WASHINGTON — The persecution of Christians in the Middle East carried out by the Islamic State is a "genocide" the depletion of Christianity from its ancient homeland "must" and "will" end, according to Vice President Mike Pence.
Speaking before approximately 1,300 guests of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast at the Marriott Marquis Hotel Tuesday, Pence praised the contributions Catholics in the United States have made to American life before segueing into the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, many of whom are Catholic.
While Islamic terrorists have savagely targeted religious people from every background, including versions of Islam that are not their own, Pence said, "it seems that the practitioners of terror harbor a special hatred for the followers of Christ, and none more so than the barbarians known as ISIS."
Likening their atrocities to savagery not seen since the Middle Ages, the Vice President said that he believes that the group "is guilty of nothing short of genocide."
Throughout the region in the past few weeks and months examples of this brutality are increasing.
On Palm Sunday, Pence noted, Coptic Christians were attacked in two separate cities in Egypt; in Syria Christian communities are being burned to the ground and Christians are fleeing in massive proportions.
"In Iraq we see ancient churches demolished, priests and monks beheaded, two millennia old Christian traditions in Mosul virtually extinguished," Pence said.
"Christianity faces unprecedented threats in the land where it was given birth and an exodus unlike it since the days of Moses."
He recounted a story he heard of a bishop from Mosul he met who returned to his home parish to celebrate Easter Sunday.
Although the church no longer had a roof and the walls were falling down, "the anthems of faith rose," Pence said, "it had to be a glorious service."
"Whether in Mosul, Iraq or Syria, followers of Christ have fallen 80 percent in the last decade and a half."
"This must end. This will end," the vice president said emphatically.
Religious freedom is a "foreign policy priority" for this administration, "and under President Donald Trump, America will continue to condemn persecution of any faith in any place at any time," he continued.
"We will confront it with all of our might," he said, adding that the United States would not relent "until we drive the cancer of terrorism from the face of the earth."
Pence, an evangelical born and raised in a devout Irish Catholic family, praised Catholicism in his speech, saying that the faith has made an "indelible mark on the American spirit."
Faithful American Catholics should consider President Donald Trump an "ally," he said, "and President Donald Trump stands with the most vulnerable: the aged, the infirm, and unborn."
Pence concluded his remarks by saying that it was the greatest privilege of his life to serve as vice president but that he was most proud to serve alongside a man who "stands without apology for the sanctity of human life," to which he received sustained applause and a standing ovation.
The accomplishments of the Trump administration in his first few months in office, such as reinstating the Mexico City policy and expanding it to apply to billions of foreign aid dollars, and the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, have delighted many Catholic leaders who are arguably the main bulwark of the pro-life movement.
"Life is winning in America again," Pence said.
In late March Pence was the tie-breaking vote in the United States Senate to pass legislation undoing an Obama executive rule that forbade states from defunding Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider.
In January, just days after the inauguration, Pence was the first ever sitting president or vice president to appear in person and speak that the annual March for Life.