on who to pray for

There is a post on facebook going around now with, as of this moment, 109,701 likes and 82,579 shares. The post reads: “SHARE AND PRAY FOR THE CHRISTIANS IN SYRIA!”  Then when you click on it, it reads: “ISIS terrorists have now captured Christians in Syria and told them that if they don’t deny their faith they will be decapitated and their children ‘burned alive in cages’. We must stop the ISIS terrorists!”  I found this somewhat disturbing for one reason but then after reading many of the comments made by my fellow Americans, I was beyond being disturbed and found myself shifting between anger and sorrow. But first, the primary reason I was disturbed in the first place.

Why does it take the threat of beheading Christians who won’t convert and the burning of their children in cages to get people in America angry? Where have these people been? Don’t they read the news? Aren’t they aware of the thousands of innocent men, women, and children already slaughtered by ISIS and the over 4 million displaced refugees from Syria that have flooded across the borders of both Turkey and Lebanon because they did not want to be murdered, too? And those refugees in Turkey and Lebanon are not just Muslims but Syrian Christians, as well as Jews who were living there and those Muslims are a mixed bag of Sunni, Shia, and Kurds because ISIS does not descriminate in their killing but kill anyone who does not swear allegiance to their lust for power and land. Where was the prayer campaign for them? Why wasn’t there outrage and a demand to stop ISIS before?

So, what got me upset in the first place is the call to prayer for the Syrian Christians and, by exclusion, no one else. Prayer is needed for everyone suffering in that war-torn region. Not just Christians. We, as thinking, feeling, compassionate human beings (and let me stress the word human) should be up in arms to protect every innocent person in harm’s way, regardless of religion, ethnicity, race, gender, age, hair color, height, weight, and shoe size. It is an outrage what is happening just over my adopted country’s border right now and all the nations of the world should, as one person commented to this post, “BAN together to stamp out ISIS.” They are, at this very moment, THE common enemy to us all. And it amazes me when leaders of nations bicker over who should fight them and how. Everyone should fight with everything in their arsenals right now!

My initial reaction, though, to that post was overshadowed by the sheer anger and incredulity I felt as I read the comments people were making. Here are some samples:

“But the children and the true Christians will not be his. . .they’re spoken for by our Lord Jesus Christ!”

”Thank you for posting. . .Islam religion of peace!”

“May God bless and protect Christians!”

“My prayers for my brothers in need.”

“Lord, we pray for these and all Christians who are persecuted and for our country taking You and prayer out of as much as they can get away with! Christians, STAND UP & BE COUNTED!”

“Stop Obama first before we can stop ISIS. . .Obama is ISIS.”

Strange logic that last one. Someone also referred to the Crusaders, which if they read more than the page and a half in their junior high school history textbook about the Crusades would have realized that those opportunists weren’t much different than the warmongers in the US who have made a huge profit from the unrest and warfare in the Middle East ever since the former Republican president George W. Bush decided to topple Saddam Hussein and bring democracy to Iraq. Iraqi Freedom, remember? All under the auspices of hidden weapons of mass destruction, not unlike the current campaign of fear being waged now over Iran by once again a Republican Congress. But this isn’t about that. This is about the same narrow, self-serving thinking that is typlified by this post. It’s okay if Muslim fanatics are killing innocent Muslims, but once they start killing Christians, well then it’s “awful.”

But there were some other comments like these:

“Pray for all humans regardless of race!”

“Pray for everyone in Syria.”

Of course not only Christian Americans think in such exclusive terms regarding atrocities. There are Shias who only care about other Shias, and Sunnis who only care about other Sunnis, and Kurds who only care about other Kurds, and Jews who only care about other Jews, just as there are people from every nation that only care about their country. And it is that thinking that mostly upsets me. Where is the humanity that ALL religions teach? Religions don’t preach indiscriminate killing (though there have been too many times past & present when people have done just that in the name of religion), only franatics do. And there are franatics in every religion, unfortunately. Franatics like those in ISIS. They are the enemy of us all.

