off-the-cuff spontaneous remarks, in the colloquial expressions he’s familiar with but we all are too, in our own way. So we can relate. Would you hear Pope John Paul II or Benedict talking about ‘expecting a punch’ for insulting his mother? No. But Francis is Francis. Catholics refer to ‘Holy Mother Church’, which was a point he was making. Freedom of expression is important, but all freedoms have to be exercised within the limits of truth, right order and the common good (think ‘You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater’).

More on his thoughts about religion being abused in the cause of war here.

When confronted with the question of truth commissions in war torn nations, Francis said this:

I support efforts to find the truth, balance efforts; not those in search of vindication, but balanced efforts to help to reach an agreement.

I heard something from the President of Sri Lanka – I don’t want this to be interpreted as a political comment, it is only phenomenological: I repeat what I heard and I agree with. He said he wants to move ahead with the work of peace, reconciliation. Then he used another word, he said we must create harmony in the people. That’s something more than peace, more than reconciliation, and it’s beautiful, it’s musical, too. Then he used another word. He said harmony brings happiness and joy. I was amazed. I said: I like hearing this, but it’s not easy. He said yes, we must touch people’s hearts. That’s what I thought of in answering your question, only by touching the hearts of people who know what suffering is, what injustice is; who had suffered many things from war, so many things. Only by touching hearts can people forgive, can we find the right path, without incorrect compromises to go forward.

This all comes right after the week of terror in Paris and the extraordinary weekend unity rally that drew world leaders and massive crowds together in a demonstration of solidarity against extremist violence. Francis has been working on that, through the channels available to him, throughout his papacy. In the footsteps of his predecessors, according to former US Vatican Ambassador Francis Rooney, who wrote this Time.com opinion piece not long ago, which becomes timely again with current events.

It has now been announced that Pope Francis will make a state visit to Turkey in November [which he made]. As with Pope Benedict’s visit there in 2006, a papal visit to the secular Islamic nation will garner the attention of everyone who is concerned about the violence and civil wars in the Middle East. Like the Albania visit, the Pope’s very presence will symbolize hopes for genuine religious tolerance and inter-religious dialogue, while drawing the clear distinction between religion and lawlessness and murder.

Following Regensburg, several groups of Islamic scholars acknowledged that Koranic teaching must reconcile with modernity.

Few people know that fact, to this day.

Continuing with Ambassador Rooney

Pope Francis’ engagement of the Holy See, both in calling for an end to the persecution of Christians and implying recently that even military opposition to ISIS in Iraq and Syria could be supported a “just war,” has similarly brought constructive results.

…Grand Mufti Abdul-Aziz, the leading Muslim cleric in Saudi Arabia, spoke out clearly against radicalism in response to King Abdullah’s public request for all clerics to raise their voices on this issue. While King Abdullah visited Pope Benedict in the aftermath of Regensburg, this is the most clear expression of Saudi opposition to radicalism to date.

On September 10, some two dozen MuslimAmerican leaders met in Washington with officials from the Department of Homeland Security and spoke out against Islamic terrorism and the recruitment of young Muslim Americans to extremism. More recently, in a direct reference to the need for “soft power” solutions, the Minister of Religious Affairs for Jordan, Hayil Abdelhafeez Dawoud, told the Wall Street Journal that “to fight terrorism, we need to fight its ideology. It can’t be solved militarily.”

George Weigel has recently summarized the problem and suggested a solution, stating that the modern world is at a crossroads with Islam, which requires that Islam reconcile its theology with the tolerance, freedom and respect for human life that the rest of the civilized world has come to expect, as well as with the nature of the secular, modern state and its relationship to religion.

While optimism is hard to find right now, and the violence and persecution in the Middle East and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa continue unchecked, these recent expressions offer promise that a broad community of nations will congeal to create a supportable, “just” force against Islamic extremists and that the Muslim states and leaders themselves will work to devise theological and philosophical constructions to bring Islam at large into accord with the modern world.

No sovereign is more aligned with these efforts nor more suited to weigh in diplomatically than the Holy See and Pope Francis.

Can the Paris rally launch unified action against terror?

How about more attention on massacres, at the very least?

That’s what Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama virtually cried out for after the latest  breathtaking wave of crimes against humanity there.

As the world mourns the vicious massacres in Paris, one of Africa’s top religious leaders suggested that the lack of a similar outcry across the globe over the slaughter of up to 2,000 people by Boko Haram last week in northeast Nigeria is further evidence that Black lives don’t matter as much as whites’.

Ignatius Kaigama, the Catholic Archbishop of Jos and president of the Nigerian Bishops Conference, said the international community has expressed “solidarity,” but hasn’t done much to offer real help.

“We have always said that there should be concern expressed more concretely by the West beyond just expressing their solidarity,” Kaigama said. “They should do more than that. Compare what has happened in Paris and what is happening here. There is a great difference.”

According to Amnesty International, most of the people killed in Baga and the surrounding villages were women, children and the elderly, who were not able to flee in time. Reports say that the villages are overwhelmed with dead bodies lying as far as the eye could see. Amnesty International said it was the deadliest massacre Boko Haram has staged in the years of its murderous reign.

