During college, I attended a Melkite Rite parish of mostly Lebanese origin. It was during my time there that I became painfully aware of the persecution of Christians by Islamist extremists throughout the Middle East, especially Syria, which borders Lebanon. Parishioners spoke with startling familiarity of the persecutions which their own acquaintances and even relatives had endured and continue to endure.
My realization of the scale and severity of persecutions in the Middle East gave birth to another realization. Never, when I visited Roman Catholic parishes, had I heard any mention of the persecution of Christians. In fact, I was more likely to hear of Mrs. O’Reilly’s rheumatic leg than of Mrs. Abood’s kidnapped niece.
The contrast of silence and fervent prayer between some American and some Eastern Christian communities is stark, but not without remedy. I have written a letter, printed below, to the leader of my own Christian community. Please consider doing the same, as a small act of solidarity with Christ’s most faithful followers who, all too often, are forced to be faithful unto death.
INSTRUCTIONS: This letter is meant to be useful to Christians of any denomination. Just edit the opening salutation to match your own Christian leader’s title and name, and the closing signature to match either your name, or to read “Anonymous.”
Dear Bishop / Canon / Father / Pastor (INSERT NAME),
We members of the Body of Christ, your flock, have been faithful to the Church of which you are a shepherd. But some of us have also visited Christian communities made up of migrants and refugees from the Middle East, who continue their own faithful worship here in America. It is on their behalf that I write to you now, and plead with you to stand in solidarity with these most neglected members of the Church. We implore you to see Christ in them, and to show compassion for His suffering.
Consider the great weight of their crosses in comparison with ours: While we wince and look askance at headlines online, these Christians wait anxiously for e-mails from their loved ones. When they gather for worship, they do not pray for a vague “dialogue among nations” or “end of violence and war” as we do. Rather, a Lebanese Melkite parish prays for “Uncle Ibrahim whose eyes were removed when he met with ‘Syrian Rebels’ to pay ransom for his kidnapped son.” An Assyrian community prays for “little Cousin Mariam who was forcibly ‘married’ to one Islamist after another before dying of internal bleeding.” Even Anglicans pray for five-year-old Andrew, who was sawed in half as a warning to Christians who keep the faith in Iraq.
The Christian people of the Middle East are the single most targeted demographic for persecution on earth. For years, immigrant Christian communities in America have been under the shadow of persecution too, knowing that at any moment their dearest and closest relatives and friends may be called upon to endure their own suffering and death, often as ghastly as Our Lord’s Passion itself.
But many if not most of your flock here in the U.S. know nothing of these things, and in their ignorance they are unable even to offer much-needed prayers during worship. At many Roman Catholic parishes, for example, Christian victims of violent persecution are never mentioned during the “Prayers of the Faithful” at all. We are only given the opportunity to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters when the priest or deacon announces a brief moment for “petitions in the silence of our hearts.” At these moments we are tempted to shout at you on behalf of our poor martyred brothers and sisters.
Despite the desperation and the nearly unbearable crosses our Middle Eastern Christian brothers and sisters endure, we hear nothing of them from you. Some of your Middle Eastern counterparts have lived up to Christ’s ultimate demand, literally laying down their lives for their sheep. When these bishops, priests, and pastors are kidnapped, held for ransom, tortured and killed by Islamists, Christian immigrants in America take up collections, weep, and fervently pray for their return to safety. But you, to our dismay and confusion, do not even mention your most hunted sheep in public prayer.
And that is all I ask. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, I implore you to establish some form of the following prayer at every gathering for public worship that you oversee:
“For the persecuted Christians of the Middle East, and for all those under threat of Islamist tortures and martyrdoms throughout the world: May their enemies be thwarted, and may we be made worthy to stand in the presence of the Great Martyrs of the Middle East on the Day of Judgement. We pray to the Lord—Lord, hear our prayer!”
Signed (INSERT NAME)