As the conflict in Syria dominates the news, reports tend to focus on world leaders and statesmen seeking to reach international agreements. At Catholic Relief Services, we join with Pope Francis and others in the Church in praying for their success in avoiding further death and destruction.
CRS Board Chairman Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas and Bishop Richard Pates of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Committee on International Justice and Peace have written a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry calling for a negotiated settlement.
But amid the high-level talks, we must not forget the reality for people on the ground—the millions caught in the middle of the violence.
More than 2 million Syrians have crossed into neighboring countries, and thousands continue to flee their homeland every day. At least 70% are women, children and the elderly. Most have fled into Jordan or Lebanon, but others have fled to Turkey, Egypt and Iraq.
They are not fighters. They are people seeking to live in peace and safety. And now their lives have been thrown into turmoil by events beyond their control, as surely as if an earthquake or a tsunami had struck. Just as with a natural disaster, you are there to help through CRS.
Only a minority are in organized refugee camps. Most have found shelter wherever they could, in overcrowded apartments, on the floors of relatives’ homes and so on. Bishop Kicanas tells of seeing 27 people—one wounded man, six women widowed by the war and 20 children—living under a lean-to. These are people whose lives were not so different from yours or mine just one or two years ago. Now, their situation is dire—beyond anything they could have imagined.
All of this is taking place in the lands of the Bible, a region that nurtured so many of our spiritual forebears. The Church has deep roots there. It was on the road to Damascus that Paul was converted. And Jesus’ followers were first called Christians in the then-Syrian town of Antioch, now in Turkey. Though we now think of these countries as Islamic, the Church is still in this land. And it is answering the Gospel’s call to help those in need.
CRS is working with our longstanding partners Caritas Jordan and Caritas Lebanon to bring help and hope to those who have fled Syria. You are supporting more than 140,000 refugees across the region, providing the basics that our Syrian brothers and sisters need to survive— including soap, buckets, blankets, stoves, plates and utensils.
But what you are doing goes beyond that: You are addressing the refugees’ comprehensive needs for living with dignity, building a foundation for a return to normal lives after the fighting ends.
So, there is medical care not just for bullet wounds but also to treat the ongoing needs of pregnant women, children and the elderly with chronic illnesses. Soap and water purifiers help families stay clean and prevent the spread of disease. Vouchers allow parents to buy food and other supplies in the local markets. Trauma counseling and education help children return to a semblance of normalcy.
Your help directly touches these families. Just $35 pays for a child’s school supplies for a year, including a backpack; $50 gives a family soap, buckets, diapers and other hygiene items; $150 helps keep a family warm for the coming winter, providing blankets, heaters and other items.
What is most important is that you are with them during their time of need. So many children are traumatized from having witnessed atrocities no one should ever have to see.
CRS teams work to help Syrian children find a sense of safety amid the violence, of normalcy in extreme conditions. In partnership with the Caritas agencies, CRS is providing schooling and places to play, as well as counseling for children and their parents.
In Jordan, we talked to a family who fled after losing their 4-month-old daughter to the shelling. They had come to a Caritas center for help, attending classes on how to cope with trauma.
“I can see a huge difference in my children,” the mother told us. “All the time they were frightened because of the death of their sister. These classes give me peace on the inside.”
Let us pray that the peace of the Lord will soon reign in this sacred land.
May blessings overflow,
Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
CEO & President
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