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Monday, October 15, 2018

Living in the Age of Martyrs

Pray the Rosary: It Feeds the World

by Susan Fox 

"But do you hear the bombs?” the official said.
Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta: "Yes, I hear them.” 

"It is absolutely impossible to cross (east to west) at the moment; we must obtain a cease-fire!” he said. "Ah, but I asked Our Lady for a cease-fire for tomorrow eve of her Feast Day” (Feast of the Assumption, August 15), the tiny nun responded.  (Faded Transcript of a conversation in East Beirut, Lebanon, on Aug. 13, 1982 between Saint Teresa of Calcutta and an unidentified priest and officer.)

Fighting was fierce between the Israeli Army and the Palestine Liberation Organization in West Beirut that day. But responding to a desperate cry for help, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India, had landed in Lebanon by the small port of Jounieh on Aug. 10, 1982. The appeal for support came from Amal Makarem, horrified to find a hundred spastic and mentally retarded Muslim children abandoned in a West Beirut orphanage without food, care or hygiene. Some were dying. She herself had tried to rescue the children, but had met with reams of bureaucratic red tape. 

The faded conversation reveals that the priest, too, was objecting to Mother’s heroic intervention: “You must understand the circumstances Mother . . . Two weeks ago, a priest was killed. It's chaos out there. The risk is too great. “

Her response: "But Father, it is not an idea. I believe it is our duty. We must go and take the children one by one. Risking our lives is in the order of things. All for Jesus.”
The next evening on Aug. 14, 1982, the Eve of the Feast of Our Lady’s Assumption into heaven, total silence enveloped the city. Mother Teresa went safely into the war zone and saved the lives of 36 surviving Muslim children. That’s all that were left. (Source: AsiaNews.it)

“She is the only one who came,” said Fr. Andre Y Sebastian Mahanna, Maronite Catholic priest and founder of the Apostolate of Our Lady of Hope/St. Rafka Mission of Hope & Mercy. It is an organisation dedicated to bringing hope and mercy to persecuted Christians and innocent victims of hate throughout the world. 

That forlorn statement, “She is the only one who came” is part of the reason he started and runs the worldwide  apostolate to Christian refugees, he told Christ’s Faithful Witness in an interview this summer in Denver. 

About the same time in the same tragic war, Fr. Andre was a child growing up. His family was among dozens of Maronite Catholic families who lived as refugees 20 miles north of  Beirut in a cave called Magharet El Saheb or Magharat Al Saheb, (Cave of the Friend) to escape the ravages of a war that began at his birth in 1972 and very quickly escalated into a major clash between nations, religions, and cultures. 

“That summer the Syrian Army, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and other illegally armed groups took away the food. We had no gas, no electricity, no oil. You name it. Everything was shut down, and the siege lasted for over two years but people here (in Denver) didn’t know about it. People like me we had to live in caves. I literally slept in a Phoenician tomb (Magharet El Saheb in the ancient seaport town of Byblos),” Fr. Andre told members of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Centennial, Colorado, during Mass on Sunday July 29, 2018.

“When I saw the deacon read the gospel, one of candles was on and one was a little dim. It reminded me that one of our favourite games to play in the cave was to go deeper inside the cave and take that  candle with you until it dims. When it dims you stop because when the candlelight blows out that’s it, you are dead. There is no more oxygen to breathe. That’s the life I lived.”

But then it was decided among his Maronite Catholic community  to take the youth up to the mountains to improve their mood. “Our food was cheddar cheese and bread, except there was no bread,” he told us.

“Now how many of you pray the Rosary on a daily basis?” he asked. A show of hands went up. “Pray the Rosary the rest of you because it feeds the world!  I mean it. It feeds the world.”


“Our Lady comes to me and she says, ‘Go to Cezar, the chief of the camp, tell him to send with you the young adults of the camp.  Go up for about 3 hours to the road. You will see a white van and the white van will have bread in it. And you will bring it down to the camp.’”

Young Andre was very excited. “I went to the chief and I told Cezar you need to listen to this. Our Lady came and she said you need to give me young adults. We are going to walk for 3 hours, and there’ll be a white van. They will have bread and we’ll bring it back.” 

