Sunday, March 6, 2011

I am a Christian Arab. My fellow Christian Arabs are suffering.

My father is an Arab immigrant and a naturalized American citizen. Our family's Christian roots run deep, stretching back many centuries to an area on the Tigris that was once ancient Ninevah. At least four of my Arab ancestors were Catholic bishops.

My father was born and raised in the Holy Land and was taught by the Christian Brothers. In 1948, Palestine became Israel amidst much political and civil unrest. It was on his tenth birthday that my father fled to Egypt with his mother and four siblings. His father (my grandfather) stayed back to work, but eventually made his way to Egypt as well. After six months in a refugee camp, my grandfather was finally reunited with his wife and children.

From the age of ten to twenty-two, my dad lived in Egypt, attending Christian schools and then medical school. My father was the first in his family to leave the Middle East and come to America -- a place he'd only dreamed about. He is one of the most patriotic Americans you will ever meet, and a proud Vietnam veteran. While in medical school at Georgetown, he met my mother, a nursing student from a small Ohio town. They married and had two daughters (I'm the baby).

My parents have vacationed in Egypt many times over the past 46 years, and they were on vacation there just a few weeks ago when the Egyptian revolution began. We had some tense days trying to get them out of the country. They took a long car ride to Cairo, then spent countless hours in the mobbed Cairo airport, hoping to catch any plane out. They finally got two seats, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when we heard that their plane had touched down in Paris.

I bring up my connection to the Middle East because I love that land, and I love its people. I think that most Westerners (and most in the U.S.) don't realize how many of our fellow Christians are Arab. Arab Christianity is ancient and beautiful, but its presence in the Middle East is dwindling -- not due to a lack of faith, but due to persecution. I touched upon that sad truth once before on this blog, when memorializing little Adam of Baghdad, but I usually find it too difficult to think about. It's never been easy for Christian Arabs to live as a minority in Islamic nations, but lately the violence against them has escalated. Recent tragedies in Egypt include monks being shot and ancient monasteries destroyed and a mob of four thousand Muslims attacking Coptic Christians and torching their church, with fears of a massacre unfolding even as I type this.

In my horror and sorrow, I feel helpless to aid my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Through our baptism, we are the Body of Christ ... one Body. Many members of that Body are suffering as Christ on the Cross.

I guess I am asking that everyone reading these words will pray for the Christians in the Middle East, the birthplace of our great Faith, as well as for Christians everywhere who are being persecuted, terrorized and murdered every day. It is Sunday, so perhaps you could even offer your mass for them: for the consolation and strength needed to persevere in their Faith, for supernatural comfort as they grieve their loved ones and their churches, and, if necessary, for the grace to endure the martyrdom that may befall them at any time, even this very day.

Ultimately, we know and they know that our hope lies in Jesus Christ our Savior.

He makes all things new.

30 comments:

  1. What a beautiful and eye opening post. I think we often forget about the universal Church (Catholic and Christian alike). Thank you for sharing this reminder with us all. I will keep this intention in my heart at mass this week.

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  2. You are so right...we are ALL members of the Body of Christ! I will remember them in my prayers.

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  3. Thank you for sharing this, Leila. The Middle East and all of our brothers and sisters there are in my prayers.

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  4. Amen!! For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion have Mercy on us and on the whole world!!

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  5. Leila, what a blessing to read more of your story and find out about your parents. Somehow I hadn't made the connection about their trip to Egypt and their roots there. Thank you for calling our attention to our fellow Christians and asking us for prayers!

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  6. Thank you for sharing your story and bringing attention to this. I agree with others... it's so easy to forget that the Church is not just the western faith we see most often in our daily lives.

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  7. I grew up and received my early sacraments in the Maronite Rite (one of the eastern rites of the Catholic Church) alongside many faithful Catholic Lebanese immigrants. I consider myself very blessed indeed that I had this early exposure to Arab Christianity (and culture and yummy cuisine!) and join you in praying for our brothers and sisters in the faith.

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  8. Leila, thanks for this post. I will certainly pray, not only for our brothers and sisters, but that our government will condemn this terrible persecution.

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  9. Wow, thanks for bringing this to our attention. Like many have said, it's easy to forget that the Church is not just a Western rite. We often take our religious feedom for granted. Thanks for the solemn reminder that not everyone is so fortunate, and that many still suffer persecution for the very act many of us participated in just his morning!

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  10. How scary about your parents! So glad they were able to make it out!

