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Part of the war in Syria is to live under indiscriminate bombing, a kind of Russian roulette which is always unpredictable. This Sunday, August 23, 2015, a rain of mortars fell on the neighborhood including two shells on the roof of the church. Since it is constructed with stone vaults it held despite the damage: cracks larger than arches, water tanks and fuel tanks ripped open, air conditioning out of service. The nearby Latin Church and several families in the neighborhood were also affected. Nine people were killed and forty seven innocent and poor were wounded. These are people who have not been able to leave the ,country and escape the fighting. Of those who died, survivors say: “You won’t have to see and live this cruel tragedy without end. You won’t see your children, your friends and your neighbors suffer and die in the blind violence and fanatical killing unable to save them or help them without understanding why.” The survivors bury the dead without having been able to treat the wounded since they lack means and competence. They sink into silent prayer before the relics of martyrs, the seeds of Faith.
Maronite Archbishop of Damascus
Dear Brother Priests, Deacons and Subdeacons, Men and Women Religious, and Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The crisis in Syria and Iraq continues, and our thoughts are ever with our brothers and sisters enduring unimaginable hardships. Thousands have been forced to abandon their native homes, entire communities have been abducted, women and girls sold into sex slavery, boys forced to fight alongside ISIS, many have been martyred for their faith. Churches, schools, and monasteries are closed, occupied and destroyed.
I write to tell you of my experience with the new organization entitled In Defense of Christians (IDC), which seeks to equip American Christians with tools of unity, advocacy, and awareness to respond to this crisis. Their nonpartisan approach is markedly ecumenical, uniting Middle Eastern Christians, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, to form a coherent and coordinated voice of Christian concern to national and international leaders and the global community.
This September 9-11, IDC will hosts an inaugural National Leadership Convention in Washington DC “Mobilizing America for Christians in the Middle East.” The program includes:
- An “Ecumenical Prayer Service for Christians in the Middle East”
- Political advocacy in Congress
- Press conferences and policy round tables with leading experts to develop needed responses and solutions to this crisis
- A capstone Solidarity Dinner to “Mobilize Americans for Christians in the Middle East” the evening of September 11
- A full program of the events, which can be found at idcconvention.org.
They would also like to invite us to promote the three-day National Leadership Convention among our parishes and communities, so that interested members might be able to attend and be equipped with the tools to mobilize our local communities across ecumenical lines upon return.
Attached to this correspondence is a flyer for the IDC National Leadership Conference (IDCflyer2015) , where further information on programming and registration can be found.
Pope Francis has called us to live in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East, in what he calls an “ecumenism of blood”. We continue to encourage our priests, religious and lay faithful to stand in solidarity with Christians in the Middle East.
On July 19th, 2015 in Southfield Michigan, CAMECT (Christian Arab and Middle Eastern Churches Together), IDC (In Defense of Christians), Tele Lumiere (the official Christian Television station in the Middle East, headquartered in Lebanon), and the Chaldean Catholic Community of Detroit released the following joint statement:
“At the Symposium entitled “Christianity in the Middle East: Ancient Yet Ever New II,” held the weekend of July 17-19, 2015, in Southfield, Michigan, participants learned the tremendous transforming power of the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, who still works in the hearts of his followers in the Middle East and throughout the world. They were likewise sobered by the distressing presence and persistence of ISIS. In direct response, they were emboldened to encourage members of the international community to pursue criminal charges of genocide against ISIS.
Dr Gregory Stanton, Founder and President of Genocide Watch, described the ten stages of planned and premeditated genocide, his tenth stage being “denial”. There is no doubt that ISIS and other similar groups have a premeditated intention to destroy those who think differently from them, and the world seems to be in denial. But to the 350 people gathered this weekend there was no denial.
The weekend was a joint effort of CAMECT (Christian Arab and Middle Eastern Churches Together), IDC (In Defense of Christians), Tele Lumiere (the official Christian Television station in the Middle East, headquartered in Lebanon), and the Chaldean Catholic Community of Detroit. This joint effort was good opportunity to help each of the groups, as well as participants, to outreach, advocate, and to speak out with one voice.