Cezar’s response was “Who is this ‘Our Lady?’” 

The young Andre answered: “I think (pause) the Virgin Mary.”

Cezar’s answer was disappointing, “ Okay, I think you are really hungry.” 

Andre didn’t give up. After eight in the evening, he told Cezar everyone needed to pray the Rosary all together. So they did.

Around midnight, Cezar, said, they wouldn’t lose anything by trying so he sent Andre with some guys to go up to the road. Sure enough when they reached the road, a white van comes and stops. The driver had 150 packs of bread to give them and he drove them back to the camp. 

The man explained why he stopped, “Something was telling me I’d see a fat boy with a Rosary and that I needed to stop immediately.” Living through a war since his birth, Fr. Andre had developed a fear of hunger and the habit of looking in school trash cans for food. He jokingly attributes his chubbiness to those habits. And that night, he held a Rosary. 

“Mary said, ‘If you are hungry I’m going to give you food.’ This is what her Son said. ‘If you are thirsty I am going to give you to drink.’ Knock at the door and the door shall be opened. I honest to God believed in it,”  Fr. Andre said. 

“Cherish your children. Tell them how blessed they are. When they tell you they don’t want to go to church,  (correct them) because  if they don’t go to church, Satan is going to
Fr. Andre Y Sebastian Mahanna: "Cherish your children."
swallow them. There’s no option today. Christianity is the largest persecuted religion in the world today. I witnessed myself between 2005 to 2015, 1 million Christians in the Middle East were killed. We have mass graves — 80 percent of those are Catholics.”

The Apostolate of Our Lady of Hope/St. Rafka Mission of Hope & Mercy prays and works through spiritual diplomacy as a team of  “first responders on the front lines of persecution accompanying people who are suffering migration — (with) no homes, no passports, unknown,  not helped,  rejected,  isolated, hopeless and no (medical) treatment for them.” 

Our Lady of Hope does home visits. They bring food, hygiene products, take people to the hospital and try to build their trust.

“The Church is too much oppressed. There is no sign of heaven (for the refugees). We need to regrow solidarity within the Church under oppression to show them Christ exists,” he told Christ’s Faithful Witness. 

The Apostolate undertakes the formation of volunteers worldwide. “Throughout the world there are 220 million people experiencing oppression, rape, sex slavery, genocide, human trafficking, organ trafficking, labor slavery, and homelessness,” Fr. Andre wrote. “Some are refugees, some are without food and some have no human rights, living in countries that have become clearly hostile to the faith in Christ and those who practice it.” 

Some of the apostolate’s volunteers are doctors, youth ambassadors, speakers. They have a team of about 37 people worldwide who are being formed to serve the suffering Christians in the world. But not only that, they also evangelise their persecutors. 

“We cross behind enemy lines. We talk to them. We preach to them the Gospel. We try to tell them to learn from the story of one of the 21 martyrs who were slain in Libya. Mark the Nigerian man came as an oppressor and when he saw the 20 Coptic men being killed for their faith, he knelt down with them, converted and accepted the Christ,” Fr. Andre said at Mass. “This is life,” Mark said, “Faith in Jesus Christ.”

Fr Andre puts his volunteers under the discipleship of Pope Saint John Paul II, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, St. Maximilian Kolbe  and St. Rafka (Rafqa Pietra Choboq Ar-Ray├Ęs, 1832 to 1914). Rafka was a Lebanese Maronite nun who longed to share the passion and suffering of Jesus Christ.

It would take at least a month to read all the names of the monks killed in the Christian Massacre in 1860 in Lebanon that are listed in the monastic necrology. In that year, St. Rafka was actually in the village closest to the Druze Muslims, who were killing the Christians. Most people would have run the other way, but she ran toward her persecutors, who were chasing a small child. She hid him under her robes. The Druze came and questioned her, but they mistook her for a Muslim woman. 

