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: Past 25 years remembered, next 25 anticipated at More Than You Realize conference

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“Be not afraid!”

This was the rallying cry at the Aug. 11 More Than You Realize conference, echoing the very same call St. John Paul II gave exactly 25 years ago when he visited Denver for World Youth Day in 1993.

Over 5,000 faithful from across the Archdiocese of Denver filled the seats of the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland at what was the largest Catholic gathering in Colorado since WYD ’93. The all-day conference was presented in both English and Spanish tracks, featured a dynamic lineup of renowned Catholic speakers, and culminated in a powerful commissioning Mass.

The name More Than You Realize and consequently, the logo resembling an eyechart, stems from the idea that almost everything may appear a certain way at surface level, but upon closer inspection, it can be more than one realizes and seen in a different light. This is especially true when it comes to the Catholic Church.

Over 5,000 gathered at the Budweiser Events Center Aug. 11 for the More Than You Realize conference, which celebrated the last 25 years since World Youth Day in Denver and looked to the next 25. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

In planning for nearly two years, pastors from each parish of the archdiocese hand-picked those parishioners and members of their community who they wished to attend the conference, which revolved around the idea of discipleship. Through engaging videos and talks given by speakers such as Chris Stefanick, Luis Soto and Dr. Edward Sri, attendees were invited to join a new movement of discipleship within the archdiocese, echoing the one sparked 25 years ago at World Youth Day.

“[I] had a great rejuvenating time at the More Than You Realize Conference,” said Alex Martinez, a parishioner at St. Pius X Parish. “I am excited to see the MTYR movement take shape.”

Brenda Garrett, a parishioner of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception said, “It was an amazing event, so blessed my pastor Father Ron from the Cathedral Basilica sent me. I am so proud to be part of this movement.”

The key to evangelization

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford spoke before Mass began about the impact of World Youth Day 1993 and the challenges the Church faces today.

“What does the summer of ’93 teach us about our present circumstances in 2018?” the cardinal asked. “The Holy Spirit was sent out in a special mission to our Church in 1993. The power of that sending was unexpected and disorienting to me as archbishop and to most others.”

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford speaks during the More Than You Realize conference. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

But despite urban violence, threats of boycotts, organized protests and other issues prior to World Youth Day 1993, “a fundamental change took place in the Church of Denver,” said Cardinal Stafford, “but not only here — among the young people who came throughout the world, [and] even the Holy Father.

“Above all, our Church was transformed,” he said.

Cardinal Stafford said that to evangelize those who don’t know the Gospel, we first need “…a deep awareness of the delight of the Father taking in each of us as baptized men and women,” he said.

“I would urge you to think deeply and to pray deeply about realizing how delighted God is in you — each of you — because you are received by the Father as being [part of] the body of his Son, who is beloved.”

‘Jesus is much more than you realize’

In his homily given in both English and Spanish, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila also touched on what World Youth Day 1993 means for us today.

“The world likes to tell us many things about ourselves,” he said, “and not many of them today are good or uplifting. Just look at the distorted image of beauty that is prevalent today, let alone the distortions of what it means to be a human person…

“The devil is certainly having a field day in a world that has abandoned God, and even in some members of the Church who have a weak faith in Jesus,” he said.

But despite similar issues taking place in 1993, the pope brought to Denver a message of hope.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila celebrates the commissioning Mass that closed out the conference. (photo by Andrew Wright)

“When St. John Paul II spoke to the youth gathered for the prayer vigil on Saturday night at Cherry Creek State Park, he reminded them that God and a much bigger role for them to play in history,” said Archbishop Aquila.

That message is just as important today, within an archdiocese and Church that stand at a crossroads, the archbishop said.

“We have an opportunity to make a major impact for Jesus Christ, even as the surrounding culture is becoming less Christian.”

The pope opened the doors for those who attended to become greater disciples of Christ — not just directly after World Youth Day, but forever.

“St. John Paul II believed in retrospect that a revolution had taken place in Denver,” said the archbishop. “We, today, are the inheritors of this spiritual revolution, and we must not be afraid to put out into the deep to let our nets down for a catch.

“Jesus is much more than you realize. The Church is more than you realize. And your role in the plan of God is much more than you realize or [can] even imagine,” he said.

“And so, I beg you as your shepherd today to open your hearts to Jesus and speak heart-to-heart with him who loves you most.”

Aaron Lambert, Moira Cullings and Vladimir Mauricio-Perez contributed to this report.