For Arab Orthodox church, Middle East turbulence hits home


MONTREAL- News that two bishops were kidnapped in Syria has shaken Montreal’s Arab Orthodox Christians.

“Today I asked for the people when they made their procession, to pray for peace, to pray for these bishops,” said Economos Antony Gabriel, of St. George’s Orthodox Church. ”We don’t want to see the church destroyed, and we don’t want Christians to leave the Middle East.”

Some of the congregants of St. George’s hail from the area Aleppo, where bishops Paul Yagizi and Yohanna Ibrahim were kidnapped.

“It hurts a lot,” said George Malha, who emigrated to Montreal from Syria. “It has reached a point where there’s no more respect for anything.”

Palm Sunday commemorates the day Jesus came into Jerusalem, and in the Orthodox calendar sets the stage for Easter. At St. George’s, which is in Mile End, it involves a procession that winds around the block. For the church the event is usually a happy time celebrated by families.

“I think it’s important that we stay close to our roots, and that we show our children what’s important,” said Wendy Cherbaka, a third-generation Lebanese-Canadian. The vast majority of the church’s congregants have origins from parts of the Arab world that has seen some of the worst turbulence recently, like Syria, Egypt and Iraq. What is a yearly Palm Sunday ceremony took on a slight political complexion this year.

“We’re hoping actually that this event will bring peace, especially to those in the Middle East and those here in north america as well,” said Charlie Kawwas, who was born in Palestine.