In the midst of a much-publicized “refugee crisis,” Christians in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East have struggled for recognition as the group most targeted for persecution.
“For the last five years, the general mood among my family and the Syrian community in Pittsburgh has been one of increasing hopelessness,” explains Marlo Safi, the daughter of first-generation Syrian-Americans studying at the University of Pittsburgh. Her church, St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is part of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East. Safi and her fellow worshippers trace their roots to the early Christian communities of first century Antioch.*
“What people don’t understand is, to ISIS, Christians are the scum of the Earth,” Marlo explains. ISIS believes Christians “need to be exterminated, they are the infidels. They are a targeted group that is easy to access in Syria: They live in small communities among fellow Christians, they worship at the same churches. If we don’t help them, we are assisting in ISIS’s agenda, and we will have blood on our hands.”
“My family has been grappling with what little options we have to bring our family in Syria to the U.S.,” she says, “because we certainly don’t want them going to the refugee camps in Europe due to the high risk of brutalization by fellow refugees that Christians must live amongst. My mother frantically reaches out to me begging for me to ask anyone I know who works in Pennsylvania politics such as Rep. Tim Murphy to help us bring our family over as soon as they can, but, unfortunately, it’s a process that takes years regardless of minority status, which Syrian Christians do have.”
Marlo has 4 grandparents, 11 aunts and uncles and over 20 cousins still in Syria . Most of the cousins are under 15. “The news we hear from them is often chilling,” she says. Family members have had only bread and salt to eat, while someone set off a bomb in front of the home of an aunt and her 4 young sons. One of her mother’s cousins was shot and killed in Homs.
What have you and your family been doing to intervene on behalf of persecuted Christians in Syria?
My family and I have been doing everything in our power to help bring Syrian Christians to the U.S. or at least provide aid to the ones still in Syria. Unfortunately, most of our efforts have been in vain. My mother and I have reached out to congressmen and local politicians, but we are told the process will still take years and the only benefit we have is that my parents are both U.S. citizens. I’ve tried raising money through fundraisers on campus, but money itself can’t make living any safer in Syria for Christians and certainly doesn’t assure survival. Family friends have opened up their homes to their families who have been fortunate enough to make it to the U.S.; we know a family that housed two families in their three-bedroom house for nearly a year.
As a Syrian Christian, what is your perspective on the current presidential election?
The next person to hold office dictates whether my people, Syrian Christians, are permitted the right to live. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are more concerned with climate change and free college than they are with Christians in Syria, or even Christians in America. I’m a devout Ted Cruz supporter. He has been the only candidate to make Syrian Christians an issue in his campaign.
I have heard nothing but repulsion for this from the left; I have even had professors who I highly respected mentioned how “un-classy” it was of Cruz to focus on helping Christians and not Syrian Muslims. If the so-called intellectuals don’t even realize the plight of Syrian Christians, who will? I believe that, if Ted Cruz, or any Republican, make it to office, Syrian Christians will get the chance our president has neglected to give them.
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