The following comes from a September 27 Catholic News Agency article by Casey McCorry:
The needs of Father David Bedrossian’s parish are unique.
While many priests grapple with budgetary concerns and a desire to fill pews, Father Bedrossian is wondering where he’s going to find the resources to house the next Syrian refugee who shows up on the church steps.
Father David Bedrossian’s parish, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Armenian Catholic Church, has a long history of sheltering displaced persons.
From the Armenian refugees escaping genocide and communism through the 1900s to the present-day Christian Syrian refugees, the parish has been a sanctuary for a generation of persecuted persons.
Each month, Syrian refugees show up at the church with their last penny to meet the man everyone calls “abouna,” (Arabic for father) Father Bedrossian. He is their job coach, landlord, translator, teacher and priest. And to many Father Bedrossian is their last hope.
Seventeen years ago, Father Bedrossian had to flee Syria, leaving his home, his brothers and sisters and his parishioners. Since leaving, six of his family members were killed and his beloved church was ransacked.
“I have no idea how they find me,” Father Bedrossian said. “I don’t find them, people send them to me. They show up here looking for help and I help them.”
In the last 10 years, the Christian community in Syria has gone from 10 percent of the population to less than 2 percent. Hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes or kidnapped and held at ransom. Those who stayed were given three options — convert to Islam, pay the minority tax or face death. Thousands of Christians have been killed, entire villages have been cleared and hundreds of churches have been damaged or destroyed.
“We will disappear in the Middle East,” Father Bedrossian explains. “Before the war started, Christians were over 1.3 million. Now there are 200,000. You think we’ll survive there? I don’t think so.” And in spite of the terror in his home, Father Bedrossian sees little to no acknowledgment here.
“Everybody who is silent is ISIS. Everybody who is silent is killing Christians. Nobody is raising a voice.”
Father Bedrossian says the five main obstacles for refugees are language, paperwork, unemployment, housing and transportation.
“How are they supposed to get a job when they only speak Arabic? They have no papers, no social security number. Are they going to pay their last penny on a lawyer to help them with papers they don’t understand? And without welfare, food stamps, how will they eat? People come here with enough to survive for three months. After that they will be homeless. What do you want these people to do?”
The number of refugees and the needs are insurmountable, but Father Bedrossian does what he can one person at a time. Last month, he picked up a Syrian refugee from a homeless shelter and found her temporary housing and meals. He checks in on her daily and is job-hunting for her and many others.
Vaskin Rashdouni, a friend from his hometown, came to the U.S. a few months ago after being kidnapped by ISIS and escaping. Finding work has been near impossible with the language barrier and his health issues. Ever since leaving Syria he has been suffering PTSD and type 1 diabetes. But this doesn’t stop Father Bedrossian from searching.
And Syrian soldier Yousef Hakim Hassake, one of Father Bedrossian’s former altar servers in Syria, is slowly rebuilding a life in the U.S. He has learned English and has found work in a manufacturing company. He has made enough money to take care of his mother.
Any spare time he offers to Father Bedrossian and the church in gratitude, doing everything from cleaning and making meals to feeding doves in the garden.
Father Bedrossian explains, “If you choose to help these people, they will never stop repaying you. They will give you everything they have.”