Saturday, November 20, 2010

From the Back Pew: Their power is faith

By Michael J. Arvizu

This past Sunday, more than 350 worshipers gathered at Jesus Sacred Heart Antiochene Syriac Catholic Church in North Hollywood to memorialize the 58 people who were killed Oct. 31 during a siege of Baghdad's Sayidat al-Nejat (Our Lady of Salvation), a Syriac Catholic church.

According to news reports, the siege lasted several hours and has been linked to Al Qaeda gunmen. And after all was said and done, 58 people were dead, including two priests, 17 security officers and five gunmen.

Syriac Catholic Noel Habash of Burbank lost four family members in the attack. They were the nephews of his father-in-law.

I tried to imagine for a moment what it would be like if those had been my relatives who were killed, if those had been my relatives who were rescued by police.

With anger and frustration in his voice, Habash says of his family's turmoil, "Of course you're going to get mad; of course you're going to get nervous."

Now imagine for a moment that this happened in some far-off country where you were powerless to do anything. And imagine for a moment that you had relatives living in one of the most violent cities in the world.

Habash does. He has a brother and sister, each with their own big families, he said, and aunts and uncles, living in Baghdad.

"What kind of thought are you going to have?" he asked. "How are you going to hold up yourself and think normally? Every day you will keep thinking. Every day you will keep praying. Every day you will be angry. You need to see your own family live in peace."

When he s

aid that last sentence, I thought to myself, this is not unlike what the people in Ciudad Juarez are going through every day, with almost daily murders, kidnappings and unexplained disappearances. I have relatives who say they, too, fear for their lives at times, never seeming to know where the next bullet is going to come from.

I echo your sentiments, sir. I need my family to live in peace, too.

Habash believes what is happening in Iraq is nothing short of genocide, not unlike what Armenians and Jews went through. And he now has had a taste of what those families went through, he said. "Where is the government? Where is the United Nations? Where is the American government? Where is the European government?" Habash asks, his voice cracking with anger.

Yes, Habash's voice is full of anger and frustration over the attacks — anger that the attacks took place, and frustration over what he believes is the Iraq government's — which he says is composed of a bunch of gangs just sitting there, doing nothing — inability to suppress attacks that have killed not only Christians, but Muslims and people of other faiths. But on top of all that, Habash feels powerless, he said, with notable sadness in his voice.

"The government is very weak, and I don't think they're doing anything," said Sata Nasi of Glendale, a Syriac Catholic.

He turns to his faith, however: "Jesus Christ taught us to forgive people even if they insult you or attack you. That's the teaching," Nasi said. "We just pray to God for the rest of the people in Iraq, like Christians, so that they won't be harmed."

Nasi grew up and attended services at that church in Baghdad and had a house directly across from it.

"Everybody was mad, upset," said Nasi, who feels anger, he said, at the attackers that targeted a group of peaceful people. "They did not do any harm to any people. The Christian people in general, they are not fighters. We don't have a militia. We don't have weapons to fight or anything like that. It's targeted only because of the mentality of these attackers."

The only power he has, Habash said, is his faith in Jesus.

"We have no power of weapon. We have no power of gun. We have no power of violence," Habash said. "We have only one power. It's simple. People think of it as a stupid, idiot thought, but I would think that the huge power that we have is thinking, praying, and faith in Jesus."

MICHAEL J. ARVIZU is a reporter for the La Cañada Valley Sun. Reach him at (818) 637-3263 or e-mail michael.arvizu@latimes.com.

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