“How did she survive this?” Fr. Andre speculated she wanted to be martyred, but God had other plans. As the orphans were rescued by Mother Teresa in West Beirut, St. Rafka saved the life of the child hidden in her robe. St. Rafka told Jesus, “I want to carry your most hidden pain.” It was the weight of the cross. Her bones broke and her eye fell out. She bore the sixth wound of Christ, Fr. Andre concluded.

Left to Right: Fr Andre, holding the Rosary, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Rafka, St. Maximilian Kolbe. Below: Pope Saint John Paul II

St. Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest who was killed by deliberate starvation after volunteering to take the place of a Jewish father with several children in the starvation bunker of the Nazi Death Camp Auschwitz, Poland. Both he and Pope Saint John Paul II were deeply devoted to Our Lady. The pope's copy of True Devotion to Mary, which he kept by his bedside in the Vatican,  was stained with chemicals from his hands when he worked in a chemical factory as a young man. The Marian classic by St. Louis Marie de Montfort is said to be the foundation of the pope's priesthood and his papacy, out of which he urged countless number of Catholics to join the New Evangelisation.  Fr. Andre asks his volunteers to read the writings of these saints to prepare for the mission of helping persecuted Christians. 

“We try to respond to the crisis of faith hope and love in any given place where faith in Christ is under attack. We aim to spread the newness of evangelisation amongst oppressors,” Fr. Andre said. 

Fr. Andre never returned home after Our Lady’s miracle. Mary told Fr. Andre, “You need to give me your heart.”  He went and knocked on the door of the Monastery of St. Anthony the Great in Wata Houb, Tannourine, north Lebanon. There he became a monk, and was educated in France to become a priest. At the age of 23, he was assigned to shepherd the Lebanese Catholics in Los Angles, and became a naturalised American citizen.  Now he is pastor of Our Lady of Lebanon, St. Rafka Maronite Catholic Church in Lakewood, Colorado, U.S.A. 


But God is calling him to even greater efforts on behalf of the  Christians in the Middle East. He is not unknown to U.S. President Donald Trump, who at a rally in Greeley, Colorado,
Fr Andre meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump
in 2016, asked, "Does everyone here know Fr. Andre?" The whole crowd cheered. Fr. Andre -- for his part -- is hoping President Trump can be a voice for Christians in the Middle East, believing that assistance to them would be essential in reducing terror attacks in Europe and the U.S. (Source: National Catholic Register)

“We do not want to be accountable for doing nothing about the worst global persecution against the Church and Americans not knowing about it,” Father Mahanna told a gathering of Catholic Executives in Denver on Jan. 12, 2017, also reported by the NCR. “When God asks, ‘Where were you when my sons and daughters were being slaughtered?’ you don’t want to tell him, ‘I was doing business,’ or ‘I was eating,’ or ‘I was looking at iPhone messages.’ This destruction of the Christian Middle East is the gate to destroy the United States of America.”

“Christians are a treasure in the Middle East. They are capable of maintaining the peace with Muslims. They are capable of helping Muslims understand the religious value of Israel. They are capable of forgiving, pardoning and rebuilding their countries," Fr. Andre said, adding, "This (U.S.) administration should have an interest in asking Christians to assist them in how to better understand the modern Muslim world.”

In 2016, he was appointed by the Apostolic Union of Clergy in Rome to serve as a special envoy to clerics in the United States, with a specific mission of raising awareness on the status of the Christian Middle East. As founder of the Apostolate of Our Lady of Hope, “I am an ambassador of hope,” Fr. Andre concluded. 

“We are living in very special times. We must look for the age
of martyrs, of saints, of leaders, of fathers of the Church, and we must look for holy families,” he wrote in his weekly newsletter. 

“‘Do not let your hearts be troubled for I have conquered the world.’ I affirm to you again and again this splendid victorious and consoling answer of Christ, my and your Lord.”

"When Christianity is no more, the world goes into darkness." Learn more about Fr. Andre's Mission of Hope and Mercy. Sign up for his newsletter. Make a donation.  

video of Fr. Andre's sermon can be found among the Homilies of St. Thomas More Catholic Church, Centennial, CO. Look for the one from Fr. Andre Y Sebastian Mahanna on July 29, 2018