North Phoenix church rallying for earthquake survivors in Turkey, Syria

Mar 1, 2023, 4:35 AM

PHOENIX — Earthquakes continue to rock Turkey and neighboring Syria, three weeks after catastrophic temblors devastated the region.

A magnitude 5.6 earthquake on Monday centered in Yesilyurt in Turkey’s Malatya province killed another person, injured more than 100 people and caused two dozen more buildings to collapse.

The death toll in both countries has surpassed 50,000 people. Hundreds of thousands more are homeless.

The pastor of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in north Phoenix describes the images of the destruction in Antioch, Turkey, as “surreal.”

“Antioch is our spiritual home. Our roots are in Antioch, and these are our people,” explained Chris Salamy.

He visited the historic city in 2010, where the Book of Acts (11:26) in the Bible says “the disciples were first called Christians.”

“We met the community — thriving, beautiful people. I was devastated for them. Devastated,” Salamy said.

The 190-year-old Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Antioch fell to the ground in the magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 earthquakes of Feb. 6.

In Syria, two of the people who died in those initial temblors are loved ones of Riad Jaradeh, a parishioner at St. George.

He says the survivors in his hometown of Aleppo — and the region — have long roads to recovery. Syria is still reeling from years of civil war and economic recession.

“Every day, your life was about, ‘How am I going to get water? How am I going to get food?'” Jaradeh said. “Here, we tend to take things for granted.”

These long-term problems and recent earthquakes have not shaken Jaradeh’s faith.

“Coming here to church is to tell God, ‘I’m grateful to you, every day, and I promise you that I won’t take things for granted,'” Jaradeh said.

“I will keep my faith in you and do the best that I can to help others.'”

Throughout February, St. George Church has taken up special collections for earthquake relief, along with sister parishes in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, who have done so online and in-person, totaling more than $750,000.

The money raised goes to the church’s humanitarian teams on the ground in Syria and Turkey without transactional delays from banks.

They’re providing food, clothing, diapers, medicines, medical supplies and counseling.

“Most importantly, we can pray for those people. That’s power,” Salamy said. “Every single service throughout our week, we’re here and we’re here praying feverishly for those people.”

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North Phoenix church rallying for earthquake survivors in Turkey, Syria