Interfaith welcome in Indiana for Syrian refugees

More than 200 Christians, Jews and Muslims gathered to welcome three new Syrian refugee families to Indianapolis during an interfaith rally and candlelight prayer vigil at Epworth United Methodist Church.

Among those speaking at the Dec.11 rally were Ed and Paula Kassig, members of Epworth Church whose son, Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig, was murdered by ISIS one year ago.

“We want everyone to know that we are not here because of the Kassig family,” said Paula Kassig. “Tonight, we asked to be allowed to speak for another family – the human family.”

The younger Kassig was captured while working to help Syrian refugees. His parents are now advocating for those same refugees to be given asylum in his home state of Indiana.

“Keep your hearts open to those who could use a leg up. You will strengthen America as you welcome the newcomers,” said Paula Kassig.

Protesting ban

This was the first time that members of the Syrian American Council of Indiana have publically spoken out against Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s ban of Syrian refugees to Indiana.

Despite the ban, Catholic Charities relocated a family to Indiana on Dec. 7. The goal of the interfaith gathering was to encourage Pence to lift the ban and stop stalling the refugee program in Indiana.

Speaking on behalf of the council, Nora Basha, the daughter of a Syrian refugee who grew up in Indiana, said, "No Syrian wants to be a refugee. They just want safety for their children and a place to call home.

"Our message to Gov. Mike Pence today is that we know that you are a good man with noble intentions and a responsibility to keep Hoosiers safe,” she continued. “We don't take that lightly. We know how much you have given for our state and its citizens. However, we are confident if you meet with these families and hear these stories you may reconsider where you stand today.”

Members of several families spoke during the rally. Through an Arabic translator, Syrian refugee Marwan Batman said he was overwhelmed with the amount of love and compassion he is receiving from everyone. He said he has friends, connections and relations here so he feels wonderful.

Batman, a Muslim, also said the event at a Christian church made him feel comforted and welcomed. About half of his city’s population was Muslim and about half was Christian, he explained, adding that he has several Christian friends who are dear to him.

The other families also expressed their sincere gratitude to Hoosiers for welcoming them from their war-torn country.

According to news sources, the Batman family, who arrived in Indianapolis a year ago, consists of a mother, father, and four children. After escaping the civil war in Syria, the family spent a year and a half interviewing with the United Nations in Lebanon. Another year was spent interviewing at the United States Embassy in Beirut before they were told Indianapolis would be their new home.

Heeding the call

Of the families who recently arrived, one spent two years at a refugee camp in Jordan and another spent a year in Lebanon before meeting all the requirements to come to the United States.

Preceding the vigil, the Rev. Bill Hoops, Epworth Church pastor, said, “As Christians we’re called to care for the poor, the hungry, the refugee. During this season of Advent we remember that Mary, Joseph and Jesus were refugees, they fled persecution in their native country.”

Person-to-person contact is important, Hoops noted. “Increasing dialogue, friendship, welcoming the refugees in our midst, befriending them and getting to know them, replaces fear with a sense of proactive love,” he said.

The Syrian American Council invited Pence to the rally, but he had to decline because of a prior engagement, his representative said. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller was able to attend and greeted the refugee families. He did not speak at the vigil. The Council hopes to schedule a meeting between Gov. Pence and refugees living in Indianapolis in coming weeks.

Gangler is a retired United Methodist communicator living in Indianapolis. News Media Contact: Linda Bloom (646) 369-3759 or [email protected]

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