A region – and a faith – in peril
April 18, 2019
From a town of just over 900 people, a Knights of Columbus council and its 162 members hope to have a big impact halfway around the world.
They are supporting an effort to help Christians in Syria and Iraq who were driven from their homes by terrorism, genocide and war.
Titled “Rebuilding the Cradle of Christianity,” the initiative is the local version of a national Knights of Columbus effort to help Christians who fled to escape the terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS) and the devastation of their towns, with many now living in other countries or in refugee camps.
St. John the Baptist Parish Knights of Columbus Council 10305 in Fort Calhoun took up the cause of funding construction of hundreds of homes in the town of Karamles, Iraq, to allow residents to return and rebuild their lives, said Mike Conrad, a supreme director on the national board and a member of the parish who is co-coordinator of the local effort.
“This is the biggest project our council has ever been involved with,” said Jim Hubschman, the council’s grand knight and project co-coordinator. “We’re very committed to helping these people who want to go back to their homelands.”
Karamles, southeast of Mosul, fell to ISIS as it advanced across northern Iraq in August 2014. The town was liberated in late 2016, and residents have gradually been returning.
But of the town’s nearly 800 homes, 464 were burned, 97 were destroyed by bombs and the rest were damaged or vandalized, according to a report by Open Doors, an international ministry serving persecuted Christians and churches around the world. Churches and sacred images also were destroyed or vandalized.
The effort by the Fort Calhoun council includes two fundraising events in Omaha – a March 9 private reception and a March 10 dinner and auction, both with Syriac Bishop Yousif Behnam Habash; Gabriel Jabbour, a Syrian refugee; and his daughter and translator Rula Jabbour. A public, Syrian Rite Mass, celebrated by Bishop Habash, will be held at 2 p.m. March 10 at St. Cecilia Cathedral.
Bishop Habash, who was born, raised and served as a priest and bishop in Iraq, has led the Syriac Catholic eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance in Newark, N.J. since 2010.
Gabriel Jabbour fled from Kennseba, Syria, in 2012, shortly before he was to be executed for practicing his Christian faith and refusing the ISIS demand that he convert to Islam. He and his wife, Maya Tayar, traveled to join their daughter, Rula, in Omaha, where she is a member of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish.
The idea to help refugees began when Conrad and Hubschman, while attending the Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention last August in St. Louis, heard Bishop Habash speak about the genocide and persecution of Christians in the area of Iraq and Syria known as the Nineveh Plains, where Christianity first took hold in the region.
They also heard about the national Knights’ Christian Refugee Relief Fund and its goal of building simple homes for $2,000 each to help resettle refugees.
Returning to Fort Calhoun, they discussed with their council the possibility of taking part in the project and funding construction of five homes. They quickly raised $10,000, Conrad said. From there, the idea blossomed into a two-day event.
“Although there is no specific fundraising goal, we are getting a lot of positive support, and the council is trying to fund as many homes as possible,” Hubschman said.
Several council members have been speaking to other Knights councils around the area about the plight of the refugees and inviting members to support the project.
“After expenses, 100 percent of the proceeds raised during these events will go to rebuilding homes and lives,” Conrad said.