The Symposium featured a wide array of experts in the area of Genocide, Humanitarian Aid, Media Relations, and Political Activism. We began on Friday with an address by Congressman Dave Trott, followed by a beautiful ambience created by the spiritual hymns of Doris Farhat. The next day, was divided in 2 sessions. The first addressed the current situation of the Christians in the Middle East, and the second what can be done about it.
A video presentation given by Mar Louis Raphael Sako, Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, began the day, followed by Dr. Gregory Stanton, President of Genocide Watch, and Jack Kallassy, CEO of Tele Lumiere, Lebanon, gave the morning lectures. Mr. Basil Bacall, Founder of Adopt a Refugee Organization, Dr. Musib Gappy, President of the Chaldean American Association of Health Care Professionals, and Dr. Edmund Ghareeb, Professor and Lecturer, gave the afternoon sessions.
To summarize the day, a panel of representatives from the different organizations involved – the Chaldean Community of Detroit (Bishop Francis Kalabat), CAMECT (Bishop Gregory Mansour), IDC (Kirsten Evans, Executive Director), and Tele Lumiere/Noursat (Raymond Nader, General Manager, Noursat) – gave short presentations and answered questions and concerns raised by the audience.
Ecumenical prayer services, lectures, discussions, and questions and answers periods, allowed participants to come away with a new found enthusiasm to reach out to other Christians, build bridges to Muslim leaders, advocate with government agencies, promote in the media the story of Christians in the Middle East, to build a grassroots effort to address the suffering of Syrian and Iraqi citizens, and to support all humanitarian and political solutions to the violence inflicted on them.
It was the common consensus that Christians of the Middle East find in terrorist groups a common cause, and need to continue to unite in one front to resist their dangerous expansion. Thanks be to God, the spirit of communion and ecumenism of the different Middle Eastern Churches manifests itself today by regularly scheduled meetings, joint resources, and ecumenical prayers. All participants agreed that the war being waged in the Middle East at the present time is a spiritual war against the forces of evil and that through continuous prayer, fasting, and common resolve, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ will provide the ultimate triumph of love.”
For more information please contact:
Chorbishop Sharbel Maroun of Tele Lumiere/Noursat- USA at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bishop Gregory Mansour of CAMECT at email@example.com
Ninar Keyrouz of IDC at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bishop Francis Kalabat of the Chaldean Church at email@example.com
Allow me to express sadness for our Archdiocese, whose buildings got struck once again, this very morning, suffering damage from a rebel-launched bomb that pierced the roof. No one was inside, thank God!
Allow me to stand by numerous families in Aleppo who are in mourning and to suffer with them! Because of this ugly and barbarous war they have lost so many loved ones, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and cherished children.
Allow me to worry about the faithful of this city. Insecurity is wearing them down, depressing them, adding more each day to their anxiety and sadness.
Allow me to be distressed by the homes that are destroyed, churches rendered unusable, shuttered businesses and destroyed shops, an ancient city crushed by the destruction of a priceless architectural patrimony.
Allow me to be bitter when comforting countless parents mortified by the deprivation that robs their children of the basic necessities needed to promote dignity and the ability to grow up healthy.
Allow me to be concerned about the survival of a growing number of elderly, to focus on getting them the minimum amount of aid needed for their serenity, which is already sorely tested by suffering and constant danger.
Allow me to raise my voice to call on all men and women of goodwill to hear our plea. ISIS, which has already killed thousands in the region, is terrifying the faithful of Aleppo. After Maloula, Mossul, Idleb and Palmyra-what is the West waiting for before it intervenes? What are the great nations waiting for before they put a halt to these monstrosities?
