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Return to Main Story: Churches' U.S. Response Post-Sept. 11 Wide-Ranging, Creative

October 1, 2001, NEW YORK CITY – The National Council of Churches’ membership includes several communions of Middle Eastern origin.

Representatives of several of these communions present at the NCC’s October 1-2 Executive Board meeting shared their condemnation of the September 11 attacks, their concern not to be stereotyped as terrorists themselves and their worries for persecuted Christians in other lands.

The Very Rev. John Meno, Archdiocesan General Secretary of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, said the Syrian Christian community’s U.S. roots go back more than 100 years.

"We fought in the world wars and have gone through good and hard times. This is our country, too. We don’t want to be stereotyped," he said. The communion’s three hierarchs condemned the September 11 terrorist attacks.

With just 25,000-30,000 members, the communion is relatively small but "we’re a community of a very large heart," he said. "I was especially impressed by our young people, who went out to collect things of real need in New York City and Washington."

Father Shamoun Asmar, also from the Syrian Orthodox Church, said he was born in Turkey, educated in Iraq, and taught in Syria and Lebanon. "I ran from persecution," he said. Expressing his pain at the September 11 attacks, he urged U.S. Christians also to be concerned for persecuted Christians around the world.

Coptic Orthodox Church in North America Subdeacon Bishoy M. Mikhail of New York City said that communion’s members also have faced stereotyping. "Our churches have been attacked as far away as Sydney, Australia, because we have Arabic writing on the outside of some of our churches," he said.

"We’ve noticed a strong patriotism in our community," which has been in the U.S. for 30 to 40 years, he said. "Our church people are carrying flags and donating blood."

The Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, Ecumenical Officer for the Orthodox Church in America, offered another perspective on breaking stereotypes. "Some of our parishes are active in a Rotary Club program that brings kids from around the world to us for open heart surgery, especially from Russia," he said. "Their mothers come along. Among them are Chechnyan children."

A mother, a Muslim, who had been here with her child and returned home, sent a fax two or three days after the 11th saying that "if giving her life would have prevented the crime, she would have given her life without hesitation because of the bond of love that connected her with America and the Christian community here. Some of us read her letter in church before offering prayers for those who suffered and died. It had a tremendous impact on people to hear that message from a Muslim," Father Kishkovsky said.


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