Ecumenical community rallies at second annual prayer breakfast

Aaron Lambert

Each day, innocent Christians around the world are ruthlessly martyred for their faith. It would seem a pressing social justice issue, yet it often falls upon deaf ears.

Father Andre Mahanna and the St. Rafka Mission of Hope and Mercy advocates for those who are being persecuted and serves as the foundation for an interfaith community that gathers each year to pray for an end to the violence wrought on Christians. On May 20, this interfaith community gathered once more for the second annual ecumenical prayer breakfast, hosted by Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Bishop Abdallah E. Zaidan of the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles.

The breakfast was once again organized by Father Mahanna, who serves as the director of ecumenism for Our Lady of Lebanon Eparchy and is also the pastor of St. Rafka’s Maronite Catholic Church in Lakewood. The event was held at St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Lakewood.

A time of prayer and contemplation was held in the church, during which ecumenical leaders led the congregation in a series of prayers and hymns. Afterwards, an authentic Lebanese breakfast was served in the basement of St. Bernadette.

There is an active persecution in the lands where it all began, and it is our daily responsibility in every century to make sure that land still stands as a mosaic for peace and co-existence between what God willed in his holy book.”

Archbishop Aquila commended Father Mahanna and the Mission of Hope and Mercy for raising awareness of the plight of persecuted Christians and providing legitimate aid to them.

“I ask that you continue to support the Mission of Hope and Mercy and the work Father Andre has done in bringing all of this about,” he sad. “Highlighting all of this for us in Colorado has been a tremendous blessing, and I am deeply grateful to him and St. Rafka’s for their spearheading of this mission.”

Several volunteers with the Mission of Hope and Mercy shared their personal testimonies of working for the mission, and Father Mahanna spoke about the urgency of ecumenical cooperation to address this dire situation, especially that of different Christian denominations.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Father Andre Mahanna were among a group of interfaith religious leaders present at the second annual ecumenical prayer breakfast at St. Bernadette Catholic Church on May 20. The event boasted an ecumenical community of clergy and laity that gathered in solidarity to pray for an end to the persecution of Christians around the world. (Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic)

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Father Andre Mahanna were among a group of interfaith religious leaders present at the second annual ecumenical prayer breakfast at St. Bernadette Catholic Church on May 20. The event boasted an ecumenical community of clergy and laity that gathered in solidarity to pray for an end to the persecution of Christians around the world. (Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic)

“We must break the wall between Christians. The effect of what we are suffering from in the Middle East comes predominantly from the lack of sympathy, charity, compassion, love and mercy between Christians ourselves,” Father Mahanna said. “There is an active persecution in the lands where it all began, and it is our daily responsibility in every century to make sure that land still stands as a mosaic for peace and co-existence between what God willed in his holy book.”

Also sharing his testimony was Father Oja Gafour, an episcopalian priest who serves as the African missioner at Church of the Epiphany in Denver. He called attention to the Christians in the Nuba mountains of Sudan who are current targets of genocide, and implored each person in the audience to offer the virtue of courage to stand up against these atrocities and defend the Christian faith.

Father Mahanna challenged everybody to contemplate their own place in the Body of Christ and discern the ways in which they can help persecuted Christians throughout the world — an act which he believes is a inherent duty of each and every Christian.

“The source of the St. Rafka Mission of Hope and Mercy is not Father Andre, or this good institution,” Father Andre said. “I believe, and I would be happy to defend this until my death, it’s a call from God to each and every one of us to be a true, concrete extension of God’s existence.”

Mission of Hope and Mercy

To learn more about St. Rafka’s Mission of Hope and Mercy or to donate to their cause, visit savechristianmiddleeast.org

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Want to help Mideast Christians?

Then don’t forget to pray, says bishop

Karna Swanson

Christians in the western world sat helpless as they watched 21 Egyptian Christians beheaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). “Their blood confesses Christ,” Pope Francis said in response to the atrocity in February.

Calling the murdered “martyrs,” the pope urged that the deaths stir ecumenical unity, saying, “It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians!”

On May 15, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver and Maronite Catholic Bishop A. Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles, 30 other clergy and 200 laity heeded the pope’s call with an ecumenical prayer breakfast to stand in solidarity with persecuted Christians and rally aid.

The event was organized by Maronite Father Andre Mahanna, director of ecumenism for Our Lady of Lebanon Eparchy and pastor of St. Rafka Church in Lakewood, where the service was held.

It included a procession—with Orthodox and Lutheran bishops and pastors, a Mormon stake (deanery) president and a Baptist minister—and testimony about the plight of victimized Christians.

“Lebanon is a land of 4 million people, and over 2 million refugees,” Bishop Zaidan said about his birthplace, which borders Syria, adding that the need is overwhelming both the government and the Church.

Christian casualties in Syria, which has a population of 22.9 million, according to the United Nations, include 1.5 million displaced, more than 6,400 killed and 10,000 abductions. Entire villages have been destroyed, countless numbers of children orphaned and Christian women taken as sex slaves as ISIS expands it’s self-declared Islamic state.

Archbishop Aquila exhorted the audience to build awareness of the atrocities.

“The fact that (Christians) put their faith in Jesus Christ is the only reason (they) are being killed (by ISIS),” he said. “It’s especially important for people in the United States to speak out against this.”

Among the suggestions speakers offered is urging elected officials to take action and donating to humanitarian relief efforts.

“Never forget your (persecuted Christian) brothers and sisters,” Bishop Zaidan emphasized. “Never forget to pray for them. We underestimate the importance and power of prayer.”

The program also highlighted the heartening reunification of two refugee children from Iraq who were close friends but separated when they were uprooted from their homes. One of them, Miryam, said she forgave her aggressors the same way she and her friend, Sandra, forgive each other.

“This is the greatest story,” Father Mahanna said, translating for refugee workers Skyping from Lebanon. He said he aims to reunite the friends in person and bring them to the United States to serve as ambassadors for peace.

Carmelite Brother David Johnson, 34, a native Denverite who is a monk at St. James the Persian Monastery in Qara, Syria, shared an uplifting experience of God’s providence amidst the terrorism.

He told of being abducted from the monastery, which is surrounded by mountains filled with ISIS fighters, on Easter Monday three years ago by Syrian militia who thought he might be a spy. While being held hostage, Brother Johnson told his captors that although he is American, Jesus taught that one’s true home is with God the Father in heaven, and he sang an Easter hymn to them in Arabic.

“‘I’ve never heard that before, why don’t you sing that again,’” Brother Johnson recalled one of the soldiers saying. “So I sang again, ‘Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.’”

Drawing laughter, he added: “The guy said, ‘Let’s turn around the car. We’re taking him back to the monastery.’”

Fellow monk, Carmelite Father Daniel Maes, a 50-year priest from Belgium, stressed the importance of protecting Christianity in the lands where it started, noting that its disappearance there would bode ill for all Christians.

“When the roots of the tree are cut off,” he warned, “then the tree outside will die also.”

TO HELP

Donate: Make check payable to St. Rafka Church, mail to 2301 Wadsworth Blvd., Lakewood, CO 80214; indicate in the memo line: Middle East Refugee Aid