Allow me to cry out in anger and to revolt against a global system inclined toward barbarism, hungry for power and drunk with insatiable corruption. Let me cry with my people, violated and murdered. Hundreds of thousands of victims, sacrificed for the promise of a better society that I don’t know, and the promise and hope of an Arab spring they will never see!
May all those who believe in the Good and Merciful God, and all those with compassion for the innocent, raise their voice with us and call on civilized countries to take action to bring about Peace-before it is too late and more innocent victims add to this gruesome spectacle.
+ Jean-Clement Jeanbart
Archbishop of Aleppo
May 27, 2015
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Please feel the sorrow and the joy of service of our brother, the newly elected Bishop of Latakia Syria, Bishop Antoine Chbeir. Let’s work to assist him.
“Thank God, he puts you on my way ever since I was elected for serving the beloved diocese of Latquieh. I hope you’re doing well, as well as yours.
The situation in our diocese is quite well. We have to deal with the outflow of Christian and Muslim refugees both from Damascus, Alep and all over the country. But all is not gloom and doom, what is economically and existentially disastrous God turns it in a true spiritual richness. The Cathedral is almost full during the days of the week and packed on Sundays, where everybody is invited to coffee after mass. The daily mass is anticipated by the office prayer and followed by the rosary and “ya oum allah.” People spent almost two hours in a row in the church.
I undertook visits to the parishes of the diocese beginning with the distant ones especially those who were hard hit by the war, because my diocese is five times as big as Lebanon (55000Km2) and includes four departments: Tartus, Latquieh, Hama and Homs.
It is also the biggest Maronite diocese with fifty thousand people who outnumbers those of Damascus and Alep, less than three thousand and one thousand respectively.
Last Sunday I visited Rable near Homs on Lebanese border and the Sunday before Homs; on my way to these parishes there are many barricades of the Syrian army along the road to counterbalance the danger of the snipers in a part of it. In the neighborhood of rable the war wreaked havoc. In Homs, many quarters are completely destroyed, others partly, still others unharmed. St. Maroun Church was hit by three friendly rockets because it was taken by “Daesh,” wherever there is a cross in the church or elsewhere was shot, but there is a strong will to fix the damage and to give back hope to the population especially letting the church’s bell echoing again.
When the war started in Lebanon, I was thirteen years old and ever since I get used to live with uncertainty. Uncertainty of the economic situation, uncertainty of the car bombs, uncertainty of shelling, uncertainty of snipers, uncertainty of the political situation where every time you have to form a new government or elect a new president you have to wait for months to have the password from abroad to get the job done.
Now it seems God wants me to live the outcome of another war, thank goodness. Ever since I was elected I feel a huge peace deep down as if another one is in charge of the diocese.
Some of our churches lack the simplest equipment for pastoral activities: chalice, cross, infrastructure and the priests are horrified when they are assigned to such a task but they accepted it with a lot of love and devotion.
My first and foremost preoccupation is the priests of the diocese and the refugees. I am fully committed to provide them spiritual, pastoral, cultural and financial support. There is a French saying: “starving stomach has no ears”.
Our budget is exhausted by the salary of the priests. The single salary is 160 dollars. I pegged it to the dollar because the slump of Syrian currency is huge. It may lose twenty or thirty percent of its value in one single day.
We have thirty-two priests, twenty six of them are active, not all the rest, inactive because of old age or sickness; they’re still ours, which means we need more than five thousand dollars a month to only cover the priests salary. We need as much as this sum to provide refugees shelter and food.
We have to add $11,200 per year for the medical care of 32 priests, and $13,500 tuition for two seminarians at Ghazir Seminary.
Our revenues are very slim, the starting salary in Syria is about 60 dollars, which means a Syrian citizen has to do with two dollars each single day. Could you provide us dear Mgr. stipends for the priests, mobile clinics serving refugees and poor?
As I told you on the phone, I had biblical studies in the Gregoriana in Rome. My thesis was on the book of Job. I graduated in 1993. I can give lectures both in New and Old Testament if you need a hand in this domain. May God bless you, thank you for the consideration of all these matters and remain in sentiment with you in the Lord.”
