The Church and the Syrian Refugees | William Patenaude | Catholic World Report
“We don’t help people because they are Catholic ... We help people because we are Catholic.”
In a region that has seen increasing threats to ancient Christian communities, the Catholic Church is helping many of the two million refugees of Syria’s civil war. Besides physical aid, Church workers offer the Syrians the simple truth that they haven’t been forgotten—that they are loved and will be cared for.
Most refugees are Muslim, children
Sean Callahan, the Chief Operating Officer for Catholic Relief Services (CRS)—the humanitarian arm of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops—manages the organization’s overseas operations. For the past two years this has included caring for the displaced Syrians. He has met many of the once mostly middle-class people now living without a home or a sense of what is to become of them. Callahan describes the refugees as “vulnerable.” This drives CRS workers and local Christian communities to live the Beatitudes in a region besieged by the very opposite.
Syrian refugees—the vast majority of which are Muslim—are scattered throughout the neighboring nations of Lebanon, which is now home to approximately 700,000 refugees; Jordan and Turkey, which have taken in 500,000 each; and Iraq, which has opened its borders to allow 160,000 Syrians. Some refugees have also found shelter in Egypt while a small number seek protection in Europe.
Half of the refugees are children. Of the adults, most are elderly and women. Men have typically stayed in Syria to fight or to protect family property or businesses. Many of those are dead or feared to be. To date, some 100,000 people have died in the conflict and thousands of families are divided with no means of finding each other or communicating at all.
The vast majority of refugees have either integrated themselves into cities, villages, or communities. Some have joined family or friends. Others live in what are sometimes known as “makeshift camps,” whether in cities or in rural areas. Host nations provide a variety of aid as their resources allow. Jordan offers the most formally structured camps while other nations provide more modest ones. Some Syrians who once owned comfortable homes now live in shelters made from sewn burlap sacks. Basic necessities like food, water, sanitation, and hope for a better future are scarce.
Callahan recalls meeting a woman in her sixties. Her husband and sons had been killed in the violence and she now cared for her daughters, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. “What am I to do?” she asked. “How do I support my family?”