Conference warns violence against Christians worldwide on the rise
By Natasha DadoFriday, 10.05.2012, 05:01am
WARREN — The attacks surfacing against Christians worldwide particularly in parts of the Arab World are on the rise, according to concerns raised at the American Middle East Christians Congress conference Sep. 28 at the St. Sharbel Church here.
Speaking Gebran Bassil, Lebanon’s Minister of Energy and Water who’s a Christian said in recent years the population of Christians has diminished drastically in parts of the world and continues to as more face persecution and exile. “This is not the result of a bad economy, earthquake or a drought, no…rather this is the result of the policies being implemented in our region, with the consent of the Western world,” Bassil said.
Dr. Ramsey Dass, M.D., President of the AMECC says in recent months Coptic Christians have left Egypt in the wake of violence against them, and the future of Christians in Arab countries where the popular Arab Spring uprisings have occurred such as Syria is uncertain. “There is a Christian exodus taking place,” Dr. Dass said.
Since the start of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the country’s Christian population has decreased by more than half. To date there’s an estimated 400,000 Christians in Iraq, as opposed to the more than one million before the start of the war.
“They think Christians are an easy target. They kill them, they rape them. They destroy their churches,” Dr. Dass said. He plans on starting a political action committee to address the concerns of Middle Eastern Christians in the United States. There are an estimated six million of them in the country according to the AMECC. Dr. Dass says the group will be similar to the Council on American Islamic Relations, which has been a powerful force for Muslim Americans nationwide, by making their voices heard among politicians. “The so called Arab Spring has proven to be no more then a cold stormy winter where dictatorship has been replaced by hard line Islamic governments,” Bassil said.
He indicated that movements started by Al-Qaeda that threaten the existence of Christians have “boosted” throughout the Middle East, and Christians in the region are dumbfounded by the U.S. support for extremist movements.
“If the rise of those movements is not stopped in the Middle East it will reach Europe in no time and the shores of America, and the U.S. will have to deal with it at home,” he said.
Bassil says recent polls suggest more than 50 percent of U.S. citizens are concerned about the economy while 26 percent are worried about terrorism. “Those numbers could change…if the waves of hatred reach your shores,” he said.
He says Arabs share the same values of freedom and human rights as Americans and object to the policies that are threatening their existence. He said it was once predicted that when the Middle East has no Christians “evil will prevail in the world and the universe will fall in an unprecedented massacre.”
Dr. Dass outlined some of the challenges facing Christians in Arab countries including governments that aren’t willing to admit there isn’t adequate representation of Christians in political positions, or that minorities are being attacked because of their religious affiliation.
Dr. Dass says Christians in the Arab World should not succumb to the pressures of intimidation and threats that push them out of their homelands.
He says one of Iraq’s leading bishops was killed because he refused to leave. Dr. Dass believes Christians shouldn’t flee their homelands despite the threats being cast on their rights or lives.
During a recent trip to Lebanon Dass met with Patriarch Mar Bechara Peter Rai, who told him to pass along the message of communion, love and friendship among people of different faiths.
Several Muslim Americans attended the conference to support the cause. Public officials including Warren Mayor James Fouts, Republican Congressman Kerry Bentivolio of the 11th Congressional District and Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard also addressed the crowd.
Additional speakers included Habib Afram, President of the Syriac League in Lebanon and Secretary General of the Federation of Christian Associations in Lebanon, and Nahida Gordon, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor at Case Western University and Moderator of the National Middle East Eastern Presbyterian Caucus of the Presbyterian Church.
Dr. Dass says Middle Eastern Christians are powerful enough to have their voices heard through the democratic process by voting, and removing elected officials who do not address their concerns. As for elected officials who don’t cater to the needs of the community Dass said, “We will remember them come November.”
Christians around the world must protect each other, something Dr. Dass says former President George W. Bush failed to do when he invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Dr. Dass said when Bush invaded Iraq he didn’t pay attention to what was happening to Christians although he identifies as one. “A Christian should know you should take care of your brothers and sisters, and not just Christians, all of humanity,” he said.
Dr. Dass read a letter sent to the AMECC by the Pope, who he sent a letter to regarding the conference.
