With lines of people that stretched well beyond the sight of those selling tickets at the entry of St. Elias Church’s Pasta Luncheon Fundraiser to benefit International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) aid to Gaza, the parish hall in Syracuse started to become filled to capacity. The Antiochian Women hosted the event on March 1st, kicking off the month which is dedicated by the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese to this women’s organization.
With over 200 in attendance, the crowd that nearly overwhelmed Antiochian Women organizers was not just made up of fellow parishioners but also included people from other faiths. Some who attended were strangers that felt strongly about what had happened. Most were of Arab descent. But indeed all were brought together at St. Elias by their passionate support of helping the war-devastated families in the Gaza Strip.
Still fresh in everyone’s mind was the destruction brought on by the assault that began shortly after Christmas and into the new year. This conflict cost more than 1300 lives – hundreds of which were children. Thousands more had been injured.
It had been on January 6th when His Eminence Metropolitan Philip reacted to the humanitarian crisis by strongly urging the faithful to collect donations on behalf of IOCC’s work in Gaza. The Antiochian Women of St. Elias in Syracuse responded and reached out even beyond the parish to those concerned about getting aid to Gaza.
The result? Over $9,000 was raised by ticket sales, a raffle, and very generous donations for IOCC’s relief and recovery work in Gaza.
The luncheon was emceed by Debra George. The audience was treated to a showing of IOCC’s video, “Respond, Rebuild, Renew.” Then, keynote speaker Pascalis Papouras, IOCC’s US Program Coordinator, addressed the crowd about IOCC and its incredible work. Pascalis told the audience of his experiences working for IOCC in the Middle East for over 4 years.
Mr. Papouras captivated the audience with his experience of living and working in the Holy Land from 1999-2001, during which time the second intifada took place. He also conjured unforgettable images of today’s suffering in Gaza, bringing some to tears when he referred to the war deaths of so many children and how “there is now an empty chair at the dinner table.”
Additional noteworthy reaction came from some members of the Syracuse Arab community outside of St. Elias who thanked Antiochian Women organizers for the charity event. In an email from one such individual: “thank you for hosting the function at St. Elias Church. All the women of the parish worked so hard to make this happen ... I think the best part was seeing our community come together ... different cultures and religions—for this cause – which is such a righteous one!”