Ft. Calhoun – More than 320 people gathered for the “Rebuilding the Cradle of Christianity Dinner” March 10, sponsored by the St. John the Baptist Knights of Columbus Council #10305 in Fort Calhoun.
The event raised nearly $160,000, and the message organizers wanted to send was that Christians in the Holy Land are not alone. The net figure, estimated at $120,000, will be used to build approximately 60 homes for Christians living in Karamels, Iraq, and other cities in Iraq, displaced when ISIS burned their homes in 2011.
The event exceeded organizers' expectations, said Mike Conrad, chairman of the event. He and fellow Knights wanted to make a significant impact in the National Knights of Columbus project Christian Refugee Relief Fund that supports Christians in the Holy Land. The program builds homes, each around $2,000, for Christian refugees in Iraq.
Bishop Yousif Behnam Habash, Eparch of Our Lady of Deliverance of Newark, N.J., delivered a message to love one another during his homily at the Cathedral during Saturday’s Mass. “He repeated that we should love one another and try to understand each other,” said Conrad. During the dinner, Bishop Habash shared that he had several friends who are Muslim and several friends who are Jewish, adding that the politicizing of religion was the cause for much pain and division in the area. He has been living in exile since 1994.
“We witnessed love in action last night,” Conrad said. He is a member of both the St. John the Baptist Parish and Council #10305, and a board of director for the National Knights of Columbus. “I was hoping for $50,000 to $60,000. To be in the ballpark we are in right now leaves me speechless. We went from minor league to major league in what we can do to make an impact in the lives of these Christians.”
Gabriel Jabbour joined the Fort Calhoun Knights of Columbus during a private ceremony Friday evening before the reception with sponsors, volunteers and guests. Jabbour’s son-in-law Awad Qumseya, a member of the St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha, translated the ceremony.
“When he addressed the dinner guests on Saturday,” Conrad pointed out, “he was literally the newest member of the Knights of Columbus in Nebraska, telling his story to Brother Knights, their families and friends.”
Both Bishop Habash and Jabbour, through the translating of his daughter Rula, shared stories of how a peaceful life ended when ISIS invaded the Bishop’s city and Jabbour’s village and demanded that everyone practice Islam. Bishop Habash said he considers it a miracle that all 50,000 Christian residents of his home town of Qaraqosh in the Nineva Valley, Mousel, North of Iraq, safely fled leaving behind their homes and prior lives with not much more than the clothes they wore. Jabbour fled Kinsvda, Syria just hours before what was to be his public execution.
“My dad did not want to leave his family there, but he had no choice,” Rula explained. He is just one of many people who suffer in the current political climate, she said. “For many years Christians and Muslims lived side by side. This has changed since the destabilizing of the area following the Arab Spring.”
Many Christians have lost their homes and receive no government aid, she said. They live in tents in extreme weather conditions. But while they have lost their homes, they have not lost their faith, she said. “Our faith is not just something we are on Sunday. There, our faith is our identity,” she said.
Conrad said the Knights of Council #10305 wanted to bring people together and educate them about the plight of Christians whose lives were literally turned upside down because they chose to live their faith. Through increased awareness, they hoped to encourage support and solidarity for their struggles.
“It’s been overwhelming the way people have come together to support this goal of getting the word out. The generosity and outpouring of support that we are seeing is incredible,” Conrad said, adding people could sponsor an entire home for $2,000, a door for $100, or other amounts in between. “We were called to love, and we hope that we are sending a message of love to those who have given so much and suffered so much because of their faith.”
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