Religious freedom defended at third Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast

Aaron Lambert

The plight of Christians in the Middle East was heard loud and clear at the third annual Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast, hosted by St. Rafka’s Maronite Catholic Church and Father Andre Mahanna.

The Aug. 19 event gathered several hundred people under a tent on the lawn of St. Rafka for a morning of education and advocacy. A traditional Lebanese breakfast was served, and the sweltering heat of the morning was meant to remind those in attendance of the pain that persecuted religious minorities face each day in the Middle East while fleeing their homelands.

Among the speakers in attendance was Denver’s auxiliary bishop Jorge H. Rodriguez, who urged those in attendance to first pray for the refugees in the Middle East, but also to act.

“It is so easy to lose heart when we see an endless story of tragedy. [But], since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “Let’s work for our brothers and sisters who we call refugees.”

Bishop Jorge Rodriguez attended the third Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast and urged those in attendance to both pray and act to help the persecuted religious minorities in the Middle East. (Photo by Aaron Lambert/Denver Catholic)

The sufferings of those in the Middle East has not eased any. Millions of people have been displaced as a result of the violence carried out by Islam extremist groups such as ISIS, and Father Mahanna has been working relentlessly with his St. Rafka Mission of Hope and Mercy to provide aid to religious minorities overseas.

“If you have a conscience, would you wish this on your own children? If not, get up and help,” Father Mahanna told attendees.

Less than two percent of people living in the Holy Land identify as Christian, an alarming statistic considering it is the place where Christianity was born. Chorbishop Sharbel Maroun of the Maronite Catholic Church, who, like Father Mahanna, was born and raised in Lebanon, offered a message of thanksgiving and hope.

“The seed has been planted, and very soon, the harvest will come,” the Maronite bishop said. “Lots of miracles will happen sooner or later. Together we can help stop the genocide of our brothers and sisters and give them hope and support, which is starting right now under this tent.”

Father Andre Mahanna founded St. Rafka’s Mission of Hope and Mercy in 2014. The Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast helps to raise funds for the mission so they can continue to provide aid to refugees in the Middle East. (Aaron Lambert/Denver Catholic)

One of the more powerful testimonies of the morning came from a man who converted from Islam to Christianity after Father Mahanna brought him to the U.S. and mentored him in the Christian faith. It was asked that his name not be published to ensure to safety of his some of his family still residing in the Middle East.

“I’m happy that I am Christian, I’m happy that I made the first step,” the man told an applauding audience. “I made this decision because I love Jesus.”

With the recent unfolding of protests and violence in Charlottesville, Va., religious freedom was a theme echoed throughout the prayer breakfast by several of its speakers. Eric Kniffin, a religious freedom lawyer for Lewis Rosa Rothgerber, LLC, mentioned that is his experience, he’s seeing more and more Christian organizations being classified as hate groups – all the more reason to stay informed on what’s going on in the Middle East, he said.

“Be aware of what’s going on in the Middle East, be aware of what’s going on here at home,” Kniffin said. “Stand up, raise your voice on behalf of Christians in the Middle East, on behalf of Christians here in America. We’re not experiencing the same attacks, but I’m afraid it might not be that far away. The attacks and the attitude towards religious liberty has been changing remarkably over the last 10 years, so let us pray for each, pray that God would fortify us as he has our brothers and sisters in the Middle East.”

Frank Gaffney, left, and Eric Kniffin, middle, both spoke about the looming threats to religious liberty in the United States. (Aaron Lambert/Denver Catholic)

Frank Gaffney, who worked as the assistant secretary of defense for international security policy under President Ronald Reagan’s Administration, now heads the Center for Security Policy, a not-for-profit corporation based out of Washington D.C. He delivered stirring remarks about the Muslim Brotherhood, one of several Islam extremist groups that adheres to the Muslim tenet of sharia law. Gaffney argued that the Muslim Brotherhood is arguably the most dangerous of these groups because they have been covertly operating in the U.S. for over 50 years.

“What makes the Muslim Brotherhood so dangerous is that they have come to understand that where they’re not strong enough to use violence decisively, they must still engage in the ‘god-directed’ jihad to impose sharia worldwide, it’s just that they must use other techniques – techniques that are covert, subversive,” Gaffney said.

He went on to say that while religious liberty is not nearly as subdued in America as it is in the Middle East, the act of sharia is a looming threat and as such, Americans must be vigilant in speaking the truth about it.

“It is imperative that we not only speak the truth and be free to speak the truth, but we be free to pray. But it will take, quite candidly, more than prayer,” Gaffney warned. “At some point, it takes us physically defending our freedoms. If, God forbid, it ever gets to that point, but in order to minimize the chances that it ever does, we must do more than pray. We must protect each other, we must truly build a multi-faith coalition to protect freedom of religion against what is now being perpetrated in the name of tolerance, but it is actually the most intolerant program known to man, which is sharia.”

For more information about St. Rafka’s Mission of Hope and Mercy and to consider joining their mission, visit savechristianmiddleeast.org.

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