Sacramento religious leaders decried the persecution of Christians by the Islamic State, a week after the terrorist organization was accused by the U.S. government of committing genocide against religious minorities.
More than a dozen clergy and lay people from Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim and Protestant houses of worship gathered Wednesday at a news conference on the steps of Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament downtown.
“We read nearly daily of more deaths, now numbered in the hundreds of thousands,” said Jon Fish, who represents the Interfaith Council of Greater Sacramento. “We seek peace. We want good. We want honor and decency. But most of all, we want to stand together. In this Holy Week, we stand with Christians everywhere.”
The gathering was meant to call attention to Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement last week that Islamic State’s persecution of Christians, Yazidis and Shiite Muslims amounts to genocide.
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Sacramento Roman Catholic Bishop Jaime Soto said the declaration from Kerry that the group, also known as ISIS or Daesh, has committed genocide is long overdue.
“Lives are being extinguished,” said Soto, and the good works of churches, schools, hospitals and social services, founded and maintained by Christians, are being erased.
Yazidis, Christians and other sects, who have survived wars and dictatorships, have been forced to flee their lands or face slaughter, rape and enslavement by the Islamic State.
Minorities in Syria and Iraq have seen their churches destroyed, clergy kidnapped and executed, their villages reduced to rubble. Taken in their entirety, Kerry said, the offenses meet the criteria for genocide.
“Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by action – what it says, what it believes and what it does,” Kerry said at the State Department.
A finding might seem to be a given, considering the amount of bloodletting by the Islamic State, but genocide is a legal term, and scholars have debated whether the extremist group’s violence in Syria and Iraq falls into that category, or into categories such as war crimes or crimes against humanity. Sacramento religious leaders said that entire communities have been driven out or eliminated.
Soto also said the group wanted to remember those killed in Tuesday’s airport and subway bombings in Belgium. Islamic State has taken credit for the attack.
“Innocent people were killed and maimed by madness,” Soto said. “Such horrors only come from the heart of darkness.”