WASHINGTON (CNS) — Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington made an impassioned plea for solidarity with persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria and strongly urged that voices be raised against atrocities being committed there.

“Today our solidarity with brothers and sisters of our faith and of other faiths in a part of the world where there is clearly an effort to eliminate them is something that we simply cannot in conscience ignore,” Cardinal Wuerl said in closing remarks during an Aug. 28 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to mark the opening of The Catholic University of America’s academic year.

“Often we’re asked, ‘How is it possible that in human history atrocities occur?’ They occur for two reasons. Because there are those prepared to commit them, and there are those who remain silent,” he said.


The ongoing displacement of women, children and men in the war-torn countries is, “the least of the things happening to them is something that we really are not free to ignore and sometimes all we have to raise is our voice,” the cardinal told the congregation.

“I’m sharing these thoughts with you because I don’t want to have on my conscience that I was complicitous in something as horrendous as this simply by being quiet,” he explained.

He raised the questions, “Where are these voices? Where are the voices of parliaments and congresses? Where are the voices of campuses? Where are the voices of community leaders? Where are the voices of talk show hosts and radio programs? Where are the voices of the late night news? Where are the voices of editorial columns? Where are the voices of op-ed pieces? Why a silence?”

All people, the cardinal stated, “have the power to raise voices and be in solidarity with people distant from us, unknown to us, not a part of this campus, not a part of this family, not a part of this university, not a part of our nation. But they are a part of our human community. I think it should rest on the conscience of each one of us.”

Auxiliary Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Washington, along with nearly 70 university priests joined Cardinal Wuerl, CUA’s chancellor and the main celebrant, in concelebrating the liturgy. More than 2,500 Catholic University students, faculty and staff nearly filled the shrine’s Upper Church for the afternoon Mass of the Holy Spirit.

In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl reminded Mass-goers about the light of faith. He said the Mass intention was to ask for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to guide daily life in order to make a difference in the world.

“We come together to ask…because we dare to believe we really can make a difference,” he said. “We are capable of renewing the face of the earth, or at least trying to do our part with the help of God,” he said.

In honor of the Archdiocese of Washington’s 75th anniversary, Bishop Knestout presented the Cardinal’s Award to the university. Citing the university “as an intellectual center of highest quality,” he said the honor was bestowed because of the school’s “authentic adherence to its founding mission.”

After Mass, the university’s president John Garvey said he was proud of the work of faculty and students in the pursuit of truth and beauty.

“It is wonderful to see the effects our efforts have beyond the bounds of our campus,” he said. “Our work nourishes the church and our country, as our founders hoped it would.”

Quoting author C.S. Lewis, who wrote that the desire for truth and beauty is part of human nature, Garvey said it is difficult to understand why time is spent on literature and science when urgent problems exist in the world.

“The appetite for truth and beauty that craves feeding was given to us by God and God makes no appetite in vain,” he said. “So satisfying our natural appetites can be a way of advancing toward God. … The key is to keep in mind what we do these things for. As St. Paul tells us, ‘Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.'”


Boyle writes for The Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.