A lot of tragedy has been in the news this week—especially the unfolding details of tragic assassination attempt in Tucson. Just before that, we were horrified by a more distant event: the terrorist bombing of Coptic Christians as they emerged from Christmas Mass in Alexandria, Egypt. I’d like to share a few things with you about that, especially in light of an email I received on Tuesday.
The email was from Sami El Raid, the Israel district director for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. He was guide for a group of Catholic journalists, including me, to Israel last Fall. I contributed daily to a web section on this site, and wrote at a bit more length in our January St. Anthony Messenger magazine, in the article, “Will There Be Any Christians in the Holy Land?” Sami got the copies of the article I had sent to him, and liked it (that’s always a relief!). But he added a disturbing comment:
As you may expect, the recent incidents in Iraq and Egypt are quite alarming, and though there are many conciliatory calls by politicians and Moslem religious leaders, what counts more is the behavior at the street level, and that is not very encouraging.
We will continue to do what we can to encourage Christians to stay and be full active citizens of their societies. However, with each passing day, our jobs become more complicated.
Having said that, there are many bright spots that we need to also keep focused on and to keep the hope alive.
The hate-based violence that so racks the Middle East is not some isolated incident. It happens all of the time. But still, the faithful keep hope alive.
Sami’s letter brought my memory to two events. The first was before I met Sami, in Amman, Jordan, where our group visited Father Mousalli at the Chaldean Catholic patriarchate. His parish runs a program for Iraqi refugees. Some of these refugees met with us, in the shade, on benches alongside the church. Most were in tears, clearly desperate. These Christians fell under attack as Iraqi society came apart during the ongoing war in which so many of our Americans have fought.
I am haunted by the image of the man who wept as he told me the story of how he, a plant manager, had lost everything and had run for his life. Now he dreamed of coming to the United States, where he could be safe.
The other event was a dinner in Jerusalem, where I sat next to Father Antonius Al-Orshaleme, General Secretary for the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. He was truly the most gentle, softspoken man I have ever met. It was his people who were the victims of the recent terror attack in Alexandria, Egypt.
Terror is terror, I know—whether in the Middle East, in New York, or in Tucson, Arizona. I’ve even experienced it closer to home, in a friend targeted for attack. It is horrifying, and, in our hyped-up media culture, sometimes even fascinating. But we mustn’t lose sight of our vision as Christians. As Sami says, “we need to keep the hope alive.”
photo by Catholic News Service