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The Christophers: What We Remember Will Be Saved


Tony Rossi

 

In August 2014, the terrorist group ISIS attacked the Iraqi city of Qaraqosh, leading more than 40,000 people, many of them Syriac Catholics, to flee their homes and country. They became part of a larger exodus of refugees fleeing wars in Syria and Iraq, desperate to find safety for themselves and their families. Author Stephanie Saldaña, a Syriac Catholic herself, has now collected the stories of several of these refugees who managed to take small pieces of their homelands with them as they embarked on their journeys of survival. Her book is called “What We Remember Will Be Saved,” and we discussed it recently on “Christopher Closeup.”

In 2004, Texas-born Stephanie moved to Syria to study as a Fulbright Scholar. She learned Arabic, met the man who would become her husband, and made many Christian and Muslim friends. When Syria’s civil war broke out in 2011, she was no longer living in the country but knew many people who were. And in 2014, she empathized with the plight of Iraq’s Syriac Catholics who fled their homes. Stephanie traveled to Amman, Jordan, where many of them had resettled, and attended a Mass, where she was moved by the beauty of the choir singing in their homeland’s language of Syriac, “a liturgical form of Aramaic.”

Afterward, Stephanie met many refugees, including Hana, who had created a dress unlike any that Stephanie had ever seen. Hana had extensively embroidered Qaraqosh’s history, traditions, and people into an article of clothing that could have hung in a museum as a work of art. Stephanie explained, “For [Hana], this is a dress for her, but also…for her town, for her family. It’s an act of memory. ISIS was engaged in the project of destroying memory, intentionally targeting the religious shrines of Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis. So, the people who were affected set out on this incredible act of…resistance…of saying, ‘You don’t have the power of destroying our memories, of destroying our pasts.’”

Though it would be understandable if the refugees in “What We Remember Will Be Saved” might lose their faith in God because of the horrors they endured, the opposite is true. The Syriac Catholics find comfort and unity in their faith. Others, such as Syrian pharmacists Adnan and Gharir, who are Muslim, put their trust in God. And Qassem, who is Yazidi, “talks about the power of preparing his prayer of offering himself for others.”

Another aspect of Middle Eastern life featured in the book is the prominence of interfaith friendships. Stephanie noted, “I have lived in the Middle East for nearly two decades, and that’s certainly a deep part of my life: my relationships with people of other faiths, how we take care of each other during holidays, how we give each other gifts.” As an example, Stephanie recalled meeting Munir, a Muslim, in the refugee camp Moria in Greece: “He lived in a mixed neighborhood in Mosul: Muslim and Christian. He tells the story of how Christians in his neighborhood were targeted beginning in 2003, and how he went systematically and protected his neighbors.”

Despite the horrors of war and genocide in “What We Remember Will Be Saved,” Stephanie believes it is ultimately a hopeful book filled with “extraordinary human beings” who have managed “to remain good and to remain kind and to love…I hope [readers will] come to see refugees not as victims or as threats, but as gifts, as people who have a lot to teach us.”

 

For free copies of the Christopher News Note WALKING IN SOMEONE ELSE’S SHOES, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org


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