When Dr. Dass visited the Middle East and met with different organizations he was encouraged not to forget his homeland and roots, despite having established a new life in America. “They said ‘you have forgotten about your brothers and sisters,’ I told them I would take the message back,” he said.
The Board of Directors of the AMECC honored people with six awards including the Mar Bechara Peter Rai Award for a person or organization that promotes communion and love in the Middle East; The Late Pope Shenouda III Award for a person or organization that promotes a better understanding of Christianity or Christians in the Middle East; Bishop Louis Sako Award for a person or organization that promotes international understanding of Middle East Christians, their heritage aspirations and survival; Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho Award for bravery and exemplary leadership and President’s Awards for people who have contributed to the function and to the community at large.
Dr. Dass warned that something must be done immediately to stop atrocities against Christians before their existence becomes history in parts of the world such as Bethlehem. “Now one day, when you’re going to go see the holy land in Bethlehem, these places of worship are going to be museums, and tourist guides will not be from your faith or your community,” he said.
Father Mark Ibrahim, a member of the Egyptian Coptic Christian community.
Coptic Christians have also been the subject of persecution, and forced to flee their homelands.
PHOTOS: Nafeh AbuNab
A portion of the proceeds from the event went to orphanages in the Middle East. To donate to the congress visit www.middleeastchristian.org or call 248-546-9100.
RE: American Middle East Christians Congress Conference, September 28-30, 2012
"What is the Middle East without Christians and the Holy Land without Christianity?"
This document will discuss the background of the American Middle East Christians Congress and the mission of the one-year program entitled "What is the Middle East without Christians and the Holy Land without Christianity?," with the topics, findings, and highlight of the three-day inaugural conference that took place from September 28-30, 2012 in Warren, Michigan, USA.
The American Middle East Christians Congress was founded post-September 11, 2001 to bring together the diverse and unique Middle East Christians communities in the United States of America in the fields of Heritage, Government, Education, Commerce, Culture, Medical and Humanity. Advance civic and public affairs and protect civil liberties.
The American Middle East Christians Congress for the past one year has been working diligently with international, national, and local community organizations, ecumenical and clergy leadership, and American political, religious, and community organizations to prepare for the upcoming one-year program, included a fact-finding mission to Beirut, Lebanon, which is considered a base for the majority of Middle East Christian organizations.
In order to respond to the challenges the Middle East Christians are encountering, whether in the United States or in the Middle East, the American Middle East Christians Congress, in collaboration with the American Middle East Council of Clergy and the American Middle East Christian community organizations, launched a one-year program that began with a three-day conference at various sites in tri-county, Michigan on September 28-30, 2012 with a Gala Event at St. Sharbel Banquet Hall in Warren, Michigan on September 28, 2012.
This conference was successful with a full house, and we were forced to reduce the number of delegates to each group in order to accommodate everybody. We apologize for those we were not able to accommodate. This event was attended by American political leadership, both Republican and Democrat, members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives of their representatives, members of the state, county, and city officials, as well as religious, faith-based community organizations from every walk of life in American society, including all sections of the American Middle East Christian communities, such as Arab Christians, Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Coptics, Maronites, Syriacs, while other faith-based and community organizations, including Muslim, Jewish, Mendian, Hindus, Buddhists, Baptists, Protestants, Presbyterians, and secular leadership. Communal-wise, leadership and communities from the African-American, Polish, Macedonian, Italian, Indian, Chinese and other components of American society.
TOPICS DISCUSSED AT THE CONFERENCE
The topics that were discussed throughout the conference were:
1. Creating a political action committee
2. Creating a public relations committee
3. Creating projects and opportunities to assist the Middle East Christians in the Middle East to stay in the Middle East, such as creating scholarships, clinics, collaboration with commercial enterprises to create favorable conditions to earn means of living
4. Collaborating with Middle East Christian-based organizations all over the world in order to continue cooperation of understanding, assisting vice versa with projects, and updating them with the activities that are occurring here in the United States
5. Creating Chairs at universities for Middle East Christian studies
6. Establishing a special office in the United States Department of State dedicated fully to the Middle East Christians
FINDINGS OF THE CONFERENCE
Throughout the first three days of this program in Michigan, there were meetings between various leaders and their organizations discussing the past, present, and future of the Middle East Christians, especially for the past decade and the events that led to increase of their emigration to other parts of the world. These were the findings of the conference:
§ There was a frank discussion regarding the western countries' and the United States' efforts and involvements in changing of governments, whether in Iraq in 2003 or during the so-called "Arab Spring," through covert or overt support movements that led to governments led by radicals or by Islamist movements, such as in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, a continuous political military strife in Syria and the presence of zealous and extremism in Syria. In some other parts of the Arab world's, many Muslim religious leadership, many who are appointed by governments in the Arabian peninsula, have openly advocated the disappearance of all religions or their symbols except Islam.
