Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Michael Terheyden

7/30/2012 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

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

Iraqi refugees in Syria

Highlights

By Michael Terheyden

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

7/30/2012 (2 years ago)

Published in Middle East

Keywords: Christian, Persecution, Refugee, Iraq, Egypt, Middle East, Michael Terheyden


KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - Christianity began in the Middle East, and now Christians are being forced to flee their homes in record numbers. They are fleeing the Middle East due to persecution and political turmoil. Iraq and Egypt have been the hardest hit in recent years. Many are coming to the USA. The Arab Refugee Christians in the USA (ARC-USA) is one organization that is trying to help.

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 young father who was forced to leave his home with his wife and beautiful small children a couple years ago. This is a man who was once responsible for the lives of other people. Now, this highly skilled man is a manual laborer. He assembles wooden palettes. He is grateful for the work, but he cannot adequately support his family on the low wages he receives. Reflecting on his situation, he told me that he just wants to be a good father.

I also interviewed two women who were willing to tell their stories. Neither of them spoke English well enough to carry on a conversation, so Issa Issacs, the president of ARS-USA, was kind enough to sit through both interviews and translate. Their fictional names are Anne and Mariam, and their stories are as follows:

I interviewed Anne first. She has been in the United States for about four years now, yet when she spoke about what she and her children went through, I sensed that the wound she suffered was still raw, as though it happened yesterday. Back in her homeland, Anne lived alone with some of her children in a Muslim area. Her husband passed away about 25 years ago.

One of the first things she told me was that the Muslims hated her and her children because of their Christian faith. When they would go to the market, Muslims would insult them and tell them to convert to Islam. They would hit her sons in front of her, she said. They would prevent her and her children from going to church. The final straw was when a gang of Muslims forced their way into her home and started yelling at them and calling them infidels. Then they smashed her son's head against the wall. She yelled back at them, telling them that they were the infidels.

But, of course, it was no use. She had to leave her home for the safety of her children. They left in haste, taking only the clothes they were wearing.  It took her nine months to get to the United States. They first went to Turkey. Anne did not have a job and only a little money. To make matters worse, it was very expensive living in Turkey. She did not always have money to pay for electricity, food or medicine. She has diabetes and needs medicine for it. At one point, she had a stroke and had no medicine for three days.

Living in Turkey was a very difficult period in her life. After nine months, she was allowed to come to the United States. It was sad because her family split up at this point. Only her daughter is with her now. Her sons stayed in Turkey. Despite all the difficulty, Anne has been through, I did not sense bitterness; I sensed decency, goodness and strength. She said that she is glad to be in a Christian country where she can go to church, and that she is not afraid anymore.

The second woman I interviewed was Mariam. She is new to the United States. She has also experienced a tremendous amount of suffering in her later years. Her husband was a good provider, but he died in 2002. About three years after his death, she received a terrible letter from some Muslims.

The letter said that her son and her grandson had been kidnapped. They tied her son's hands behind his back, blindfolded him, and put him into the trunk of a car. The kidnappers called her and demanded $10,000. But Mariam did not have the money. All she had was her house and the contents in it. At this point, she said, all she could do was cry.

Her family raised as much cash as they could. She was forced to sell her property far below its value. Family members negotiated on her behalf with the Muslims kidnappers, and finally the kidnappers agreed to the amount of money that had been raised. They said they would return her son and grandson within two hours after they got the money. But two hours went by, and they were nowhere in sight.

Mariam was afraid they had been killed. She was told that the kidnappers often kill the victim after they get paid. But the kidnappers spared their lives. They dropped them off in a suburb, but they took a knife and cut her son's wrist. The cut was deep and the bleeding was potentially life threatening. A stranger brought him home, and he made it to the hospital. His hand is permanently damaged, but he is alive.

As if that was not enough, they got another threat. This time, they were told to get out, that they could not live there anymore. They left with nothing. They moved around a bit after that and finally ended up in a Syrian refugee settlement, where they lived under difficult circumstances for seven years. Finally, they were relocated from Syria and sent to the United States.

As a refugee, Mariam does not get to choose where she goes. As a result, her family has been broken up. She has a daughter in Sweden and a son in Canada, but she and her other son were sent to Knoxville, Tennessee. They arrived in Knoxville about one month ago. They have lost everything, and they are virtually destitute right now. To make matters worse, Mariam has health problems. Yet, like a true mother, her greatest concern is for her children.

