Let the country’s Christian leadership do what they can to reach out to and galvanize their pastors and people so all will pray for the suffering children, the widows, the mourning parents pray for hope and peace.
Let the entire media landscape burst with calls to prayer; parishes and congregations hold regular vigils to remember, honor and sustain the suffering Church throughout the Middle East; let there be processions in the streets calling all to prayer; let us work toward an annual day of prayer for the persecuted Church to prompt millions of believers.
The very survival of some of the most ancient Christian communities in the lands where our faith was born is at stake. It is no longer inconceivable that Iraq through continued assaults by ISIS, emigration to the West and a continuing regional exodus will be entirely without Christian faithful, and thousands of Syrian Christians who have fled the brutal civil war and the advance of ISIS and other jihadists groups may never be able to return to their homeland a country and region already accustomed to the blood of millions of martyrs and whose ancient Churches lay claim to laying the very foundation of the faith through the conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus.
Let us pray for our political leaders, that they be willing to commit to real policy changes actions to defend and protect embattled Christians and other religious minorities; a revision of asylum policies so that Christians and other minorities can be readily admitted to the US as victims of persecution; enforcement of a demand that all victims of war and persecution receive ample care from the UN and other agencies; and let us pray that our nation will include Christians alongside Yazidis as victims of ISIS, and that the US formally charges the terror organization ISIS with genocide.
The duty of Western Christians to pray for their deeply suffering fellow faithful Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant, united in what Pope Francis has called an “ecumenism of blood” goes even deeper. It is an expression of the acknowledgement that all Christians are part of the Body of Christ, and that when any member of the Body of Christ suffers, we all suffer.
Indeed, may such prayer of solidarity, deep communion and genuine empathy also touch upon and reveal our own struggles emotional, physical, and practical which are very real, even if they pale in comparison to the depth and anguish of the suffering of those who face the threat of death on a daily basis. In prayer, let us come to acknowledge our own vulnerability so that we too can better recognize the vulnerability and humanity of the victims of war and terror we are asking God to protect.
Let us pray so that we may discover the human face of our suffering brothers and sisters and share in the inspiration of their faithful witness. Consider the powerful testimony of Abbot Abou Abdou, who leads the small Maronite community in the besieged city of Aleppo, Syria. He says of his flock:
“One can see on the faces of the majority the reflection of an inner happiness that takes you to the spiritual realm. They are able to thank the Lord with all their heart; they do not complain despite the persecution, all the distress and deprivations. There is a smile on their faces. They thank you and appreciate everything you do for them. My people, the children included, give me lessons in happiness.”
Let’s not underestimate the power of prayer!
• Bishop Gregory John Mansour heads the Eparchy of Saint Maron in Brooklyn, NY, which comprises 45 parishes and communities along the East Coast. He also is a member of the Advisory Council of Aid to the Church in Need-US, a papal agency that supports the suffering and persecuted Church.