+Mgr. Antoine Chbeir
International Joint Commission For Theological Dialogue Between The Catholic Church And the Oriental Orthodox Churches entitled:
The Exercise Of Communion in The life Of The Early Church and Its Implications For Our Search For Communion Today
This statement gives much hope to the possibility of future communion and is a real theological gem. I thought you would like to read it.
This prayer service at the In Defense of Christians Summit in Washington, D.C., was an historic and beautiful event, bearing witness to the communion and solidarity all Christians feel at this difficult time, using prayers from each of the traditions of the church .
Homily for the Funeral of Sister Lillian Alam
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Along with Monsignor Michael Thomas and James Root, I extend my heartfelt sympathies to the Alam family and to the Franciscan Family of Sister Lillian. We will miss her.
The Sisters chose the readings of this day, and so I would like to reflect with you on them. From the Book of Proverbs was read:
“When he set for the sea its limit, so that the waters should not transgress his command; when he fixed the foundations of earth, then was I beside him as artisan; I was his delight day by day, playing before him all the while, playing over the whole of his earth, having my delight with human beings.”
This profound and mystical description of Holy Wisdom (Santa Sophia) is a beautiful way of describing God’s love for his creatures. The Holy Spirit in the Syriac Tradition, much like Holy Wisdom, is referred to in feminine terms. This is God’s playful, loving and delightful side, made known to us in Holy Wisdom. It is beautiful. It is also a beautiful way of describing Sister Lillian Alam, the trustworthy daughter of Francis and Clare, and who also delighted God, delighted in God, and was a joy and delight for each person she met, honoring and defending them no matter what was their state in life.
From Lebanon to Morocco, from Egypt to America, and from El Paso to New York, Sister Lillian, in her own radical, feisty, dynamic and creative way delighted God’s creatures. She advocated, fought and loved her way through life. She was so very well loved by her family in Lebanon and by her spiritual Franciscan family as well, and she has deeply touched the lives of so many.
I don’t know how we became so fond of each other, as bishops and nuns are not supposed to get along! But we did. And I loved her.
In the second reading from Saint Paul’s letter to Timothy it reads:
“I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered my trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry.”
This prayer of Saint Paul, which is the prayer of an older disciple encouraging a younger one, is also the prayer of Sister Lillian. I loved her maturity. She was truly that wise and mature disciple who was strengthened by Christ. Even though she left this world far too early, in our commonly held opinion, she was not only strengthened by Christ but she can be considered trustworthy in all she did.
What first attracted me to her was her passion for what she was doing; advocating for those troubled with problems of immigration and human trafficking. Likewise, with her most recent UN advisory work, we have heard from so many people, was stellar. Whatever and wherever she was, most of us don’t know all that she was doing, but she was doing God’s work! I can only imagine this strong Lebanese woman standing up to border patrol agents and human traffickers alike; and how about UN officials? Sister Lillian was faithful to those people whom Pope Francis reminds us of so very often, those who are in the shadows: the refugee, the abused, the migrant, the undocumented, the imprisoned, the forgotten. May all those you assisted in this life, dear Sister Lillian, meet you one day in the next.
And the last passage, from the Gospel of Luke reads:
“Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be…Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
This passage from Saint Luke has special meaning for the sons and daughters of Francis and Claire. First, the treasure is in fact where the heart is, and Sister Lillian lived by the passion of her heart with so much joy and gusto. To be honest, for a woman so full of life, it was hard for her to suffer like she did. I would often say to her I hope we will both be able to “suffer well,” as Bishop Fulton Sheen urged us to do: “to live well, to suffer well, to die in his embrace well.” This is a special grace. I think she suffered as well as anyone could do in her difficult situation.
Second, Sister Lillian lived and loved the poor. During her first years in the Borj Hammoud neighborhood of Beirut, she struggled with the poor and the refugees. This was told to me by Bishop Samir Nassar who alongside of Sister Lillian worked each day for all those in need.
