Stand with Middle East Christians This Advent

A boy waits with other young refugees, including many of from Syria and Iraq, for a Nov. 30 meeting with Pope Francis in Istanbul's Salesian Oratory.
A boy waits with other young refugees, including many of from Syria and Iraq, for a Nov. 30 meeting with Pope Francis in Istanbul's Salesian Oratory. (photo: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA)

Observing the mayhem in the Middle East last summer, Father Benedict Kiely at Blessed Sacrament Church in Stowe, Vt., did what came naturally: He asked his congregation to pray for those suffering, the Christian community in particular.

He was especially troubled by the fall of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city and a Christian stronghold, to ISIS extremists. ISIS fighters painted the homes and businesses of Christians with the Arabic letter “N,” for “Nasarean,” a contemptuous way of referring to Christians. The “N” marked inhabitants for forced conversion, persecution or death. Christians fled the city by the thousands, and for the first time 1600 years, there was no Mass celebrated in the city.

After Father Kiely preached his homily, a parishioner asked how he could help, beyond prayer. No ideas came to him just then, but later later, while praying the Rosary, Father Kiely touched the rubber bracelet on his wrist, which he was wearing to support another cause. And he had an idea: Why not raise funds for the Christian refugees by creating a few simple products marked with the Arabic letter “N” — the same Arabic letter that ISIS terrorists painted on the homes of Christians? 

In Mosul, the “N” was a mark of impending doom, but for Christians elsewhere, Father Kiely thought, it could be a mark of solidarity with the Middle East’s Christians, as well as a reminder to pray and an opportunity for charity.

Father Kiely followed through with a website called Nasarean, whose aim is to spread the word about the calamity facing Christian communities in Iraq and Syria and raise funds for them through the distribution of wristbands, zipper pulls and lapel pins marked with the Arabic “N”.  

The proceeds go to Aid to the Church in Need, a deeply experienced international Catholic charity that helps the persecuted faithful worldwide. With an estimated 120,000 Christian refugees in Erbil, Iraq, facing a cold winter far from their homes, Father Kiely's immediate goal is to raise funds to help Aid to the Church in Need build 10,000 shelters for refugees and provide Christmas gifts to their children.

This past week, Pope Francis also spoke out about the plight of Christians in the Middle East during his pilgrimage in Turkey, and described conditions in some refugee camps as “degrading” and “intolerable,” reported The New York Times. And yesterday, the World Food Program announced that it would suspend its outreach to about 2 million Syrian refugees because of a funding shortfall

 If you need further reason to support the Nasarean project, listen to this testimony by Father Andrew White, an Anglican priest known as the “Vicar of Baghdad, here.   Father White describes heartbreaking encounters between Iraqi Christian children and ISIS militants, who demand that the children renounce Jesus. The little ones refuse the fighters' demand, despite the consequences.

The Spirit moved Father Kiely to act from the woods of Vermont, we should all do the same. Let's prayerfully wear a lapel pin with the letter "N",  or attach a zipper pull to our bag, helping us remember to pray, support and advocate on behalf of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East.