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Current Issue
December, 2017
Volume 43, Number 4
  
4 May 2012
Issam Bishara




A damaged church is seen in Homs, Syria, 30 March.
(photo: CNS/Shaam News Network, handout via Reuters)


After more than one year of unrest, the ongoing political crisis in Syria has caused tens of thousands to be caught in the crossfire between government and opposition forces. As a result, thousands of Syrians have fled their homes choosing to escape the violence. Many have migrated to neighboring countries, while others moved to safer and more stable areas in Syria.

The deteriorating economic conditions led by the conflict and the sanctions imposed on Syria have created high levels of unemployment and inflation. Since March 2011, the Syrian pound has depreciated against the U.S. dollar by nearly 65 percent. This has significantly affected Syrian families, who now find it difficult to pay for food, rent and fuel. The rise in prices is driving low-income Syrians deep into poverty.

Working in close collaboration with the local churches, CNEWA has been able to identify by name more than 1,770 displaced families living in dire economic situations, jeopardizing child nutrition and health:

  • 400 families remain in Homs (despite the military actions), according to the Good Shepherd Sisters.
  • 450 families left Homs and found refuge in Damascus, according to the Greek Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch and the Good Shepherd Sisters.
  • 920 families left Homs and found shelter in the cluster called the “Valley of Christians,” according to by the social service office of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch.

In response to this urgent humanitarian need, CNEWA’s regional office in Lebanon launched an emergency program for the aid of Syrian families. CNEWA is working through existing structures of the Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Latin churches to reach the most needy.

The first phase of the program includes distribution of emergency kits containing food, hygiene items and baby milk. CNEWA and other donor agencies have pooled resources to reach around 1000 needy Christian families in the Syrian cities of Homs, Valley of Christians, Tartous, Damascus and other locations on the Syrian/Lebanese border.

So far CNEWA received positive responses from:

  • The Raskob Foundation (US)
  • The Holy Childhood (Germany)
  • Missio (Germany)
  • The Archdiocese of Cologne (Germany)

To find out how you can help, visit this link.

And to read more about the unfolding crisis, check out these blog posts: The Faithful Who Are Fleeing the Holy Land and The Struggles of Syria’s Christians.



Tags: Syria Middle East Violence against Christians CNEWA Pontifical Mission

7 March 2012
Issam Bishara




Syrian refugees receive humanitarian aid from an Islamic organization in Tripoli, Lebanon, 6 March. (photo: CNS/Omar Ibrahim, Reuters)

As the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, a new humanitarian crisis is unfolding. Issam Bishara, our regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, puts it in context:

In February 2012, Syrian government forces carried out a major attack on Homs. This resulted in the deaths of over 700 inhabitants, including women and children, and led to the widespread condemnation by world governments and various non-governmental organizations. On 29 February, the Free Syrian Army withdrew in a strategic retreat from Homs, in order to save the civilians still in the Baba Amr district.

During the past few days, some 2,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon, many of them from Homs, and particularly its opposition stronghold of Baba Amr. The majority of them, being Sunni, found refuge in border villages where they have relatives and mainly in the cluster of Wadi Khaled in Akkar-North Lebanon and in the East Bekaa border, in a no man’s land area called “Al Masharih.”

As for the Christian population: according to both Sister Marie Claude Naddaf, the superior general of the Good Shepherd congregation and Father Eliane Nasrallah, a good friend of CNEWA and the Greek Catholic parish priest of Al Qaa village (a Lebanese village located on the eastern border with Syria), the majority of the Christian families of Homs and the surrounding villages left during the escalations and found refuge in three areas:

  • The Valley of Christians (inside Syria). It’s around 60 kms away from Homs on the international road between Homs and Tartous, which is a popular tourist site in western Syria, close to the Lebanese border. Most people in the area are Christians (Greek Orthodox, in particular.)
  • The coastal city of Tartous (inside Syria). The Sisters of the Good Shepherd screened around 150 Syrian Christian families who escaped from Homs and found refuge in that area in addition to around 50 families who found shelter in Damascus.
  • The Lebanese village of Al Qaa. Father Nasrallah says that at present 40 Christian families found refuge at their relatives’ homes within his parish. After visiting a majority of them, he reported that all of them are needy and living in very difficult conditions.

All displaced Christian families are struggling with severe weather. They are without power and basic necessities. They need emergency assistance such as food, foam mattresses, blankets, heating fuel and medications.

Christians are concerned about the repercussions of the events taking place in the region. They fear that the experiences of Iraq and Lebanon — which took place against the backdrop of a civil war — could play out again in their own lands. These concerns haunt the Syrian Christians, and have only been exacerbated by the death of more than 200 Christians in Homs as a result of the violence in the area, where the only victims have been civilians. It was reported that Christian residents of Hamidiya had been stopped from leaving Homs by anti-government forces, and were forced to evacuate their homes in the mosque to use them as human shields for protection against government troops. Further, the Virgin Mary Church, one of the oldest churches dating back to the early Christian era, was attacked by terrorists on 24-25 February. The surrounding commercial area, mainly owned by Christians, was also attacked. The same pattern that emerged in Iraq is now playing out in Syria: Islamic militants are now kidnapping and killing Christians.

At present, the priority of the local church is to help the displaced Christian families in Lebanon and inside Syria. Displaced Muslims are supported by Muslim NGO’s (mostly religious and Salafi institutions) and are receiving substantial funds from Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Christians are finding refuge with Christian communities where none of the Arab aid is available. The church is their only hope.

CNEWA is in the process of raising funds to assist some 260 families inside Syria and in Lebanon in coordination with Caritas Lebanon, which has already started providing some necessary items such as blankets to some families, regardless of religious affiliation. Click here to help!

It is worth mentioning: the Lebanese government has adopted a policy of remaining unbiased to the conflict in Syria. Accordingly, it is allowing demonstrations and free speech for both sides, without discrimination.



Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees Middle East Christians Relief

2 December 2011
Issam Bishara




Sister Jocelyine visits the cows that help make their projects self sufficient.

Issam Bishara is vice president of the Pontifical Mission and regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt.

We have just returned from a field visit to the village of Jabbouleh, about 50 miles from Beirut, northeast of the Bekaa governate and close to the Syrian border. There, the Sisters of Good Service operate a school, an orphanage and, to generate income, a cattle farm.

Reaching the institution, we met Sister Jocelyine and Sister Maria. We were impressed by their work, which offers care and love to the poor children of the Bekaa by providing them with food, clothing, shelter and education. Not only do the sisters do a great job, but they are creative in finding ways to cover their expenses — including running their farm, which was originally established to provide dairy products to their children at low cost. But later on, as the production increased and diversified, their market expanded, boosting income and assuring that the institution would be sustainable. They now manufacture and sell cheeses, jams, pickles and dairy products.

As we left the sisters, we were reminded of the challenges faced by the sisters and so many people in Lebanon. We encountered dozens of protestors who had blocked the road with burning tires to object to the rising price of fuel. We were cut off. The highway was completely closed, surrounded by burning tires and the angry shouts of men. We had no choice but to take a risk. We pulled the car off the road and drove through a ploughed field until we could safely reach the highway, and from there make our way home.

The sisters are hoping to get 10 more cows, since the 15 they have now are aging and producing less milk. Let’s hope the cows have it easier getting to Jabbouleh than we did leaving it!



Tags: Lebanon Sisters Poor/Poverty