Momentum builds for Lowell Middle East relief effort

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/01/19/momentum-builds-for-lowell-middle-east-relief-effort/

Leaders from the Lowell region and beyond are gathering this Sunday to honor the persecuted religious minorities in the Middle East. A growing number of local politicians and church representatives will meet at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in what promises to be the largest event of its kind in Lowell history.

Despite the impressive roster of attendees, the presiding pastor, Rev. Leonard Faris, insists that the focus will be on the victims.  “None of the organizers want this event to be politicized. Politicians are welcome to come as private individuals, but I won’t be introducing them or making their visit official.”

“None of the organizers want this event to be politicized. Politicians are welcome to come as private individuals, but I won’t be introducing them or making their visit official.”

The event will include a presentation on the under-reported persecution of hundreds of thousands of Christians in the Middle East. Many of the participants have recently returned from trips to the region, where they witnessed the atrocities first-hand.

In a show of collective support, leaders from a wide range of churches will join in fellowship and prayer during the hour-long ceremony. Rev. Terrence O’Connell, director of St. Joseph’s Shrine in Lowell, noted the ecumenical nature of the event: “It’s really about bringing all the Christian denominations together, since the refugees come from all different churches.”

Rev. Faris echoed the sentiment, and added that the intentions will include non-Christians victims as well: “We want to have this service to pray for all the refugees, whether Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant or Muslim. We want to pray for them all.”

Among the confirmed participants are:

Rev. Leonard Faris, St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, Lowell
Rev. Nikolaos Pelekoudas, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Lowell
Rev. Terrence O’Connell, St. Joseph Catholic Shrine
Rev. Stephan Baljian, St. Gregory Armenian Orthodox Church, North Andover
Rev. Ernest Couloras, Greek Orthodox priest (ret.)
Rev. Daniel Nassaney, Oblates of the Virgin Mary, Tewksbury
Rev. Khachatur Kesablyan, St. Vartanantz Armenian Church, Chelmsford
Rev. Daniel Crahen, St. Patrick Catholic Church, Lowell
Rev. Peter Rizos, St. George Greek Orthodox Church, Lowell
Rev. Fr. Vart Gyozalyan, Armenian Apostolic Church, Haverhill

A number of Protestant pastors have also been invited and hope to attend. Rev. Faris said, “We reached out to our Protestant brothers. They’re all welcome.”

The event will also include a collection that will be distributed directly to the neediest refugees who are remaining in the Middle East. The funds will be distributed to three reliable charitable relief organizations: The International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), Catholic Charities, and the Armenian Relief Fund. Rev. O’Connell emphasized that donors are welcome to designate the charity they prefer: “Everyone can contribute to the fund they’re familiar and comfortable with.”

Besides providing much needed attention and funds for the victims of persecution in the Middle East, the events’ organizers are cognizant of the broader implications of their joint effort.  They hope other national and international church leaders will follow their example and sponsor similar ecumenical initiatives.

“It’s time for the Christians of different denominations to come back together in peace and unity, and go back to how the churches were established at the beginning of Christianity.”

“It’s time for the Christians of different denominations to come back together in peace and unity, and go back to how the churches were established at the beginning of Christianity,” Rev. Faris said. “That’s what our Lord wanted when he prayed, ‘That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be one in us.’  It’s such a travesty that we’re not together. We have to pray together for this intention.”

The “Ecumenical Prayer Service of Christian Unity” will be held Jan. 24 at 2 p.m. at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, 44 Bowers Street, Lowell, Mass. Donations for the relief may be sent to St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church (address above). Please designate the preferred charitable organization: Catholic Charities, IOCC, or Armenian Relief Fund.

Contact Mary McCleary at [email protected].

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