In Defense of Christians (IDC) president Toufic Baaklini presented Nadine Maenza, Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), with the Cedar of God award at the IDC solidarity dinner earlier this week. Baaklini praised Maenza, elected USCIRF chair in June, as a tireless worker throughout her career for religious freedom for Christians both in the Middle East and globally.
Engraved on the cedar award read the words: “With extreme gratitude for your focus on religious freedom and its vital role in combating Christian persecution around the world. We thank you for all that you have done for the protection and preservation of Christians and Christianity in the Middle East.”
“The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon,” from Psalm 92:12, was also engraved on the award.
The Cedar of God accolade is presented by IDC annually at its national summit. In addition to Tuesday night’s solidarity dinner, the summit included panel discussions titled “Saving Lebanon: The Last Free Bastion of Christianity in the Middle East” and “Turkey: Ottoman Fantasies and Geostrategic Realities,” as well as advocacy sessions with Members of Congress.
In her acceptance speech, Maenza noted that the honor felt extra special as she visited Lebanon and marveled at the Cedars of God, trees that grow exclusively on Mount Lebanon, just last month.
“Washington is only as good as how it understands what is happening on the ground,” Maenza remarked in thanking IDC for the organization’s determined advocacy and extensive knowledge on the conditions of Christians not only in the Middle East but around the globe.
Personifying this philosophy, Maenza has traveled to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Bahrain, Indonesia, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Thailand, Taiwan, and Uzbekistan with USCIRF delegations since first being appointed to the commission by former President Trump in 2018. She also traveled to Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Bangladesh, and northeast Syria in a personal capacity in order to better understand religious freedom conditions on the ground in these countries.
Maenza concluded by reminding both the virtual and in-person audiences that work in the international religious freedom space is a challenge — but one should never give up hope. Invoking IDC’s focus countries for this year’s summit — Lebanon and Turkey — Maenza proclaimed, “Lebanon is hard, Turkey is hard, but we have to keep working on it.”
Tuesday’s solidarity dinner included appearances from a bipartisan coalition of Members of Congress and was co-chaired by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA).
Maenza also spoke of this spirit of bipartisanship, reminding the audience that “USCIRF is a special place where we don’t allow partisanship to stand in the way of religious freedom,” and she commended IDC for embodying those values as well.
Earlier in the evening, Baaklini thanked the Biden Administration for adopting numerous policies IDC long advocated for, such as recognizing the Armenian Genocide and announcing $100 million in additional aid to Lebanon after last year’s catastrophic port of Beirut explosion.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who was unable to attend the event in person, received IDC’s Charles Malik Human Rights award, “In gratitude for his tireless service to combat Christian persecution in the Middle East and around the world.”
The solidarity dinner can be viewed in its entirety here.