Support persecuted Christians in the Middle East at Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast

Aaron Lambert

The plight of Christians in the Middle East continues to go unheard by much of the world. Still, organizations such as St. Rafka’s Mission of Hope and Mercy persist and fight to make the voices of the persecuted heard.

Once again, this year St. Rafka’s Mission of Hope and Mercy will be hosting the fourth annual Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast Aug. 17-18. A special Mass for peace gathering various local religious leaders will take place at the Cathedral Aug. 17 at 6:30 p.m. and the prayer breakfast will be the morning of Aug. 18 at 7 a.m. Both events are open to the public.

The breakfast has become something of an annual tradition since the launch of the Peace, Love and Co-Existence (PLACE) Initiative in 2014 and is co-supported by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Bishop Elias Zaidan from the Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon in the U.S. Special guests to this year’s breakfast include Chaldean Archbishop of Lebanon Michel Kassargi and keynote speaker Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union.

St. Rafka’s Mission of Hope and Mercy will be hosting the fourth annual Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast Aug. 17-18.

Among the topics discussed at the breakfast will be a look back at how the legacy of President Ronald Reagan and St. John Paul II can help to advance the cause of religious liberty and save the world’s persecuted Christians.

Father Andre Mahanna, pastor of St. Rafka Maronite Catholic Church and founder of the Mission of Hope and Mercy, wrote a letter to pastors of the Archdiocese of Denver outlining the importance of the breakfast and its goal of raising $50,000 this year to directly cover emergency medical needs of the 4,500 families the mission serves in Lebanon.

“The prayer breakfast comes as a response for a much needed and necessary effort to raise awareness about the persecution of Christians, especially in the Middle East,” Father Mahanna wrote. “Our goal is to raise $50,000 that will go directly to Archbishop Michel Kassargi, covering the emergency medical needs of 4,500 families. These refugees’ living conditions are so extreme that babies are dying on the steps of hospitals due to the lack of funds.

“Our breakfast is an example, where by, the Eastern and Western lungs of the Church come together in an effort to try and stop this humanitarian crisis.” he continued. “With guidance from the Holy Spirit, it is our hope and our mission, that through this event and with your help we will increase a renewed faith and hope in our fellow Christians by assisting in their liberation from ongoing persecution.”

Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast

Friday, Aug. 17
Mass for Peace, 6:30 p.m.
Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

 

Saturday, Aug. 18
Prayer Breakfast, 7 a.m.–1 p.m.
Knights of Columbus Hall
1555 Grant St., Denver
$100 per person; sponsorships available

Visit missionofhopeandmercy.org for tickets.

COMING UP: Why stay in the Church?

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

There are many people who have either left the Church or are currently considering leaving because of the scandals of recent decades. We have felt pain and righteous anger at our leaders and have suffered scandal from their betrayal. For some, the grand jury reports and lack of accountability for bishops have been the last straw. It’s hard to blame people for feeling this way, but we have to ask with Peter, “to whom, Lord, shall we go?” (John 6:68).

Significantly, this question comes after many disciples walked out on Jesus for his teaching on the Eucharist, and it is the Eucharist that should be at the center of any response to the crisis. Peter answers his own question: “you have the words of everlasting life” (John 6:68). The Church is Jesus’ own body in the world, and we are members of his mystical body, given eternal life by consuming his own flesh at Mass. Without the Eucharist, Jesus’ presence in the flesh, the very heart of the Church, where would we be?

Bishop Robert Barron echoes Peter’s question in a recent pamphlet-style book, with over a million copies in print, Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis (Word on Fire, 2019). He turns to the Bible and Church history to look for perspective on the crisis. Because of the centrality of the Eucharist in the Church, the betrayal of some of our priests and bishops takes on greater significance. They act in persona Christi at Mass, offering the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross to the Father, and we depend on them for our sacramental life.

Fortunately, the validity of the sacraments does not depend upon the sinlessness of priests, but rather the holiness of God. Barron points out, however, that priests will not get off easy, given the extremely harsh words that Jesus offers to those who lead children astray: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me;  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,  it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!” (Mt 18:7-9). Barron also references the punishment of Eli, in 1 Samuel 2-4, who as priest and judge of Israel watched his own sons, who were also priests, abuse the people. Barron argues that this scene gives us the best example of God’s retribution for allowing abuse to happen and not correcting it.

Barron also looks at the tumultuous story of Church history for context on the current crisis. Although the Church is the mystical body of Christ, he references St. Paul assertion that we bear our treasure in earthen vessels, as evidenced by the human weakness of Christians throughout history. In fact, this weakness manifests the Lord’s grace guiding and preserving the Church in spite of us. Barron quotes Belloc that a proof of the Church’s divine foundation “might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight” (43). Heresies, sinful popes, and sexual perversity have not fundamentally destroyed the Lord’s work, even if they have turned many people away. God has promised to remain with his Church and his providence will guide us especially through dark moments.

The crisis challenges us and raises the question of why we are Catholic. Most of us have been born Catholic and may take our faith for granted as something we’ve inherited from our parents. We may view belonging to the Church like membership in a voluntary organization. Rather, our life as members of Christ’s Body is a gift from God that changes our identity and unites us to God and our fellow Christians. As we experience challenges to faith, it is an opportunity to embrace this identity even more strongly — not as something that depends upon myself or anyone else in the Church, but on God. We go to Church to honor and thank him and to receive his grace, not to be a part of a human organization.

The Church is a family, called together by God, but, like any family, we experience pain from our own and each other’s sinfulness. As family, we can’t give up on each other, but have to “stay and fight” as Barron exhorts us, helping each other to be faithful to the mission that Jesus gave us: to love one another as he has loved us and to share the Good News of his salvation.

Featured Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash