Rebuilding Aleppo means rebuilding links between Christians and Muslims

AbpShahanSarkissian

The Archbishop of Armenians in Syria’s second-largest city concluded a week-long European tour with a visit to Paris on Wednesday, in which he argued that moving on from a fierce conflict meant fostering ties between communities and faiths.

Monsignor Chahane Sarkissian witnessed first-hand the Battle of Aleppo from its beginning in July 2012 to the intense fighting under siege of Syrian and Russian forces that led to its end on 22 December 2016.

Only about a third of the 45,000 Armenian Christians lived in the city before the conflict began remain today, and Sarkissian described how those who stayed are rebuilding their lives and encouraging others to return.

“We are trying our best to open the schools and then the small and medium businesses to give the Armenian community the possibility to continue there, instead of leaving as refugees to other places, including other parts of the world,” he said.

“We are the people of this country, not just as Christian communities at an ecumenical level, but also with the Muslims. The majority of the population of Syria is Muslim, but we live with them, and we hope to continue our life inside the city and the country.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM RFI

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Among Allentown’s Syrians, mostly shock over Trump missile strike

MarkMakela22

Four years ago, much of Allentown’s largely Christian Syrian community opposed President Barack Obama’s threatened missile attack to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime for using chemical weapons on its own people.

They feel the same way about the attack Donald Trump launched Thursday night, people interviewed Friday suggest.

The U.S. is not the world’s policeman and has no right to insert itself, uninvited, into Syria’s internal affairs, said the Very Rev. Anthony Sabbagh, pastor of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Allentown, which is the cultural center of Allentown’s Syrian Christian community.

“His action is not going to strengthen the Syrian government, which is protecting the Christians,” Sabbagh said. “It will strengthen ISIS, which is killing the Christians.” And not just Christians, Sabbagh added, but nonradicalized Muslims in Syria.

Sabbagh said he believes the Assad government’s explanation that the poisonous gas that killed at least 86 men, women and children in rebel-controlled Idlib Province was released when its jets’ conventional missiles hit a terrorist chemical weapons stockpile.

“Syria is fighting ISIS on its own to the end,” Sabbagh said. “Russia is in Syria. Russia isn’t stupid either. They know they have the upper hand now. They would not use chemical weapons.”

Sabbagh said he voted for Trump thinking he would let the Syrian people determine their own fate, but he’s now regrets casting that ballot. In his mind, Assad is the only leader standing in the way of Islamic terror-fueled chaos in the Middle East.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE MORNING CALL 

Which Christians Are Telling Donald Trump to Keep Out Refugees?

lead_960President Trump has signed an executive order that temporarily suspends the U.S. refugee program and bars Syrian refugees. It will likely suspend immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries and bars the admission of anyone who engages in “acts of bigotry or hatred,” including “the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own.” It also allows the the secretaries of State and Homeland Security to jointly admit individuals on a case-by-case basis, “including when the person is a religious minority … facing religious persecution.”

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network on Friday, Trump clarified what this means: Christians refugees will be given priority status. “They’ve been horribly treated,” the president said. “Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough, to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible.” People overseas “were chopping off the heads of everybody, but more so the Christians,” he added, “so we are going to help them.”

The announcement was met with immediate backlash from leaders of nearly every Christian denomination, along with those of other faiths. They argue that Trump’s actions do not reflect the teachings of the Bible, nor the traditions of the United States, and they have urged the president to let them get back to work—many of the country’s most prominent refugee resettlement organizations are faith-based.

If so many prominent Christian leaders reject the notion that their fellow Christians should get preferential treatment, why has this become Trump’s policy? One possible answer is that these leaders don’t necessarily reflect what their flocks believe. Even if they think an open refugee policy is in line with the teachings of Christianity, lay Americans don’t necessarily feel the same way.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY

Evangelicals Ignore G.O.P. by Embracing Syrian Refugees

05syrians1-master768MARIETTA, Ga. — William Stocks, a white, Alabama-born, Republican-leaning member of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, arrived at the tiny apartment of a Syrian refugee family on a Wednesday night after work. He was wearing a green-striped golf shirt and a gentle smile, and he was eager to teach yet another improvised session of English 101.

Mr. Stocks, 23, had recently moved to Georgia from Alabama, states where the governors are, like him, Southern Baptists. They are also among the more than 30 Republican governors who have publicly resisted the federal government’s plan to resettle refugees from war-ravaged Syria, fearing that the refugees might bring terrorism to their states.

To Mr. Stocks, such questions belonged in the realm of politics — and he had not come that evening for political reasons. Rather, he said, he had come as a follower of Christ. “My job is to serve these people,” he said, “because they need to be served.”

But politics and faith have always had the potential to conflict in the questions about resettling Syrian refugees in the United States.

