How The Rev. Patrick Desbois Unwittingly Turned Into A Leading Expert In The Methods Of Genocide
The Christian Science Monitor Weekly|April 23, 2018

Like many people, the Rev. Patrick Desbois in 2014 had never heard of the Yazidis, the ethnic religious minority being decimated by the Islamic State (ISIS) in northern Iraq.

Sara Miller Llana

At the time his gaze was still fixed closer to home. For more than a decade, the French Roman Catholic priest had been documenting the mass graves left by Nazi firing squads in the forests and fields of Eastern Europe. His work not only has garnered the gratitude of Jewish communities around the globe and France’s highest honor, the National Order of the Legion of Honor, but, unwittingly, has also turned him into a leading expert in the methods of genocide.

He received an email from a Jewish donor in New York in 2014, just as the assault on the Yazidis was at its height. “He said, ‘Father, I’d love to support you for the past, but I prefer you take care of the genocide of the present,” Father Desbois recalls. “When I received this email, it opened completely my eyes. It’s true.... Today there are mass shootings, and we don’t care, so is it because a guy is not killed by Nazis that it has no import?”

Desbois followed the news as Yazidis fled the jihadists of the Middle East. He knew Pope Francis was praying for them. He prayed. But in the end, he made a decision to go himself. “I said, ‘I will not watch the TV. I will not issue a communiqué. I will not make a Facebook page, because people don’t care,” says Desbois in the offices of Yahad-In Unum, his humanitarian organization based in Greater Paris.

With that decision, Desbois has deepened his commitment to historical truth and to those persecuted because of their religion, whatever faith they may be. His decision comes amid a wave of antiSemitism at home and religion-inspired killing in the Middle East. Desbois is fighting to ensure that mass killings are not only prosecuted by authorities but are also condemned by all of society.

He shared thoughts about his mission less than 48 hours after returning from his most recent trip to refugee camps in Iraq.

A grandfather’s imprisonment

If a French priest seems out of place in a modern civil war, consider that his path there began during World War II. His grandfather, a French soldier, was deported to the Nazi camp Rava-Ruska in Ukraine. He survived but refused to discuss the details, only driving Desbois to want to know more.

When Desbois arrived in 2002 at the site of his grandfather’s imprisonment, the mayor said he didn’t know anything about what happened to the Jews and others. Desbois refused to settle for that answer.

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