Christianity in the Middle East

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Concerns over denied religious freedoms from across the globe have struck scholars of the local Vincentian community.

The Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s held an event concerning Christians in the Middle East on Thursday, shedding light on the variety of human rights issues facing the region.

Mark Movsesian, director of the Center for Law and Religion and Fredrick A. Whitney, professor of Contract Law, moderated the panel discussion at the School of Law.

The group of panelists included Caroline Labib Doss, owner of a Jersey City law firm, Rev. Vahan Hovhanessian, primate of the Armenian Church of Great Britain, and Michael J.L. La Civita, vice president of communications for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. It also included Rev. Frank Marangos, dean of the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York, and Piero Tozzi, a senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund (a conservative Christian non-profit organization).

Most of the individuals who attended the event were students, professors, and administrators connected to the issue of Christian marginalization in the Middle East.

“I’m delighted with the turnout,” said Marc DeGirolami, an assistant professor at the School of Law, as well as one of the main orchestrators of the event.

“I think that this is an extremely important topic that has been neglected and I am pleased as I think that it has been given the attention that it deserves and the crowd that it deserves,” DeGirolami said.

This is the first year that the Center for Law and Religion has held an event that discusses the issue of Christian human rights in the Middle East. DeGirolami said that the local Vincentian community of St. John’s could play a part in further addressing the topic of concern.

“The first thing that the St. John’s community can do to address this issue is to have more forums like this which gathers together a large number of people from different parts of the world to shed light on the issue,” DeGirolami added.

“After that, it will be up to the people who attend to react as they see fit,” he said.

Many of the panelists speaking at the event agreed that cultivating open-mindedness and tolerance toward religion in the Middle East can help provide a positive impact for the recognition of Christians in the region.

La Civita, one of the participating panelists, proposed that knowledge is the best solution.

“The best way to help Christians in the Middle East is for Americans in the United States to learn more about Islam,” La Civita said.

“It’s when uninformed Westerners come into the Middle East and don’t understand the differences in religion are when we have problems,” he added.

Both graduate and undergraduate students at St. John’s had the opportunity to ask questions and react to statements made by the panelists. Some voiced their opinions on the topic.

Christopher Dekki, a law student, believes that the university can educate students more on learning about eastern religions and developing acceptance.

“Being an Arab Catholic, I agree with the statement that someone said about having to understand Muslims in order for them to really understand our problems in the Middle East and that violence and confrontation is really not the way to solve our issues,” Dekki said.

“As Christians, we want to stay in the Middle East and we want to continue being there but the only way to do that is by understanding our Muslim brothers,” he said. “I am one who believes that we are all one.”

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