Third, we hear the words, “Sell all you have and give alms.” This is one more Franciscan trait and Sister Lillian did it well. But the last sentence “much is required of the person entrusted with much,” was true of Sister Lillian, and she delivered well. Well done good and faithful servant. May you rest in peace.
Eternal rest grant unto her O Lord….
The Archbishop of Aleppo, Syria, has been in New York raising awareness of Christians being persecuted. He had much more to say. Please watch this video https://youtu.be/C6ytPk8dnzQ
Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral, Brooklyn, New York, April 22, 2015
Monsignor Sadek has been an extra ordinary gift for the Church. He has excelled in all of his assignments, the Seminary in Lebanon, Pastor in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, Pastor of the Cathedral Parish in Brooklyn, Priest in Residence at Our Lady of Lebanon Seminary and at our Parish in Washington, DC, interim Pastor when needed in Olean, Buffalo, Flint and lastly, Dayton. Wherever he served, he has left an indelible mark on the lives of those he served. I know of no other priest who is more loved and respected than our own Monsignor Sadek. He has brought dignity and distinction to the holy priesthood.
Was he a saint? He would be the first to say no; but did he love God and seek to serve him and his people? Yes. And for this we thank God for him. I hope and pray that by the time I reach his age, I will have had the same zeal, stamina, love for Christ and desire for holiness that he has had. He is eternally young, because of his love for Christ and His Church.
When I first came to Brooklyn as Bishop, one of the great blessings I experienced was to have Monsignor Sadek as Rector of the Cathedral. At every liturgical celebration with him I took away some lasting spiritual treasure. I will miss his homilies at Noon Liturgy. Each homily was like a mini-retreat, as he encouraged us to personal holiness. Who can forget his stories of the Holy Land (geography and culture) or of his favorite saints: Theresa the Little Flower, and Pius X (among others!)
In his farewell to the good people of Our Lady of Lebanon parish in Flint, Michigan, my hometown, he wrote this:
“Since my retirement in 2005, God gave me the joy of consecrating me as a traveling priest, filling my time with the consolation of preaching his name all over America. I visited a great number of parishes in both eparchies. I loved them all, but Our Lady of Lebanon in Flint, Michigan left in my heart an indelible mark.”
(I believe he would have said something like this also to our parish in Dayton, Ohio, who loved him so well, especially in the person of Bassam and Rema Zoghieb. And we may never forget how devoted his niece, Zmroud, was and is to him and we thank God for you.)
Then Monsignor concluded his letter to the Parish in Flint in this way:
“A farewell from an octogenarian person could be a real “Adieu,” “Adios,” in Latin “Ad Deum” which means “to God”, it means a definitive parting with no hope for “au revoir”, “see you again.” However, life is in the hands of God. We work as if we were to live forever, and we pray as if we were to die tomorrow. Anyhow, as long as I will be on earth, you will have my heart or otherwise you will have my intercessions. You must know the traditional prayer addressed to Mary, “Wa in kana jismaki baheedan minna” which means “even if your body is far from us, your prayers will accompany us.” This is what I am intending to do.”
Monsignor Sadek, thank you for your life of faithfulness, your priestly zeal for souls, and for your personal desire for holiness and goodness. Thank you for your promise of prayer and love. Thank you for being a happy, holy and humble priest, throughout your entire life, even and especially in your retirement, in which you took on several assignments for me, and Bishops Shaheen and Zaidan. You have left an indelible mark on all of us. May God grant you eternal rest. And as you used to say ever since 9/11 here at the Cathedral after every Divine Liturgy: “May God bless you, and may God bless America.”
Go in peace to Lebanon, our beloved Monsignor, to your final resting place in your beloved hometown of Zain, Lebanon. May the prayers of the Virgin Mary be with you.
|Eparchy of Saint Maron
109 Remsen Street
Brooklyn NY 1201