In 2014, I began working with Archbishop Aquila on the problem of the plight of Christians in the Middle East. On August 11, 2014, together with 15 religious leaders from across the spectrum of the Abrahamic faiths, we launched the PLACE Initiative (Peace, Love, and Co-Existence Among the Children of Abraham – see: http://archden.org/prayer-peace/). Next was an Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast on May 15, 2015, when Bishop Zaidan, Archbishop Aquila, over 37 Religious Christian leaders, and more than 250 people came to share in our prayer breakfast that Friday morning, with the objective of raising awareness. That day, even though we told people to come only to learn about the plight of Christians and then to tell a friend about the genocides that are taking place against Christians, people still gave over 23 thousand dollars in that one hour-and-a-half. This was a strong statement; these people who came from different Christian-based churches, both apostolic and evangelical as well as non-denominational people, wanted to say, “We are here for the love of Christ and in support for our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East and we want to help.”
The Rise of the Question and the Need of the new Mission:
Not once in my life had I ever planned to form a Mission or run a non-profit organization, nor did I plan to raise money for any cause, as I did not want to be around non-profit, financial affairs, knowing especially that such a thing might conflict with my parish responsibility. I feared that there would be a of lack of support and coordination between the parish and any sort of non-profit organization. The development and support I witnessed at the prayer breakfast was strong enough that it changed my attitude completely towards such a possibility. Checks kept coming in and, added to the money we raised in May at the prayer breakfast, reached nearly 30 thousand dollars. I started meeting with my Church Council, my stewardship council, John F. Medved (one of the founding members and a great believer in this mission), and Peter Boyles, who is our media messenger carrying this mission to the hearts and minds of every American he can reach through his daily morning radio show.
All of these individuals were, and continue to be, extremely supportive of the mission, which, due to their continued support, has now taken off and is delivering hope to many Christian families from Iraq and Syria who are now in Lebanon.
Mr. Boyles and I went to Lebanon with Senator Sam H. Zakhem on June 2-20, 2015. There we encountered most of the religious and political leaders of that country. We met with Patriarch Rai, the Maronite Patriarch, and learned about the great need for help and assistance; however, we discovered that, at the same time and due to the ongoing suffering and the greatness of the tragedy of the Christians and other people as well, there is not a clear vision of both long-term and short-term needs, nor is there a clear understanding of what the future of Christians there will be a couple of years from now. There are no present solutions nor dynamics for a strategy, not even a mechanism of communication to tell the story of these many Christians.
Mr. Boyles and I decided, after we had met the refugees in St. Elias Maronite Church of Jesr El-Wati in Beirut, to act by giving 180 gifts to children, hundreds of diapers for babies, and food packages for hundreds of families. We also gave this type of emergency package to 200 families on July 25 and 26, 2015. We decided that we needed to pursue helping those people, giving them hope by telling their story, and showing them mercy by giving them assistance and raising awareness.
Therefore, we needed to form a group, a future Mission, an organized entity that would carry the name of Saint Rafka (the Saint who lived under the pressure of persecution during the 1860 A.D. Massacres against the Maronite Christians in Mount Lebanon). I finally consented to be the promoter of this effort along with the other members of the group, forming, as such, the first entity of speakers’ bureau, which I hoped to grow and mature to reach the maximum people for both awareness and aids. This is how the formation of “St Rafka Mission of Hope and Mercy, Fr Andre Mahanna Relief Effort Group in Support of Christian Refugees from Syria and Iraq in Lebanon” took place.
This group has two branches: One is the leading group in the USA based in Colorado. The second one is a group based in Lebanon. Also, there is a recent group “The Beggars of the Mission of Hope and Charity,” which is comprised of patriotic persons who know the truth, who have good credibility, and are experts in certain areas, and who are faithful to the broader sense of Catholic and Christian Faith, and have intense passion and compassion. They will seek help from individuals and groups to raise money for awareness and field humanitarian assistance.
May the God of all hope and Mercy Bless you all!
Fr Andre Y-Sebastian MAHANNA