§ Some Middle East governments have been trying to protect the ethnics and other faith-based communities, but they have been weakened by the emergence of religious extremism, political radicalization, sectarian divisions, and economical difficulties, all of which have added to their nations but more so affected the ethnics and the minorities.
§ The western governments and the United States have adopted policies whose byproduct was detrimental to the presence of the Middle East Christians in the Middle East by trying to facilitate the immigration of the Middle East Christians to protect the Middle East Christians and other minorities or have undergone policies that are positively working in the hands of the radical governments or the radical religious groups in the Middle East by facilitating a process of immigration that in essence uproots people with thousands of years of ancestry, culture, and heritage in the Middle East to countries that sooner or later will lose their culture and heritage.
§ On the other hand, many western and American organizations and many Middle East ecumenical and non-ecumenical organizations, including The Vatican, are trying to reverse the immigration process, concluding with the latest trip by Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Lebanon by signing the famous documents related to the Middle East Christians, by realizing that there is a problem of the Middle East Christians' exodus by holding national, international, and other conferences to halt the process of immigration, help the Middle East Christians to stay in their homelands by working with the Middle East governments and building commercial projects to help the economically striven Middle East Christians to stay in their homeland. This process has started in the Holy Land, and hopefully it will spread to the other parts of the Middle East.
§ The historic facts that the so-called Middle East Christians now have been present throughout the Middle East even prior to the emergence of Christianity and have cohabited the land with the other religions and under various occupations.
HIGHLIGHTS OF CONFERENCE
The highlights of the first three days was the Gala Evening on September 28, 2012 that lasted over four hours, including main speeches by Dr. Ramsay F. Dass, M.D., President of the American Middle East Christians Congress, Hon. Mayor James R. Fouts, Mayor of Warren, Mr. Habib Afram, President of the Syriac League in Lebanon and Secretary General of the Federation of Christian Associations in Lebanon, Dr. Nahida H. Gordon, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor at Case Western University and Moderator of the National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus of the Presbyterian Church of USA, and Keynote Speaker: His Excellency Gebran Bassil, MBA in Engineering, Minister of Energy and Water of Government of Lebanon.
All the speakers emphasized that the Middle East Christians are facing hostile environments with a negative impact on their presence in the Middle East. Each speaker was eloquent, each from his and her point of view, and they were very well received by the audience. The contents of the topics were informative, courageous, and educational. Many members of the audience were not aware of these facts.
Throughout the Gala Evening, we had read to the audience letters of support from the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI and various religious, political, and community organizations throughout the Middle East and from the United States, while representatives from the American Muslim community, Kurdistan Regional Government, councilmembers from Telkaif, Iraq, and representatives of various senators and congressional people.
At the conclusion of the event, there were six awards presented:
1. Mar Bechara Peter Rai Award for a person or organization that promotes communion and love in the Middle East awarded to Mr. Gebran Bassil.
2. The Late Pope Shenouda III Award for a person or organization that promotes a better understanding of Christianity and Christians in the Middle East awarded to Mr. Habib Afram.
3. Bishop Louis Sako Award for a person or organization that promotes international understanding of the Middle East Christians, their heritage, aspirations, and survival awarded to Dr. Nahida Gordon.
4. Archbishop Paul Sayah Award for a person or organization that promotes bridges and harmony between the churches and community at large awarded to Rev. Rani Abdulmasih.
5. Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho Award for bravery and exemplary leadership awarded to the Syriac community at large.
6. President's Awards for persons who have contributed to this function and to the community at large awarded to various community and religious leaders.
