The murder of American journalist James Foley, a Catholic Christian, by the militant Islamic State (ISIS) last month drew attention to the worsening plight of Christians in the Middle East. Next week, a groundbreaking summit in Washington, D.C., will aim to boost efforts to protect and preserve Mideast Christians.
Local Maronite Catholic priest Father Andre-Sebastian Mahanna is an organizer of the Sept. 9-11 ecumenical and bipartisan conference. Sponsored by the nonprofit advocacy group In Defense of Christians, the summit will be the first to unite six Christian patriarchs from the Middle East in the United States in a show of solidarity.
“The summit is historic for the Eastern church,” said Father Mahanna, pastor of St. Rafka Maronite Catholic Church in Lakewood and director of the Office of Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations of the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon in the United States.
The Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs, among them Maronite Catholic Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros Rahiof Antioch, will be joined by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri of the Vatican’s Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, and other American clergy from Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical churches. Participants will include congressmen and senators, policy makers and diplomats.
“The title of the conference is ‘Protecting and Preserving Christianity Where it All Began,’” Father Mahanna said, adding that it will include talks, an ecumenical Christian prayer service and a march of religious leaders and lawmakers to the Capitol.
The summit’s mission is to mobilize support for Christians in their ancestral homelands, the Middle Eastern countries where they have been driving forces of stability and pluralism for more than 2,000 years but are now threatened with extinction. The number of displaced Christians now trapped from Syria to Irbil, Iraq, number some 300,000, Father Mahanna said.
Father Mahanna was also a key organizer with Archbishop Samuel Aquila of the Aug. 11 interreligious prayer service for peace in the Middle East held at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Denver that was preceded by the signing of the PLACE (Peace, Love and Co-Existence) petition by the archbishop, Father Mahanna and 17 other religious leaders. The petition, which may be signed online (visit www.archden.org/prayer-peace), asks President Barack Obama to work through diplomatic channels to stop the murder and persecution of Christians in the Middle East as well as to oppose the persecution of Jews and Muslims there.
“I urge every human being to sign the PLACE petition,” Father Mahanna said. “To stand up for goodness and for the safety of the other.”
Read and sign the petition at www.archden.org/prayer-peace.
Festival to honor cross, build solidarity
To build solidarity with Middle East Christians, all faithful are invited to visit St. Rafka Maronite Catholic Church, 2301 Wadsworth Blvd. in Lakewood, for any or all of its Triumph of the Holy Cross observance, Sept. 14. The celebration will include 10:30 a.m. Mass with intentions for martyrs and for peace in the Middle East followed by an 11:45 a.m. blessing and candle procession, and ending with a noon-6 p.m. festival to include Lebanese food, drink, music and dance. Church tours will be given at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
“Christians believe that the cross of Christ is a source of peace, redemption, forgiveness and reconciliation for the world,” Father Mahanna said. “We will pray. … We will dance and eat.”
For more information, call 720-833-0354 or visit www.StRafkaDenver.org.