Bob Pape is director of major gifts for CNEWA.
Last Thursday, I had the pleasure to visit with the Golden Lions of St. Pius X Catholic High School in Atlanta, Georgia, at the invitation of Msgr. Richard Lopez, a longtime friend of CNEWA. He had asked if I could speak to the students about the current situation faced by our brothers and sisters in Syria and CNEWA’s efforts to assist.
Entering the school, I had the feeling that I was in a very special place for students to learn and grow, to develop their unique talents and to strengthen their faith. Enthusiasm and positive attitudes abound not only among the students, but the faculty as well. The motto of the school is Domini Sumus — “We are the Lord’s.” I was reminded of this phrase throughout my visit.
I met with a large group of students in the auditorium. They were most welcoming, polite and respectful. I asked them if they had an opinion of Pope Francis and their response was overwhelmingly favorable. This reaction gave me a glimpse into just how well the Holy Father must have been received during World Youth Day in Brazil. I next gave a brief history of the Eastern churches. I simply tried to present the idea that Christianity has its original roots in the Middle East and the church of the Apostles.
I spoke about the current plight of the Christians in the Middle East in general — specifically, the suffering of the Christians in Syria. The students were very receptive. I tried to present the information in a way that would break down some of the misconceptions and stereotypes that seem to be ever present when the topic of Christians in the Middle East is discussed. For example: “Aren’t all Arabs Muslims?” — or, put another way, “Is there such a thing as an Arab Christian?”
When I reached the topic of the current state of the civil war in Syria, I realized how difficult it is to explain exactly who is fighting and why. I did the best I could. One point I was able to make clear, though, was the suffering endured by Syrian Christians who are caught in the middle of the conflict. When you start mentioning the number of Christians who have been killed, injured and displaced by the violence, you realize the magnitude of this crisis. I also wanted the students to be aware of the toll the violence has taken on the children of Syria in terms of physical injury, hunger, homelessness and lack of consistent education.
After I explained the work of CNEWA in assisting Christians in Syria, we got into a discussion of how students in Atlanta can help those suffering in Syria. Many good ideas were mentioned and the power of prayer was clearly mentioned as a way each of the students could help. This was very gratifying to hear.
I urged the students never to doubt that life can and will improve for our brothers and sisters in Syria, and even reminded them of Pope Francis’ direction: “Don’t let yourself be robbed of hope!” But I think I was the one who came away with the strongest feeling of hope. I was uplifted by the hope found in these young people who embrace their faith in their daily lives and who understand the need to get involved to help others. I was inspired by the hope that comes from knowing that the future of our faith is in good hands — such as those of the students of St. Pius X, who will grow up to be genuine witnesses to our faith throughout their lives. I thank the Golden Lions for giving me hope.
If you’d like someone from CNEWA to pay a visit to your church or school, drop me a line.
And if you want to help the suffering Christians of Syria, visit this link.