Call to Solidarity: Christian Refugees from the Middle East Need Your Help
We have an obligation in solidarity to support our Arab Christian brethren
Christianity began in the Middle East, and now Christians are being forced to flee their homes in record numbers. Anne, Mariam and the other refugees I met are real people. They have names and faces and dreams just like you and me. But their dreams have been taken away from them due to hatred and persecution. The Arab Refugee Christians in the USA (ARC-USA) is one organization trying to help.
Iraqi refugees in Syria
The exodus began with the rise of Islam many years ago. Based on a 2010 report produced by the Vatican synod on the Middle-East exodus, Christians constituted about 20 percent of the overall population a century ago, but it has dropped to five percent in recent years. The document lists the rise of a violent and political form of Islam as the primary reason.
According to other reports, the Christian population in the Palestinian territories was 15 percent of the Arab population in 1950. Today, it is two percent or less. The town of Bethlehem had been predominately Christian for centuries. Today, only 18 percent of the population is Christian. Based on a recent CBS interview with the patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, Theophilos, there were about 30,000 Christians living in Jerusalem in 1964, now there are about 11,000, 1.5 percent of the total population of the city.
The most recent exodus began in Iraq as an indirect consequence of the Iraqi war. The exodus went into full swing after the horrendous massacre at Our Lady of Deliverance Church in Bagdad on October 31, 2010. This is the same massacre where a three-year-old child, Adam Udai, followed the terrorists around for two hours telling them to stop before they brutally murdered him. Adam joined his parents and approximately fifty other Christian martyrs that day, but his words lived on and were heard throughout the world (Adam, the Little Christian Boy Who Confronted Islamic Terrorists).
Although all the terrorists who stormed the Church that day were killed, it did not stop the terrorism of Iraqi Christians. After the attack, terrorist groups were reported to have targeted Christians in their homes. Church leaders were afraid to hold Christmas services or put up decorations, and families were advised not to decorate their homes. Over 80% of Christians were afraid to go to church. About 10 churches were closed, and Sunday school was discontinued. Today, the Christian population in Iraq has been reduced by more than half what it was prior to the war.
Egypt is also experiencing an unprecedented exodus. The Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organizations has published a report on Christians moving out of Egypt. It states that nearly 100,000 Christians have emigrated since March 2011. The Coptic Christians are one of the earliest Christian communities in the world, and they are the largest minority in the Middle East today.
The Coptic exodus began after the murderous attack at Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt on New Year's Eve, January 1, 2011. A car bomb exploded as people were filing out of church after Mass. Twenty-three people were killed. About 97 others were injured. It was the most violent and deadliest attack against the Copts in a decade.
Ever since the bombing, Islamist groups have threatened, beaten and murdered Christians in Egypt. Their churches, businesses and homes have been ransacked and burned to the ground. As it turns out, the so-called Arab Spring has allowed Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis to grab power. Some Copts fear this is an ominous turn of events. They worry that life in Egypt will grow much worse in the next few years.
ARC-USA is located in Knoxville, Tennessee. Its members are dedicated to helping refugees from the Middle East. They formed the organization two years ago in response to the situation in Iraq. But due to the exploding exodus of Christians throughout the Middle East, its ministry has been expanded to include refugees throughout the region.
I first heard about ARC-USA after Sunday Mass about one month ago. Susan Dakak, a board member and fellow parishioner, made an announcement that her organization would be hosting their first annual River of Babylon Festival on Saturday, July 21. The purpose of the festival was to welcome our new brothers and sisters in Christ to Knoxville and offer assistance with their settlement.
I had the privilege of meeting some of these wonderful and inspiring people at the festival. It was the first opportunity I have had to speak with people who have lived through one of the great tragedies of our time. I believe it is important for us to know their stories. However, some of them feared reprisals against family members back in their homeland. Therefore, I have taken precautions to protect their identities.
I met one ...
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