by Antonina Zielinska
As violence and intolerance wreak havoc in Syria, faithful Christians, Muslims and Jews came together in Brooklyn, with their religious leaders, to pray for peace in the Middle Eastern country.
Among those gathered in the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Lebanon, Brooklyn Heights, was Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros.
“We are men and women committed to prayer and join to support those who work for peace and for justice,” he said during the evening prayer service.
He told the multi-religious congregation that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio stands in solidarity with them but was unable to attend because he was out of the country.
Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, of the Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Eastern U.S., is also the current president of Christian Arab and Middle Eastern Churches Together, the organization that sponsored the prayer service. He said the turmoil in Syria affects all believers of the Abrahamic faiths.
“Our mother churches and the centers are in the Middle East, and they are suffering,” he said.
Maronite Bishop Gregory Mansour said he hosted the event because he truly believes in the power of sincere prayer.
“We invited Muslim, Christian and Jew and anyone who was willing to come, as well as any civil official,” he said. “We invited them for one reason, no matter what their idea of Syria is, just to pray for the people of Syria.”
Rabbi Serge Lippe, of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, said he accepted the invitation, in part, out of his respect for Bishop Mansour’s call for unity.
“I’m honored to represent the Jewish community with our prayers for peace and well-being for all the peoples in faith of that region of the world,” he said.
Bishop Yousif Behnam Habash, Syrian Catholic Bishop of the United States and Canada, said it is true that prayers like this are vital to bring relief to Syria. He said God, like a good parent, listens to the sincere prayers of His children, no matter the number.
“We are here as children of Abraham, children of God,” he said. “And God is pleased to have us.”
The chairman of the Druze Council of North America, Sheik Sami Merhi, said he too believes Syria’s hope is for God’s children to intercede on her behalf. The Druze are an ethnoreligious community, which emerged from Shia Islam.
“Our mother country, Syria, is in turmoil, and there is a lot of suffering,” he said. “So I thank Bishop Monsour for gathering us in the name of the one God that unites us, to pray for peace, and hopefully our prayers will be heard.”
Msgr. James Root, rector of Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral, said it is not an uncommon sight at the cathedral to see people of different faiths come together for a common cause.
“From the way people are mingling around, you don’t know who’s Christian, who’s Jewish, who’s Muslim from amongst the people,” he said. “They really cohabitate wonderfully here together.”
Bishop Nicholas Ozone, auxiliary bishop of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, said it should not be shocking that leaders of different religions come together for a common good.
“As everybody knows, in Syria, there are all types of denominations, all types of religions, and historically they have lived peacefully as brethren together,” he said. “So it should not be difficult for brethren to come together to pray.”
Syrian born Ikren Eid, who attended the event, said she also believes that unity is possible as demonstrated by the prayer service.
“It’s natural for me to see people come together to pray,” she said. “It’s natural, but I’m so proud. I’m so happy that they are praying for my homeland.”
According to Bishop Mansour, the prayer service was a variation on the Maronite evening prayer to accommodate Jewish and Muslim beliefs and is part of a continuous effort to bring peace among different religions.