Here is a letter from Khalil Hattar, an Arab-American seminarian studying for the Archdiocese of Chicago at St. Joseph College Seminary in Chicago, Illinois. The letter reflects on the situation of Christians in the Middle East. Hattar’s parents both immigrated from Jordan to the United States in the late 1980s.

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To the community of the faithful,

Over the years, the season of Christmas has gradually assumed an increasingly secular identity and significance. To those who are away from the Church, the days and weeks leading up to the Christmas celebration have become increasingly saturated by time spent in retail stores, revising mailing lists and planning family gatherings, but as Christians, we should be ever mindful that these events do not become the heart of our Christmas cheer.

Christmas truly is a wonderful time of the year and the aforementioned activities are in and of themselves wholesome and good. They are expressions of our joy and gladness. However, as Holy People of God, let us take up the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) who was in the world but not of the world. Therefore, I encourage you that during these last days of Advent, a special time reserved for spiritual preparation, as we await the arrival of the Messiah, to focus your thoughts on Christ. Allow this time of preparation to be saturated with prayers of thanksgiving, solemn reflection and, most of all, acts of charity and kindness. As disciples of Jesus, I implore you to open yourselves up to Christ so that our Advent may culminate with Jesus taking shelter in the manger of our hearts; for this is the objective of every person, to become a “temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16), so that we may be united as people of one Spirit and one Faith.

For the true identity and significance of Christmas is rooted in the awesome manifestation of God’s love for His people and His will to gather them together through the Spirit, united by the bonds of love and peace (Ephesians 4:1-5). Christmas is also a time to recall the salvific work of God the Father through the person of Jesus, His Son, which has gained for us dominion over the trials of this world. We are witnesses to the redemptive power of the Holy Spirit which filled the people of Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt, members of the early Church, transforming them into authentic pillars of faith, “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5). With this in mind, I invite you, members of the one Body of Christ, to direct your spiritual senses to the current prayers and cries of our persecuted brothers and sisters across the world, especially of those in the Middle East. It was Jesus who instructed them, as he does us today, to lay down their lives in service of one another.

Like them, we, too, must surrender our lives to Christ by coming to the aid of our Christian brothers and sisters who are being martyred in Iraq, persecuted in the Holy Land and forced into hiding and exile across the region for the sake of righteousness. Be attentive to their plight, as they are forced to endure oppression and even death for the name of Jesus. We must be careful not to turn into the inn keepers of Bethlehem who would not respond to the pleas of Mary and Joseph in their time of need, but rather, may the Spirit of Wisdom, dwelling within each of us, motivate you to do all you can for the least of our brothers and sisters as you would do for Christ. Like Jesus and his earliest disciples, they are being targeted for their witness of faith and this cannot stand. As a people of God, sharers of the one Bread, united in one Spirit, work tirelessly on behalf of the people of the Middle East that they may remain for us as pillars of faith in the land which contained the mysteries of our salvation. This task should not be perceived as an obligation or a strain, but, tempered with gentleness, invite the Holy Spirit to assist you “for us to live is to live with constant assent to Jesus, His Kingdom and His readiness to save all people!”

As a Catholic American, I implore you to live lives rooted in Gospel values. We, as Americans, should take advantage of our ability to freely reflect these Gospel truths in the manner with which we conduct our civil, social and personal lives.

As a Catholic Arab, I urge you to support charitable organizations that lend aid to these afflicted regions. I also encourage you to remain informed with regard to the issues and needs facing the Church of the Middle East; in doing so, you will be better equipped to cultivate a spirit of unity with these communities which should be nurtured by means of prayer and fasting.

Finally, to all people of the Middle East, be it Jews, Muslims or Christians, who are struggling under the yoke of persecution and injustice, know that you are in our prayers and that we are united to you in the cause of tolerance and peace.

My special regards go out to the Middle Eastern Christian communities. Even though our sights are turned to Bethlehem this time of the year, may the source of our hope bring you comfort and peace, for “we are Easter people and alleluia is our song!”

Your brother in Christ,

Seminarian Khalil Hattar