Weigel: After the “G-word” has been spoken

Father Douglas Bazi ISIS

In the early Church, witnesses to the faith who had been persecuted and tortured but not killed were known as “martyr-confessors.” It’s been one of the great privileges of my life to have known such men and women: Czech priests who spent years as slave laborers in uranium mines; Lithuanian priests and nuns condemned to Perm Camp 36 in the Gulag; a Ukrainian Greek Catholic scholar who knew the bone-chilling bite of the Siberian winter because of his fidelity to Christ and to the Bishop of Rome. These modern martyr-confessors are part of that “great cloud of witnesses” who form a living link between the Church here and now and “the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven” (Hebrews 12. 1, 23).

I treasure the memory and the friendship of these great souls. All their stories are remarkable; so was the equanimity they exhibited as I got to know them – the sense they conveyed, quite naturally, that it was a privilege to suffer for the faith. Comparative martyrology is out of place in such a company of heroes. Still, none of the martyr-confessors I have met had a story quite like that of Father Douglas Bazi, of the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Erbil, whom I met three weeks ago.

Simply because he was a Christian and a Catholic priest, Father Bazi had had his teeth knocked out, his nose smashed, and his back broken with a hammer. And that was before ISIS turned large parts of Iraq into a killing zone in which Christian lives were automatically forfeit. Today, Father Bazi lives with his exiled people in the Kurdish Autonomous Region of crumbling Iraq. The ISIS assault on his people, he told me, was but the latest of eight different assaults on Chaldean Catholics over the last century, which have reduced what was once a population of three million to about 180,000. In the brutal politics of a region where the withdrawal of American power has led to seven demons worse than the first, Chaldean Catholics are especially at risk because, as Father Bazi put it, they “can’t play the game the way the others do” – they can’t indulge in revenge killings because their faith forbids them to do so.

Father Bazi was in Washington to bear witness for his people in the U.S. House of Representatives, which, a few hours after we spoke, voted unanimously to declare that what ISIS is doing to Christians in Iraq is “genocide.” Three days after that, Secretary of State John Kerry met a congressionally mandated deadline by actually using the “G-word” – “genocide” – to describe ISIS’s assault on Christians, Yazidis, and Shiites in the areas of Iraq and Syria under its control. The new thing, and the welcome thing, in Secretary Kerry’s statement was the mention of Christians as targets of genocide.

That statement would not have happened without the relentless, persistent work of human rights campaigner Nina Shea, who has lobbied for redress for persecuted Christians in the Middle East with a tenacity that deserves the highest respect. It wouldn’t have happened without the leadership of Congressman Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, who introduced the House resolution that passed on March 14 while Father Bazi looked on from the House gallery. And the Kerry statement wouldn’t have happened without the prod of a report, “Genocide against Christians in the Middle East,” prepared by the Knights of Columbus and the organization “In Defense of Christians:” a remarkably detailed account of anti-Christian persecution, destruction, and slaughter that was addressed to the Secretary of State and contained a legal brief arguing that the “G-word” should be invoked and the matter referred to the Criminal Division of the Justice Department and the Security Council of the United Nations.

Father Bazi was aware that merely saying the “G-word” would change nothing on the ground for his people. But he welcomed the congressional resolution and the administration’s action because it called this ongoing atrocity by its proper name and would thus give his people hope that someone knew, and someone cared. That caring, I suggest, should now extend to helping Chaldean Catholics rebuild their communities in the West.

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.