On the Road

Witnesses of Faith

Written by: Denise Serafini on Saturday, June 03, 2017

We arrived at St. James the Apostle Church on Tuesday, May 30 immediately after our tour of the Pregnancy Services Center. This church is in an extremely poor section of Las Vegas and the priest that presided over the event was Fr. James Michael Jankowski. Father Jim, as he is more familiarly known, was very accommodating and had a great voice for the reading of Jesus’ words to us from the various scenes in His Passion.

Joining us for the event was a Syrian family that had driven from California to Las Vegas specifically to attend this event. It’s at least a three-hour ride. This family was there to pray, not only for themselves, a family displaced from their war-torn country, but also for all those that they had to leave behind, in the danger, fear and desolation that is currently plaguing their homeland. These people have a first hand appreciation for their faith and what it means to be persecuted for their beliefs. They were victimized while they were in Syria and had to bear the host of unknowns associated with being brought to a country with which they are totally unfamiliar, and take on the challenges of resettlement here.

Because they had arrived early we had the opportunity to chat with them before the event began. Jean talked with them even more than I did to gain a first hand understanding of the challenges they face. The mother, who speaks fluent English, told how the rosary was her only source of hope to deal with the trials of assuring that she, her husband and two sons would be brought to safety.

Because we were so touched by their story, we decided to allow the father of this family to be part of the procession to bring in the relics. It was a bit tricky to provide instructions for him since he doesn’t yet have a command of the English language. His son was extremely helpful in providing support to help his dad understand. We also added a section to our Eucharistic prayers asking Jesus to reach out to help all victims of war, especially those in Syria and the greater Middle East.

As I thought about it, I think there might have been an underlying significance to the fact that they joined us at the Church of St. James the Apostle. Certainly they could have attended any of the other churches where we were presenting. James, son of Zebedee, was the brother of John the Evangelist and traditionally considered the first apostle to be martyred. He is also called James the Greater or James the Major to distinguish him from James, son of Alphaeus. The James we are referring to is the brother of John the Evangelist. The two were called by Jesus as they worked with their father in a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had already called another pair of brothers from a similar occupation: Peter and Andrew. “He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him” (Mark 1:19-20). James was one of the favored three who had the privilege of witnessing the Transfiguration, and the agony in Gethsemani.

Like James and John, this Syrian family was called by Jesus to be an example of the faith. They had to leave their families behind as did James and John when they left their father Zebedee. They have been charged to leave all their earthly possessions behind and go forth to proclaim the Kingdom by virtue of their testimony of courage and faith. In doing so, we all pray that they too will be favored with the privilege of witnessing the transfiguration of the faith in their country as they bind their prayers and sufferings with that of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemani.

The Isaac family was very quick to spread the news of their experiences with the relics to their friends and co-parishioners at the Maronite Catholic Church back in California. As a result, I received multiple calls by noon the next day, asking to schedule events for 6 Maronite churches in Southern California. We’ll start working to see how we can make that happen.