On September 30, 2012, there was a day of prayer and solidarity to the Middle East Christians throughout churches and other houses of worship. It was also moved to be an annual day dedicated to the Middle East Christians.
Throughout the conference, many clergy and community leaders have invited non-Middle East Christian communities through educational and informative meetings regarding the Middle East Christians.
Throughout the year, there will be similar conferences in different parts of the United States in order to inform, educate, and develop collaborative chapters.
There is no doubt that the events taking place in the Middle East have awakened the conscience of many countries and has brought the plight, the dilemma, and the presence of the Middle East Christians in the Middle East to the forefront, where numerous conferences of inter- and intra-faith have taken place around the world. Many governments and major organizations are looking positively at this problem and assessing the needs of the Middle East Christians in order to preserve their presence in the Middle East, including many Arab and Muslim countries.
In addition to all what the Middle East Christians in diaspora, including in the United States of America, can do to assist in this endeavor, the following actions are recommended:
1. Continue bringing these issues to the forefront by creating a political action committee and a public relations committee, a liaison committee with the other inter- and intra-faith, heritage, and public organizations.
2. Assist the Middle East Christians in their homelands with programs that will support them economically, culturally, in heritage, and politically in order to assist those who wish to stay in the Middle East and not to emigrate.
3. Work closely with governmental and non-governmental organizations to create programs in the Middle East, specifically meant for the Middle East Christians and provide and environment that is hospitable to their continued stay in their respective countries.
4. Plan similar conferences in other states in America in order to continue the vision, mission, and progress of this project.
The President of the American Middle East Christians Congress, its Board of Directors, and the preparatory committee of this conference and all those who made it possible, as well as His Excellency Mr. Gebran Bassil, Dr. Nahida Gordon, with a very special thank you to Mr. Habib Afram, who flew from Lebanon to Michigan especially for this occasion and whose presence, advice, and discussion with the sessions that were met with leadership of the American Middle East Christian organizations was instrumental in fulfilling the conference's mission due to his longstanding role as a Middle East Christian and community advocate.
Ramsay F. Dass, MD, President (E-Mail: Rfass@aol.com; Cell: 248-763-6006)
www.middleeastchristian.org / www.amecc.us
To bring together the diverse and unique Middle East Christians communities in the United States of America in the fields of Heritage, Government, Education, Commerce, Culture, Medical and Humanity. Advance civic and public affairs and protect civil liberties.
The American Middle East Christians Congress (AMECC) is a non-profit Michigan based American community organization.
Michigan is home to the largest concentration of the Middle Eastern communities in the world living outside of the Middle East and is home to well over five hundred thousand Middle Eastern Christians locally.
There are over six million Middle East Christians across the United States including Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Coptic, Marionettes, Syriacs and others.
The Middle East Christian communities are spread across the Arabian Peninsula, Asia Minor, Northern Africa and across the Globe.
· Community Organization: AMECC is a congress of unity, between the various Middle Eastern Christian Communities and organizations, that shares the same vision and mission under one umbrella.
· Nationally: Establish a dialogue with other Middle Eastern and NON-Middle Eastern Christian Communities.
· Internationally: Support and strengthen the relationship between the American Middle East Christian communities and the Christian communities in the Middle East and abroad.
AMECC Committees are Government, Civic and Public Affairs, Medical and Humanitarian, Heritage, Education, Cultural, Commerce and Public Relations.
AMECC will coordinate and affiliate with other American-based organizations to achieve its goals.
Ramsay F. Dass, MD, President (E-Mail: Rfass@aol.com; Cell: 248-763-6006)
September 17, 2012 New York
During his visit to New York in September 2012, Dr.Dass had meetings with several high ranking officials at the UN.
Dr Dass visited the Permanent mission and the Ambassador Dr.T.Hamid Al-bayati, permanent Representative of Iraq to The United Nations, as well as with and with William Ishay Odisho, Deputy Ambassador-Permanent Representative of Iraq to UN. (Photo)
Dtr.Mrs Dass are shown on the photos to the left with Archbishop Chullicatt, part of The Permanent Observer Mission of The Holy See to the United Nations, The Church of The Holy Family, The United Nations Parish, and with William Ishay Odisho, Deputy Ambassador-Permanent Representative of Iraq to UN.