Anne, Mariam, their children, and the other refugees I met are real people. They have names and faces and dreams just like you and me. They are good people who have experienced terrible injustice due to hatred and persecution. Our hearts and prayers go out to all of them, but they also need tangible help. If you want to help our Middle-Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ, you can begin by contacting ARC-USA. You can contact them by e-mail, info@arc-usa.net, or you can go directly to their website. arc-usa.net.

 
-----

Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. However, he knows that God's grace operating throughout his life is the main reason he is a Catholic. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for May 2015
Universal:
That, rejecting the culture of indifference, we may care for our neighbours who suffer, especially the sick and the poor.
Evangelization: That Mary's intercession may help Christians in secularized cultures be ready to proclaim Jesus.


Rosaries, Crosses, Prayer Cards and more... by Catholic Shopping .com


Comments


More Middle East

Kobane in apocalyptic rubble after Islamic State dislodged (PHOTOS) Watch

Image of A massive clean-up operation went into effect as residents tentatively returned to their homes.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The Syrian town of Kobane following the storm of the Islamic State resembles the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. Aerial footage shows the overwhelming destruction. Buildings have been reduced to shells and all infrastructures have been destroyed. LOS ANGELES, ... continue reading


Why pictures of the Prophet Muhammad are banned in Islam Watch

Image of Islam bans depictions of Muhammad in order to prevent prophet worship.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

As fanatical as some of its followers are, the reasons for not depicting the Prophet Muhammad in all artistic interpretations - including painting and film, remains a mystery to many Westerners. A free speech event in Garland, Texas, left two attackers dead. ... continue reading


Battle against the Islamic State draws Kurdish women to combat frontlines Watch

Image of Forced to cut ties with their families back home, the women fighters come from all corners of the Kurdish region that spans Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The war against the Islamic State has reached the point where all available labor must draw upon the female population as well. Kurdish forces have been fighting the Islamic State since the al-Qaeda offshoot captured large tracts of land in Iraq and Syria. ... continue reading


ISIS shocks with horrific images of jihadi babies Watch

Image of

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

ISIS continues to shock the world every day with horrible images of executions. However, the terrorist group's latest photographs do not display death; they are the picture of life. Infant children are posed with ISIS garb and dangerous weapons. LOS ANGELES, CA ... continue reading


ISIS demands unbelievable amount of money for return of 230 Christians Watch

Image of

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

ISIS demands $23 million for return of the 230 Assyrian Christian hostages they captured in February. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Although some of the hostages were released shortly after the attack on February 25, 230 are still missing, including 84 women and ... continue reading


Iran foreign minister highly confident that U.S. Congress cannot stop Obama Watch

Image of In a show of self-confidence, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that all sanctions against his nation would be lifted from his country - and all U.S. lawmakers will be unable to stop it.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

In a show of self-confidence, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that all sanctions against his nation would be lifted from his country - and all U.S. lawmakers will be unable to stop it. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Speaking to a New ... continue reading


Iranian General says U.S. carried out 9/11 attacks in order to invade Middle East Watch

Image of In a TV interview, Brigadier-General Ahmad Reza Pourdestan says the U.S. planned and carried out the attacks as a pretext for invading Middle Eastern countries.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 9, 2001 - known as 9/11, many outrageous conspiracy theories were formulated that run the paranoid gamut. An Iranian military official has now offered one of the most bizarre and unsettling ... continue reading


ISIS does the unexpected in latest shocking execution images Watch

Image of The ISIS militants are photographed hugging the blindfolded accused gay men.

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

New images claim to show ISIS militants showing compassion. Two accused gay men were set to be stoned to death, however, prior to the stoning, their executioners did something strange and unexpected. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The ISIS fighters were ... continue reading


White House admits fault: Two hostages accidentally killed in U.S. drone strike Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A U.S. counterterrorism operation targeting an al Qaeda compound in January accidentally killed two innocent hostages, including one American. President Barack Obama, making the announcement this week confirmed that a U.S. military drone that targeted the ... continue reading


U.S. warships monitoring Iranian traffic off coast of Yemen Watch

Image of U.S. President Barack Obama told reporters that America has been clear in its messages to Tehran on sending weapons to Houthi rebels inside Yemen.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The United States has deployed warships to Yemen in order to monitor nearby Iranian vessels. Officials say this gives America "options" on how it could react to Iran's behavior in the region. Ships traveling from Iran could be trafficking arms to Houthi rebels. ... continue reading


All Middle East News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Acts 15:1-6
1 Then some men came down from Judaea and taught the ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5
1 [Song of Ascents Of David] I rejoiced that they ... Read More

Gospel, John 15:1-8
1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for May 6th, 2015 Image

Bl. Edward Jones
May 6: Blessed Edward Jones and Anthony Middleton, Martyrs Edward Jones ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter