How one Denver priest helped rescue Christina Khodor from ISIS

Aaron Lambert

A young girl kidnapped by ISIS at the age of three was recently returned to her parents after almost three years. Now, St. Rafka’s Mission of Hope and Mercy is working to bring this girl and others like her back to the United States to get proper medical and psychological treatment.

St. Rafka’s Mission of Hope and Mercy had been closely following the case of young Christina Khodor Abada, who was taken out of her mother’s arms by ISIS forces in August 2014. It was initially reported that Christina was being sold into sex slavery for $500 per day. However, Father Mahanna has since been told that she was in fact not sexually abused – though he has not received any sort of official documentation confirming this. Christina was rescued and reunited with her parents June 9.

The homecoming came a month after Father Mahanna met with President Donald J. Trump during a May 4 visit to Washington D.C. and advocated for her rescue.

“On May 4, I spoke to [President Trump] about her in the White House, and he said ‘Let me know what I can do,’” Father Andre Mahanna, pastor of St. Rafka Maronite Catholic Church, recalled. “All I can tell you is a month and three days later, Christina is back with her family.”

According to Father Mahanna, American military forces carried out a campaign to liberate northern Mosul from ISIS forces around this time, and this cleared the path for Christina – and nearly 1,000 other children – to be rescued from captivity.

“It was a clear link when I spoke to the president and when I saw things happening in that particular area,” Father Mahanna said. “These were the areas I told namely the president that we know there are children there, and all of the sudden, American troops were working in that area. [President Trump] really facilitated work, and I’m so proud of him in doing this. I just ask him, and whoever is doing this, let’s bring the children here.

“These are the kinds of cases we need to look at and bring to the United States. Regardless of what kind of suffering and amount of pain they suffered from, these kids need to be here. They don’t belong in Iraq anymore, at least for the time being. They need to be removed from the trauma, they need to be removed from the land of disaster. These are the kinds of refugees we want in our country, because they have no other place to go.”

St. Rafka’s Mission of Hope and Mercy works out of Father Mahanna’s native Lebanon, which is regarded as a haven for refugees in the Middle East. Lebanon is currently hosting over two million refugees, more than any other country in the world, and are doing so with “great grace,” Father Mahanna said. In addition to aiding in the rescue of at least three children, the Mission has also saved pregnant women from death and helped to deliver new babies, Father Mahanna said.

The third annual Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast, spearheaded by Father Mahanna, will take place at St. Rafka’s the morning of August 19, with special guests including Bishop Jorge H. Rodriguez and Dr. Tom Farr of the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington D.C.

Proceeds from the breakfast will benefit St. Rafka’s Mission of Hope and Mercy, a Denver-based apostolate founded by Father Mahanna that provides direct aid to victims of the genocide carried out by ISIS against Christians and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria. The theme for this year’s breakfast is Lebanon: A Place for Hope, referring to the PLACE (Peace, Love and Co-Existence Among the Children of Abraham) initiative that was signed by various ecumenical leaders – including Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila – in 2014.

“The focus of this year’s prayer breakfast is Lebanon as a place for that hope,” Father Mahanna explained. “Through Lebanon we helped Christina. Through Lebanon we helped give birth to other children. Through Lebanon we helped to give over $55,000 in emergency medical aid to people who otherwise would die at the doors of hospitals.”

The large influx of refugees to Lebanon has been difficult on the infrastructure of the country, which has a native population of four million. The Christian advocacy group In Defense of Christians is lobbying for lawmakers to pass House Resolution 252, which would establish safe zones in the neighboring Syria, thereby relieving some of the strain on Lebanon.

For more information on the work that St. Rafka’s Mission of Hope and Mercy conducts in Lebanon, visit savechristianmiddleeast.org.

Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast
Saturday, August 19
8 a.m. – 11 a.m.
St. Rafka’s Maronite Church
2301 Wadsworth Blvd., Lakewood

Featured image provided by St. Rafka Mission of Hope and Mercy

COMING UP: Mideast Christian advocates call for safe zones in Syria

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Though mainstream media is relatively silent when it comes to the situation in the Middle East, a very real threat still looms overseas, one that continues to affect millions of lives.

The Christian advocacy group In Defense of Christians (IDC) is calling on the citizens of America to get in touch with their senators and urge them to cosponsor House Resolution 252, which would establish safe zones for refugees fleeing from the civil war in Syria and support the stability of Lebanon, which is hosting more refugees proportionally than any country in the world, according to a statement by IDC.

In an email sent out following a visit to the White House May 6, pastor of St. Rafka Maronite Catholic Parish and secretary general for the IDC Religious Advisory Board, Father Andre Mahanna, asked Colorado citizens to lead the charge in supporting H. Res 252.

“Let Colorado lead, in a non-partisan way, to stand for what is right and just, for what is merciful and hopeful,” Father Mahanna wrote. “Stand for Lebanon, the final resort in the Middle East and Africa for Christians and for religious freedom.”

Father Mahanna led a small group representing the Apostolic Union of the Clergy and Laity and the Apostolate of Our Lady of Hope to meet with and educate legislators about Christian persecution in the Middle East and the need for the respect of religious freedom.

Father Mahanna was also granted an audience with President Donald Trump, who that day signed an executive order in support of religious freedom. In his email, Father Mahanna touched on the upcoming meeting between President Trump and Pope Francis and shared that Pope Francis intends on speaking with the president about Lebanon and its crucial role in the Middle East.

Father Andre Mahanna poses with President Donald Trump for a picture during a visit to Washington D.C. May 6. Father Mahanna spoke with President Trump about the situation in the Middle East. (Photo provided)

“Lebanon, with all its dynamics of rich and unique religious structure, can help stop terrorism, religious violence, persecution and social injustices,” Father Mahanna wrote of the region, where he himself was born and raised.

The ongoing civil war in Syria has displaced millions of people from their homes, forcing them to seek refuge in nearby countries. Lebanon has received more than 1,500,000 refugees from Syria in the years the civil war has raged on, saving countless lives from certain death. The country is also home to the highest percentage of Christians in the Middle East, making it a “unique multi-confessional society and model of pluralism in the region,” IDC’s statement said.

Due to the large influx of refugees Lebanon is receiving from Syria, the country “risks descending into sectarian chaos … which would be to the detriment of U.S. interests in the Middle East,” IDC said.

“Ending the Syrian conflict, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions, should be a foreign policy priority for the United States, and the establishment of safe zones would be an important step in that direction. These safe zones would protect Syria’s vulnerable civilian populations, and prevent them from having to leave their countries and live as refugees.”

Take action

Visit indefenseofchristians.org to write to your representative

Featured image by Chris McGrath | Getty Images