By Emily Bontrager
Fr. Benedict Kiely, a Catholic priest and founder of Nasarean.org, is scheduled to be a speaker and panelist at the 2021 March for the Martyrs in Washington, D.C.
In 2014, ISIS swept across Iraq and Syria, capturing the Iraqi city of Mosul, the historical site of Nineveh where Jonah, the Old Testament prophet, walked and was buried. His tomb was leveled by ISIS and according to the BBC, over 800,000 people fled the city because of fighting.
“I remember in August, 2014,” said Fr. Ben in an interview with For the Martyrs, “hearing there was no Mass in Mosul for the first time in nearly 2,000 years and thinking how terrible it was and asking what we could do apart from praying for them.”
As an answer to his prayer, Fr. Ben felt called to found a charity, Nasarean.org, to aid those Christians who had fled from ISIS. A couple months later, Fr. Ben visited Iraq for the first time where he found the need to aid the persecuted full time.
“I realized that my priesthood must be devoted completely to this ministry” Fr. Ben said. “So my bishop released me to do that and that is my full time work, as a priest with Nasarean. I believe 100% that I was called to do this. God has shown me enough times and supported me. If I wasn’t meant to do this, it would all have collapsed quite some time ago.”
Fr. Ben was able to visit Mosul in 2018 after the city was liberated from ISIS in mid-2017.
“I was the first English priest into Mosul after the liberation, when it was still full of bombs and bodies,” Fr. Ben said. “Just seeing the total destruction, I mean you’ve never seen anything like it — cars upside-down, all the churches destroyed, places where bodies had just been. Very few Christians have gone back there, even now in 2021.”
Nasarean.org aids Christians in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria, who have returned home after being forced out by ISIS. Through microfinancing loans, Nasarean.org helps Christians start small businesses so they can sustain themselves in their homelands.
“They start a business, which keeps the whole family and other families employed. For example, one business in Lebanon, we know, is supporting three different families. It’s a very small amount comparatively for Americans: $8,000 – $10,000 for a startup is really not much but in places like [Iraq or Syria], that makes the difference for a family. For example, we just helped a family in Lebanon start a goat farm where they’re going to make cheese and milk. The wife said ‘This is the difference now between us staying and us leaving.’”
The current refugee crisis in the Middle East has filled refugee camps to the brim, with more than 1.2 million internally displaced persons in Iraq alone in 2020. Fr. Ben’s goal is to help Christians find employment, granting them sustainable opportunities to stay in their home country instead of becoming refugees.
“Most people want to stay in their own home and country; they don’t want to leave,” said Fr. Ben. “But if they don’t feel safe and they don’t have a job, then they’ll leave. We can’t do much, apart from advocacy work, about safety, but we can do something about jobs.”
Nasarean.org’s mission not only keeps Christians in their homelands but also maintains a connection between Christianity and the Middle East, the place where Christianity was born.
“The Middle East is called ‘the cradle of Christianity.’ It’s where our faith began,” said Fr. Ben. “When people talk about the Holy Land, they normally mean Israel and Palestine, but of course we remember Jesus and his disciples walked on the ground of Israel and Palestine but also Syria and Lebanon. And of course, he went as a baby to Egypt.”
“The idea that Christians could not exist [in the Middle East] is just terrible. That’s where we came from. When I’m in the US, people say, ‘Oh I didn’t know there were Christians in the Middle East. When did we bring them Christianity?’ Hang on, it’s the exact opposite way: they brought us Christianity. We can’t get cut off from our roots like that and forget where we came from.”
Fr. Ben provided three simple ways that Christians in the United States can help their persecuted brothers and sisters not only in the Middle East but around the world:
“Always first pray. Prayer is not a last resort, prayer is a first resort. Everytime, without exception, that I’ve been in Iraq and Syria and Lebanon, they always ask me to pray for them first. Prayer isn’t a weakness. Sometimes we say, ‘Oh well there’s nothing left we can do except pray.’ Well, no. That’s the first thing we should do. But it shouldn’t be prayer once in a while, it should be consistent prayer. I ask people, ‘Please pray for the rest of your life.’ Not just one day or one day a week or one Sunday in a month. Pray every single day even if it’s just a short prayer for the persecuted Christians.”
“Second is advocacy. Voters in the United States need to speak to their legislators. What are they doing, for example, about the Christians being slaughtered in Nigeria right this moment? Thousands of Christians died this year and we heard nothing in the media. What are they doing about Christians in China? Voters have rights, so advocate.”
“Lastly, aid. Help the charities that actually do something practical. It’s really very simple: prayer, advocacy, and aid.”
For the Martyrs is excited to have Fr. Benedict Kiely as a speaker and panelist at the 2021 March for the Martyrs. To hear him speak at the March for the Martyrs, register at https://forthemartyrs.com/register/