Rubio: Cradle of Christianity Is Losing Its Christians

By Susan Jones | December 10, 2014 | 10:08am EST

( - "Christians in the Middle East today are a fraction of what they were not so long ago," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and others told a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

"If we continue on this pace, we're going to have a world where there are no Christian communities left in what was the cradle of Christianity."

Not only are Christians fleeing persecution, but their history is being "wiped out," including manuscripts, churches, and antiquities that can't be rebuilt, Rubio told Bishop Francis Kalabat, one of those testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee.

"You hit the nail on its head," said Bishop Kalabat, the leader of Detroit's Chaldean Catholic Diocese. "It's kind of like if there was an attack on Washington, D.C., and you destroy all the monuments. you know, there are just so -- not only symbolic, but this is the heart of our country. And so when you do that with a heart of a faith, then you have -- you're -- it's a targeted and a calculated attack to wipe out history.

In this 13 June 2014 photo, an Iraqi refugee from Mosul stands outside her family's tent at Khazir refugee camp outside Irbil, 217 miles north of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP File Photo)

"And we're always the pawns whenever there's any kind of sectarian religious conflict," he added.

Asked which countries in the Middle East are friendliest to Christians, Kalabat named Egypt, Lebanon and, until recently, Syria:

But Syria isn't safe any more, he said. "Not any more in the sense that Christians now are fleeing. You know, after those who have fled Iraq a couple of years ago and went to Syria, Syria was the place for you to be on your way out or for even to change places to leave Iraq. Now it's no longer the place. Now you're being persecuted wherever you go.

"So it seems like right now many of the Christians are looking to go outside (the Middle East), which is a sad and horrific statement to make. For the Middle East to be bereft of Christians is a moral dilemma for the Middle East."

Kalabat said the Christian population in Iraq has dropped to 350,000 from 1.5 million in the last ten years, and the Iraqi city of Mosul has no Christians left.

Many Iraqi Christians have fled to the northern regions in the Ninevah Plains, Kalabat said. "Many have left to Jordan. Some actually left to Syria only to come back from Syria to meet other problems. Many have left to Turkey.

"We here in the United States have been trying desperately to try to do whatever we can," Kalabat continued. "We've collected about $1.5 million dollars to try to bring some kind of support, which is a drop in the bucket. This is an ancient community that -- that shares so much wealth, that shares so much dignity. And we've seen what happened to the Jewish community in Iraq.

"And there's an old saying that said that "yesterday was Saturday, today is Sunday," which was a saying that was -- you know, yesterday, the Jewish community got it. Today, the Christian communities are going to get it."

Kalabat said Iraq's dwindling Christians need protection against an enemy such as ISIS: "It seems like right now, maybe in the Nineveh region, to be able to -- to be under protection and to be under a universal -- I mean, worldwide, led by the United States, you know, to be able to finish the work that it started."

Earlier, Sen. Rand Paul told the hearing that the "largest collection of Christians left in the area are actually protected by (Syrian President Bashar) Assad. While they're not particularly enamored by Assad, they are probably more fearful of ISIS" and other rebel groups.

Paul said he wasn't defending Assad: "I'm just trying to point out where the Christians are in this -- nearly 2 million Christians live in Syria, and they're being protected by Assad from people like ISIS.

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