Easter is extra meaningful for Christians who fled Syria to come to the United States. Many who fled the war-torn country, had to leave family members behind. Edeette Chukro, 51, was among the Christian minority in Syria. She is celebrating her first Easter in the United States where it is safe to make the sign of the cross in prayer, while in public. At St. Mary’s Assyrian Church in Roselle, Illinois, Chukro prays for her sisters and brothers left behind in Syria, making her Easter bittersweet. Edeete’s sister-in-law is a U.S. citizen and filed paperwork to bring her to the country as well. She arrived in July after a long, fearful journey.
Chukro had to take a bus to Damascus, which took nine hours. She suffered through many stops and searches on the journey. These searches involved armed men who were part of the terrorist group Al-Nusra Front. Once she was over the border and into Lebanon, she waited a week for her paperwork to be processed in Jordan.
Her brother, Mikhael Chukro, 58, remembers having his Easter dinners with Muslim friends. They would also have him at their tables to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Mikhael remembers the peaceful coexistence of the numerous faiths in Syria, that lasted for hundreds of years.
Chukro is scared for her family that remains in Syria, but is also worried that the large amounts of Syrians leaving the country will cause a diffusion of the people’s identity and culture. The civil war in the country rages on into a fourth year, and people of different religions and ethnicities leave the country in great numbers.
For Christians who fled Syria like Edeette, Easter in the U.S. may be extra meaningful, but it is not without thoughts of family left behind. Mikhael spoke of his brother-in-law who was farming his fields when he was taken prisoner by random men, and held hostage for six hours. He was not released until his family had paid a ransom.
The Open Doors USA nonprofit organization reports that Syrian persecution of Christians is the third most severe in the world. This falls only behind Somalia and North Korea. Christians in Syria celebrated Good Friday in the Bab Touma district of Damascus, amidst warring and mortar shells. The celebrations that used to take place during Easter week are no more. The gatherings confined to churches are not without their own level of fear for worshipers. A 10-year-old boy was killed in the yard of a Christian school when a mortar struck there. Dozens of other children were injured.
The 71-year-old Abu Bessam also remembers a time when the people of the country didn’t care about the religion of one another. “We all used to live together,” he said. Now sect is a defining characteristic and can be the difference in living or dying, and freedom or detainment.
During Easter Mass on Sunday, Pope Francis prayed “for peace that is long-awaited and long overdue” in Syria. He also prayed for successful peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel, and an end to acts of terrorism in Nigeria. The Chukro family members who fled to the U.S. will continue to celebrate an extra meaningful Easter in a midnight vigil, per Syrian tradition, while praying for Christian friends and family that remain in the country.
By Twanna Harps