And it seems to me there is a basic misconception of Islam by many Westerners. They are confused by its many sects or branches, yet how many sects are there in Christianity?  And don’t all those various Christian religions differ in their interpretation of the bible?  But what is truly sad in my opinion is this prejudice many Christian American seem to have regarding anyone who does not believe in Jesus Christ.

As for Islam being a religion of violence, if that person who made that comment actually sat down and read the Qur’an he would see it is quite clear on this. When mentioning the murder of Abel by Cain, for instance, it says: “Because of this did We ordain unto the children  of Israel that if anyone slays a human being—unless it be (in punishment) for murder or for spreading corruption on earth—it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if he saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.” (Chapter 5, Verse 32).

And when the Qur’an speaks of charity and compassion, it does not segregate people into groups of those who deserve it and those who do not but says: “And do good unto your parents, and near of kin, and unto orphans, and the needy, and the neighbour from among your own people, and the neighbor who is a stranger, and the friend by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom you rightfully possess.” (Chapter 4, Verse 36). Which is why both Turkey and  Lebanon have opened their borders to over 4 million refugees from Syria without stopping them to ask if they are Shia or Sunni or Kurd or Christian or Jew. And the prayers here in Turkey are for all the dispossessed and the dead who have been ravaged by the wars that plague this land regardless of religious beliefs.

So Christian Americans please follow the teachings of that Jewish rabbi from an Arab nation who you claim to follow as your savior. Would he only pray for Christians? Was his heart so small as that?


the custom
is about mourning
7 days later
then 40 days
saying goodbye
to those who have gone
before us
to wherever whatever
one believes
awaits us
and as I touch
my head
on the carpet
of the mosque
I say goodbye
to all those
I have lost
along the way

Naples, November 16, 2013

Today I spent the day in churches, lighting candles in memory of the dead, kneeling, praying. It’s a strange thing to do for an ex-Catholic but it’s the one place I feel closest to the dead in my life. I remember my first experience in a church: I was about five, I think, and staying in Brooklyn with my grandparents.

My grandfather took me to a ball game on Saturday afternoon and bought me a bag of multi-colored popcorn: red, blue, and white. It was, come to think of it a thousand years later, patriotic, but I didn’t know that then. Like the kid that I was, I just accepted it and held my grandfather’s big, strong hand. He was a big man who worked for the NYC sanitation department and could lift 100 pound cans of coal, open a beer bottle with his teeth, sing Neapolitan songs like all the men in my family, and had the saddest eyes in the sweetest smile. He would die a few years later from Parkinson’s Disease on the dining room table, having shrunk from 180 pounds to 110. But back then, on those weekends in Brooklyn, he would look down at me, rub his hand through my hair, rest his hand on my shoulder and smile as we watched our Brooklyn Dodgers play ball.

But back to churches.

That was my grandmother who took me to the nine o’clock mass on Sunday morning whenever I stayed there. She gave me my own Daily Missile which I still have with me, a pair or rosary beads, and I would sit in awe of the church, the ritual of the mass, the priest intoning the words in a language I didn’t understand but loved the sound of. Years later when I started going to mass again after my mother died, I sought out the only service in Latin at the church in Bayside where I was living at the time, because I just couldn’t listen to a mass in English. I wanted to hear those Latin tones and only then was my grandmother there with me saying her rosary.

My grandmother had candles burning in her room, the room she eventually died in, at our house after she moved in with us after my father’s death and I could see her at night, her hair down, sitting in a chair in front of the candles and the small statue of St.Joseph, which I have on my desk in Istanbul, saying her prayers. I will always think that’s what faith is, and wish some of it is somehow in me.

So today I lit candles, knelt, prayed, for my dead, and for the living who mean much to me. And though I’m not so sure anyone is listening, I pray anyway.

And that, today, is what faith means to me.