    Thank you for this eloquent reminder to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters all over the world.

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  11. Leila, it's so sad and I can't even imagine how scared you must have been. It's surreal what's happening there.

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  12. Many of my students are Christian Arabs, so all of this unrest hits close to home. One of my little girls broke down during Religion class because she was so worried about her grandparents in Egypt. We've been praying for their safety.

    One of my little guys did a presentation about Egypt and he explained that the colours of the flag meant "getting rid of corruption" -- or at least that's what I think he was saying!

    We're continuing to pray. I hope that all of this craziness is over soon!

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  13. I thought I commented earlier, but it didn't show up!

    Thank you for sharing your family's story, Leila! I offered up my Holy Communion for Christians in the Middle East today.

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  14. It's so nice to get to here/learn more about you :) (not in a creepy way :)).

    As I've journeyed through the Bible in 90 Days, more than once it has struck me how much of our history as Christians is tied to the history of Muslims. As I read these names and places that are now predominately Muslim, I've prayed many times for peace and understanding for/toward the Christians living there. Thank-you for the reminder to continue to do so.

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  15. Leila, thank you for sharing this story! It is so hard to comprehend what this must be like.

    This year a George Weigel column* said there were a MILLION Christian martyrs in the last decade... a MILLION! Our prayers are sorely needed. You making this more personal, more real somehow, has renewed my fervor in praying for our brothers and sisters around the world. Bless you.

    * http://www.archden.org/index.cfm/ID/5436

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  16. Oh, Leila, what a grace to read this about your background and family, today. I have been praying, and will continue to. Thank you for letting us consider the Arab World from a different perspective, for a change! Peace, peace, peace.

    Nina :)

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  17. Leila, I pray for persecuted Christians every day while driving to work and praying The Diving Mercy Chaplet. Excellent post. Thanks for writing it. We sometimes take our religious freedom for granted. Thanks for the reminder of how precious (and fragile?) it is.

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  18. I must tell you that the persecution of Christians in the Holy Land and in the Middle East makes my blood boil. I wish we could all help them NOW. The important thing for us Catholics here in the U.S. is to show our solidarity to tell others that they are our Catholic bretheren and we can not forget their struggles. They are the current martyrs and saints in the making.

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  19. Thank you for sharing, Leila. I honor your Dad's service to our country and I pray for our Christian sisters and brothers wherever they may be. And I don't know if I'll be able to get the sound of "enough, enough, enough" out of my head ever again.

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  20. My first impression, just after thinking, "Wow, her ancestors were bishops!" is how striking this portrait of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is. And how Arab He looks in this rendition. I love this rendition. I wonder if you chose this one on purpose, or if this was just meant to be...

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  21. Thank you all so much.

    Mrs. Mike, my parents began attending a Melkite Catholic Church a few years ago. So beautiful. Some of the liturgy is in Arabic.

    Calah, if only our government cared about Christian persecution...

    April, when my dad told me about the bishops a few years back, and even showed me an old picture of one, I was so stunned! I hope they are praying for me, ha ha! And, I searched long and hard for that picture. When I saw it, I knew it went with this post. :)

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  22. Thank you for sharing this story Leila, being raised Muslim and hearing about the Islamic religion being so widespread in Arab countries, it took awhile for me to realize the rich Christian culture as well that is slowly being snuffed out. It is incredibly hard to hear about Christian persecution in that part of the world these days. The last widely accepted prejudice.

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  23. How can we American Catholics help in a tangible way?

    Exactly what defines someone as being an Arab?

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  24. Lena, I believe it's defined simply by those who speak Arabic. That's why Iranians are not Arabs, since they are Persian and speak Farsi? Something like that....

    Interesting, too, that most Muslims in the world are not Arab.

    I wish I knew, Lena. I think that our congressmen and senators and president need to be leaned on to speak out against persecution of Christians in Arab lands (and everywhere). This silence about Christian persecution is so unconscionable.

    I know that the Vatican is very distressed about the situation of Christians in the Middle East.

    Thank you for caring. I will try to find out more information about what we can do.

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  25. I went over to whitehouse.gov and sent an email to President Obama asking him to speak out against the slaughter of Christians and Catholics in the Middle East.

    I was polite. That's a start. I wish we could do more.

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  26. Lena, thank you! I am going to do the same and urge others too as well!

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  27. http://magazine.lisagraas.com/?p=149

    More tragic attacks on Christians and monasteries in Egypt. Horrible.

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