Thursday 19 March 2015

Engagements in Washington DC 17-18 March 2015

HG Bishop Angaelos met with a number of state representatives and officials in Washington DC and spoke at the National Press Club and the Hudson Institute on 17-18 March regarding the state of Christians in Egypt and the broader Middle East.
His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom spoke to an audience of journalists, government representatives, NGO’s and media professionals at the National Press Club in Washington DC on ‘Sensitivity rather than sensationalism in media reporting’. After his address he responded to questions as part of a panel made up of Katrina Lantos Swett, President of the Lantos foundation, Robert A. Destro, Professor of Law and founding Director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law & Religion at The Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C, Thomas Farr, Director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Journalist for the National Review, Kathryn Jean Lopez, and Nermien Riad of Coptic Orphans. In his address Bishop Angaelos shed light on the dangers of sensational reporting, and noted the power of journalism in influencing public opinion, generating reactions and directly impacting lives.

Praising journalists for their response to the brutal murder of 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians in Libya, His Grace said:

“The Coptic community felt encouraged by the sensitive media coverage of those who were killed in Libya. Their martyrdom was a turning point for the world, and after this atrocity we must realise that news coverage is not merely about headlines, ratings, or statistics, it is about lives.”

He contrasted this with past coverage of events such as the burning of over 100 Churches and places of Christian ministry in Egypt in August 2013 where mainstream media was slow to respond. He went on to say,

“It is important that journalists do all they can to ensure that individuals and communities do not feel forgotten, disregarded or insignificant. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to covering the Middle East, and it is important that the media is not selective in reporting atrocities.”

Later in the day His Grace gave a keynote address on the ‘Prospects for Christians in the Path of Persecution’ at the Hudson Institute. The session was chaired by Nina Shea, Director of the Centre for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute and Sam Tadros, Senior Fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom, Hudson Institute made a response to the address by His Grace. The panel then responded to questions from the audience, who were made up of government representatives, media professionals, and NGO’s.

In his address Bishop Angaelos spoke of the increasing intolerance and violence facing indigenous Christian communities in the Middle East and the danger of the current model of extremism spreading across the region and beyond. He spoke of the tendency to generalise the situation facing Christians in the Middle East, saying:

“The answer is not to empty the Middle East of its Christians nor to force them to remain in the region to maintain a presence, but to seek what they desire and enable them to fulfil their own choices, which will vary depending on many factors including where they live and what their experience is.

We must realise that many Christians do not desire to leave their homelands because they are the indigenous people of the region, so let us look at the Middle East within its own context and not impose Western models.”

His Grace concluded with reassuring words of Scripture relating to the state of Christians in the Middle East, saying: ‘We are hard-pressed but not crushed, persecuted but never forsaken’ (paraphrased from 2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

In response Sam Tadros spoke of the importance of safeguarding the rights of Christians in the Middle East due to the impact their presence has on the region, saying:

“When we speak about the rights and persecution of Christians it is not because we care about their presence because we are Christian, but because the fate of Christians is tied to the whole region itself…the Christian presence has also been a valued bridge between the East and the West.”

As part of his visit to Washington, His Grace also met with Melissa Rogers, Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. His Grace also attended a Congressional Hearing after which he met with Ambassador Saperstein, the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

Bishop Angaelos’ engagements on 17 March included attending a Congressional Breakfast on Capitol Hill and meeting with Co-Chairs of the Middle East Religious Minorities Caucus, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, and Congressdwoman Anna G. Eshoo. His Grace also met other members of the Caucus, including Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, Congressman Dave Trott, and Congressman Tim Walberg.

During his visit Bishop Angaelos prayed a vespers service at St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church and preached on the life of the Cross and the recent martyrdom of 21 Coptic men in Libya.