And at a time when conservative politicians, many with ties to Christian religious groups, have aggressively sought to keep the Syrian newcomers out of their states, it is conservative people of faith who, in many cases, are serving as their indispensable support system.

Here in Marietta, the English lesson began around the donated kitchen table of Anwar and Daleen, two of the 10,000 Syrian refugees who have arrived in the United States in the past year only to grapple with that political reality, one as confusing as any new language.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES

US Christian groups plead for compassion for Muslim refugees

jesus-paintingSince the Paris terrorist attacks on November 13, governors of more than half of the US’s 50 states have said they will not welcome Syrian refugees—defying President Barack Obama’s September announcement that the US would take 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016. While many arecalling their remarks Islamophobic and politically motivated, Christian church groups have been particularly outspoken about the governors’ lack of compassion.

A number of these church groups and church-affiliated missions have a long tradition of working with the federal government to place refugees in local communities; some have been resettling refugees in the US since World War II.

The governors’ statements don’t necessarily carry legal weight—the Federal government has the power to decide where refugees resettle in the US—but their remarks still seem to be having an impact. Twenty Syrian refugees were supposed to arrive in the “Quad cities,” four adjoining counties in Iowa and Illinois, via World Relief, a non-profit started by a national coalition of evangelical churches during WWII. But after Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner said they would block any efforts to resettle Syrians in their states, those plans are on hold, World Relief said.

This isn’t exactly Christian, said World Relief. “Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors,” Amy Rowell, director of the Moline, Illinois officetold local news. “The parable of the good Samaritan comes to mind, making it absolutely clear that our neighbors cannot be limited to those of our same ethnicity or religious traditions.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM QUARTZ

Christians and Muslims fight to protect ancient Christian town against ISIS

sadadAs ISIS advances on Sadad, a strategic Syrian town near Homs, hundreds of Christian and Muslim fighters are battling to defend it.

Islamic State militants began an offensive in the ancient Assyrian heartlands on October 31, capturing Maheen, a town just four miles from Sadad.

Sadad is considered strategic because it lies between Homs and Damascus, the capital of Syria, and two years ago was overrun by ISIS. It was recaptured by the Syrian army, but not before almost 50 Christians were massacred, and believers are once again fleeing the town in fear of the militants. The population of the town has dropped from 15,000 to just 2,000 in the past few months.

In an interview with Newsweek, Mor Ignatius Aphrem Karim II, the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, confirmed that Sadad is under siege. But as the militants attack, at least 200 Syriac Christian fighters have been joined by Muslims from across Syria in an attempt to push them back.

“IS advanced toward Sadad but they were not able to enter,” Karim said. “The young people in Sadad, with the help of some armed groups, were able to fight back and push IS back to where they started. They are helped by some groups coming from different parts of Syria also.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIAN TODAY

Don’t ‘scapegoat’ Syrian refugees, Catholic bishops and evangelicals say

refugees(CNN)Two of the country’s largest and most influential religious groups, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Association of Evangelicals, are urging the United States not to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees after the deadly terrorist attack in Paris last Friday.

“Of course we want to keep terrorists out of our country, but let’s not punish the victims of ISIS for the sins of ISIS,” Leith Anderson, NAE president, said on Tuesday.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has called for a “pause” in the U.S. program accepting Syrian refugees and 27 governors have said they will not welcome them, though they have little legal authority to bar the federal government from settling refugees in their states.

Meanwhile, almost every GOP presidential candidate has said the United States should stop admitting Syrian refugees. Ted Cruz told CNN that the country should deny entry to Muslim refugeesfrom Syria, but leave the door open to fleeing Christians. Jeb Bush said that refugee resettlement should “focus” on Christians.

Tuesday’s announcements from the Catholic bishops and evangelical association, which represents some 45,000 churches, put several candidates squarely at odds with their religious leaders. Sen. Marco Rubio, Bush and Chris Christie are Catholic. Cruz and Mike Huckabee are evangelicals.

“I am disturbed … by calls from both federal and state officials for an end to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States,” Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, Chairman of the Catholic bishops’ committee on migration, said on Tuesday.

“These refugees are fleeing terror themselves — violence like we have witnessed in Paris. They are extremely vulnerable families, women, and children who are fleeing for their lives. We cannot and should not blame them for the actions of a terrorist organization.”

Only 1,500 Syrian refugees have been accepted into the United States since 2011, but the Obama administration announced in September that 10,000 Syrians will be allowed entry next year.

At least one of the suspects believed to be involved in the Paris terrorist attacks that killed 129 entered Europe among the current wave of Syrian refugees. He had falsely identified himself as a Syrian named Ahmad al Muhammad and was allowed to enter Greece in early October.

But the United States has a “strong track record” for screening refugee applicants, Anderson said.

“It is more thorough and careful than the screening for tourist and student visas to the United States. A tourist with a French passport does not need screening or a visa; a refugee from Syria must pass multiple careful tests for eligibility.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM CNN