In addition to the dead, another 30,000 people are thought to have fled their homes, with about 7,500 seeking sanctuary in Chad and the rest adding to the tens of thousands of displaced people already scattered throughout that region of Nigeria.

On Twitter, Imad Mesdoua, a political analyst at consultants Africa Matters, said, “No breaking news cycle, no live reports, no international outrage, no hashtags,”…

Harry Leslie Smith, the 91-year-old who the Independent said electrified the Labour Party conference last year with a speech on the NHS, said on Twitter: “Note to the media and Western politicians that Paris isn’t burning but Nigeria is.”

On his Facebook page, Hollywood actor Boris Kodjoe congratulated the world leaders for taking part in the Paris march and asked “can somebody tell me why nobody is marching for those [Nigerian] victims? Any world leaders planning a trip to Lagos or Abuja this week? Too Busy? Bad flight connections?”

Thankfully, Angelina Jolie gets a lot of attention on just about everything she does and says, and she’s stepping up and speaking out about these atrocities, and calling out world leaders to send relief. This CNN report tells the raw story.

The attackers sped into a Nigerian town with grenade launchers — their gunfire and explosions shattering the early morning calm.

As terrified residents scattered into bushes in Baga town and surrounding villages, the gunmen unloaded motorcycles from their trucks and followed in hot pursuit.

Residents hid under scant brush. Bullets pierced them.

Some sought refuge in their homes. They were burned alive.

Many who tried to cross into neighboring Chad drowned while trying to swim through Lake Chad.

By the time the weapons went quiet, local officials reported death tolls ranging from hundreds to as many as 2,000 people.

That was January 3, nine days ago.

On Monday, bodies still littered the bushes in the area.

“It is still not safe to go and pick them up for burial,” said Musa Bukar, the chairman of the local government where Baga is located.

No emergency crews will enter the villages where militants are still running amok, local authorities said.

“Baga is not accessible because it is still occupied by Boko Haram,” said Sen. Maina Ma’aji Lawan of northern Borno state.

The strategic Nigerian town borders Chad, giving the extremists better access to both countries.

Boko Haram has terrorized northern Nigeria regularly since 2009, attacking police, schools, churches and civilians, and bombing government buildings. The Islamist group has said its aim is to impose a stricter form of Sharia law across Nigeria, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.

The group’s brutal tactics have shocked and stunned the world.

It has kidnapped students, including more than 200 schoolgirls who were abducted in April — and remain missing.

On Saturday, explosives strapped to a girl detonated at a crowded marketplace in Nigeria, killing at least 20 people. Although no one has claimed responsibility, Boko Haram militants are the main suspects.

But the scale of the early January attack — the death of hundreds, possibly thousands — defies belief.

Any one of those sentences is a jaw dropping stunner. Why is this continuing? Isn’t anyone doing anything? Where’s the ‘international community’? Where’s the massive rally and outcry and gathering of world leaders? Where’s the social media campaign to activate people around the globe to stop the madness and inhumanity to innocent children, women, elderly, everyone in the path of this murderous gang?

Angelina Jolie wants to know, too. And in her position with the UN and the media in general, she has a voice and is using it, thank God.

“Each new crime committed by Boko Haram exceeds the last in brutality. This is a direct consequence of the environment of total impunity in which Boko Haram operates. Every time they get away with mass murder, rape and the enslavement of women and children, they are emboldened,” Angelina Jolie, special envoy of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement.

She urged the United States and other nations to offer Nigeria help to “collect evidence and bring the perpetrators of these attacks to justice.”

Amnesty International called the massacre Boko Haram’s “deadliest act.”

“If reports that the town was largely razed to the ground and that hundreds or even as many as 2,000 civilians were killed are true, this marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram’s ongoing onslaught,” said Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International.

The Nigerian military said the description of the attack as “the deadliest” was “quite valid.”

“The attack on the town by the bloodhounds and their activities since January 3 should convince well meaning people all over the world that Boko Haram is the evil all must collaborate to end,” it said.

Should is such a weak term, an innocuous one in this case. Convince? Does a case need to be made? Don’t the brutal facts shock all “well meaning people all over the world” into taking some action, any action, to call their members of government to DO something? And to do something themselves to send any form of relief available to us all?

What forms might that take, many good people desperately want to know. The first things I think of are the heroic relief organizations on the ground desperately trying to get life saving help to the thousands and thousands of innocent people terrorized and barely hanging on to life and hope, if they even have that.

Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders seems to be assisting survivors in the stricken region. CNEWA, CRS, Caritas and Samaritan’s Purse are great organizations doing so much globally. It’s not evident they can get into Nigeria, though they’re certainly on location where Iraqi and Syrian refugees have fled persecution and need help. So I checked out what Archbishop Kaigama is saying. Here’s what he’s saying about the help his people need:

The Archbishop said prayer was necessary, because the situation has gone beyond what “can be managed at the human level.”