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By: Mari Barboza, Catholic Relief Services (CRS)
A couple of days ago my mom called me. She had seen the image of Aylan, the drowned Syrian boy whose photo has captured the attention of the world, and was affected by it because Aylan looks like my toddler son Will. This heartbreaking tragedy became more personal for me this summer when I traveled to Jordan and Lebanon as part of a Catholic Relief Services (CRS) delegation, where we witnessed the work that CRS and our local partners are doing to help Syrian refugees and those displaced by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
My visit with CRS changed my perceptions of the Middle East. In the media, we only see chaos and violence. However during the trip, we learned that the situation is much more complex than what the media portrays. What’s more, we learned about the difficulties the refugees face. Some of the refugees come from educated, middle-class families, but had to leave their comfortable lives behind because they feared that they would otherwise be killed.
In these difficult circumstances, we saw many people rise above the situation and perform extraordinary service. Our partners, the Caritas staff in Jordan and Lebanon, were some of the most professional teams I have seen. What sets them apart is a profound sense of mission.
They are not simply meeting immediate needs of food and shelter, but they’re helping these people deal with trauma. They’re also contributing to a culture of tolerance and peace . The Good Shepherd Sisters, with the support of CRS, work with refugee children in a village in the Bekaa Valley that borders Syria.
Sister Micheline, who directs the center told us: “Before, the kids were throwing paper on the ground. Now kids are cleaning the playground. We are teaching them respect for each other, and how to live together peacefully and how to respect others.” She also told us how the community was involved. “This village suffered 300 deaths in the war with Syria, but the community has accepted them (the refugees).
People have opened their land. We are working with local government to create respect.“ The sisters and the local Lebanese volunteers will have a lasting impact on the lives of these children. They are mutually transforming the Lebanese communities affected by the war, and are creating new paradigms of respect and tolerance.
After this experience, thinking that this situation does not affect me is not an option. After our return to the United States, a Syrian teacher at the center, wrote me this note: “Many thanks for your visit to my people from Syria last Tuesday. Your visit gave them a lot of hope that someone is interested in their situation in Lebanon and thinks of them from afar. Your gesture of love touched my heart profoundly, that you would put your lives in danger and come here to listen to and help the people who suffer in this war.”
I invite you to join me in a response: Praying for refugees, contributing financially, if you are able, advocating so their basic needs are met and that they have fair treatment. Finally, if they come into our country and our communities, let’s welcome them. Aylan could be my Will, he could be your son or grandson or nephew.
By Peggy Weber
Photos courtesy of Catholic News Service
This week I have a few concerns.
One is that I have eaten too much ice cream this summer and gained back the weight I had lost in order to look “good” for my daughter’s wedding.
Another is that I need to organize my Tupperware cupboard.
I also want to exercise more, pray more and be a better person.
How lucky am I!
Just listing these things makes me feel ridiculous. I know a healthy lifestyle is important but right now God is saying, “Seriously, Peggy! Look around you!”
God is right, as usual.
I am struck, most especially by the refugee crisis in Syria and Afghanistan that has spilled into Europe.
On August 27, 59 men, 8 women and four children — all refugees believed to be from Syria — were discovered in the back of an abandoned truck in Austria. Police believe they suffocated and had been dead at least two days before they were found. The smugglers had left the truck by the roadside with those seeking a better life locked inside.
Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna,president of the Austrian bishops’ conference, said, “Such refugee suffering should awaken us, like a bolt from the blue, to the need for more generous attitudes and courageous decisions. The joint handling of the refugee tragedy in the face of such inhumanity is a test for European values.”
“My sympathy is with those who’ve suffered this imaginably agonizing death, and I cannot find words for the contempt for human life shown by the traffickers,” the cardinal said.
And just yesterday, I stared at a picture of a young child who drowned while his family attempted to reach the Greek island of Kos. It is reported that thousands of people have died as they flee their violent and war-torn homes.
Turkish media identified the boy as three-year-old Aylan Kurdi and reported that his five-year-old brother had also met a similar death. Both had reportedly hailed from the northern Syrian town of Kobani, the site of fierce fighting between Islamic state insurgents and Kurdish forces earlier this year.
We cannot ignore this suffering.
What can we do? Pray. Pray. Oh, and Pray.
We also can provide financial support to Catholic Relief Services and other agencies who support refugees. We can see what we can do for refugees in our own area.
I will cut back on my ice cream consumption. I will try to exercise more. However, most especially, I will look around each day and thank God for the life I have and try and figure out how I can do more for others.