Tag Archives: Caritas Syria

Caritas Syria aiding Chrisitian families from Maaloula

By Caritas Syria staff

For Syria as a whole, the last few days have been extremely difficult.

Since the current unrest began, Syria has been threatened by armed rebels within the country and, for the last month, has suffered the interminable nightmare of the threat of a possible military attack from without.

However, the particular threat faced by Christian communities is coming to the surface. We have seen this both in the missiles that have rained down upon the ‘Valley of the Christians’ – “Wadi El Nassara” and in the kidnappings of priests and civilians from these villages. Maaloula is the latest and one of the most serious examples.

Malaloula, this tiny, ancient village, a symbol of Christianity, where most of the inhabitants are Christians…which has existed for over 2000 years….on whose soil numerous Saints have traveled or lived….considered an important place of pilgrimage….where the language of Christ, Aramaic, is still spoken…..home to the tomb of Saint Takla, the first female martyr of Christendom who lies in the convent that bears her name….and where the oldest Christian altar in the world can be found in the convent of Saints Serjios and Bakhos.

This small, peaceful village, recognised by the United Nations as a World Heritage site, has been invaded by armed rebels of the Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Nusra Front) who have committed crimes against the civilian population and sacrilege in the churches and convents.

Fear of clashes between these rebels and the National Army has forced the inhabitants to flee the village in haste and to seek refuge in neighbouring villages or in Damascus, thus adding to the number of displaced people in need.

Since Caritas had already helped some families from Maaloula, we were able to communicate with them and discover where they are now living. And through their intermediaries, we have also managed to contact other displaced families and now know that most have found shelter with their immediate families or more distant relations. This, in turn, has placed a further burden on those who have taken them into their homes.

We have begun to provide aid in the form of assistance with rent, food baskets, mattresses and blankets and hope to increase this in the coming weeks so as to respond to their urgent needs and offer all the help possible.

As no early end to the current situation is in sight, indeed, it could continue for months to come, Caritas Syria is in the process of planning and studying other projects aimed at assisting those families still living in Maaloula as well as those displaced from here and other regions, especially now that the school year has begun and winter is not far away.

In the hope that the situation will not get increasingly worse, and in response to the appeal by His Holiness, Pope Francis I, we count on the prayers of the faithful throughout the entire world for peace in Syrian and the East.

Communiqué de Caritas Syrie  Continue reading

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Who will save my beloved Syria?

A boy drinks water from a burst water pipe in Aleppo. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman

A boy drinks water from a burst water pipe in Aleppo. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman

Available in French

By Bishop Antoine Audo, S.J., President of Caritas Syria

One evening while the electricity was down, I took a walk in the popular area of ​​Tabbalé in Damascus. In the small dark streets, people passed each other by, their flashlights in hand. It’s a popular area, where Christians, the poor from every region and people from rural areas mix.

I said to myself: here is la Syrie profonde, the essence of the country, here is our civilized Syria, our beloved Syria in the words of Pope Francis. What is left of that Syria? Who will save it from violence, poverty and crisis?  Who will help us regain our dignity?  It’s this dignity, this determination, this sense of citizenship that leads us to respect for the other and advances the cause of peace and reconciliation.

The economic crisis has affected all of society. The rich have become middle class, the middle class are poor, and the poor are destitute, many reduced to crime for survival. Continue reading

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The tragedy of everyday life in Aleppo

Life in Aleppo is a daily struggle of insecurity, hunger, lack of electricity, water and education and health services. Credit: Creative Commons

Life in Aleppo is a daily struggle of insecurity, hunger, lack of electricity, water and education and health services. Credit: Creative Commons

By Bishop Audo of Aleppo, Caritas Syria President

For two years Syria has been pulled apart by conflict. Violence and anarchy have become widespread. We have become conditioned by tragedy.  Our minds and hearts have been constricted by fear and by caution. But I do my best to keep my heart and eyes open to what is happening.  And I’m pained by the terrible poverty I see.

A few days ago, I was walking in Souleimanié, a Christian quarter in Aleppo. People were surprised to see me walking alone. Immediately they feared that I might be kidnapped. The kidnappings of two priests and two bishops have traumatized many Christians in Syria.

As I walked, I saw four children in their early teens sitting around a table on the pavement playing cards. They were the children of merchants. They no longer go to school but just send their time playing cards. A few metres on, I see another young teenager collecting money from passengers for a trip in a minibus.

It’s a shock to think that millions of Syrian young people now do not go to school anymore.  I’d estimate that in Aleppo, four out of five children have given up going to school. Parents are too exhausted that they no longer can properly lookout for their children.

Education has become a luxury. A life of petty crime often the only option for the poor.  It’s a huge waste. It’s a huge mess. Chaos and poverty surround us everywhere.

In the heavily populated residential area of al Miassar, there has been no water or electricity for three months.  What can one do during the winter evenings? People resort to candles, but they cost money that we can ill afford.

One man I know in Aleppo bought a small second-hand generator so he’d have electricity. He runs it at night, but can only afford to keep it going for a couple of hours every other day. He and his neighbours must also find enough money to pay for another generator to pump water from a nearby well. They fill cans and carry 25 litres of water back to their apartments. People usually live on the uppers floors.

I know a young couple with three children, aged three to ten, who live like this. Their children no longer go to school but roam the streets in winter rain or summer sun. Such poverty isn’t unusual, its common place, affecting 80 percent of people in the city.

For Caritas, there is no question of giving up. We must stand up together, organise ourselves, train, meet and agree a way forward. Our plans to help the poor will always find the proper response. Our work must be inventive. Charity will always find a way.

Tragique vie quotidienne à Alep
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Eye witness accounts of the war in Syria

Children wait to collect water in Aleppo April 2, 2013. Around Syria, water shortages are worsening and supplies are sometimes contaminated, putting children at increased risk of diseases. REUTERS/Giath Taha

Children wait to collect water in Aleppo April 2, 2013. Around Syria, water shortages are worsening and supplies are sometimes contaminated, putting children at increased risk of diseases. REUTERS/Giath Taha

By Caritas staff

These last three days have been particularly difficult and deadly in Aleppo.

Caritas works in the Jabal Es Saydeh quarter with families who have been forced from their homes. But it is now empty of all its residents, driven from their homes by heavy fighting.  The local sheikh was murdered. He had opposed the armed groups. He was beheaded and his severed head displayed for passersby to see.

Homes have been occupied by fighters and used as advanced firing positions. Bullets and bombs rain down ceaselessly on Jabal Es Saydeh and adjacent neighbourhoods.  Snipers dominate the city. They’ve moved into areas previously thought safe before.

Christian parts of the city which were thought safe have become the front line.  Families have had to flee from place to place looking for safety.  Aleppo has witnessed a major wave of people, both Christian and Muslim, leaving because they no longer feel safe or protected.

There is no electricity for hours even days. No water or telephone. We don’t even know where to bury the dead as to go to the cemetery is too dangerous.

Easter saw a huge number of people coming to the churches. There was no place to sit for many, so they stood. Many feared that the large crowds or the churches would be targeted, but a special protection enveloped us all.

Paques à Alep

Ces trois derniers jours ont particulièrement été difficiles et meurtriers. Continue reading

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Caritas Syria President urges dialogue to end crisis

Bishop Audo at his church in Aleppo in October 2009.Matthieu Alexandre/Secours Catholique

Chaldean Catholic Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo in Syria and head of Caritas Syria has been in France for meetings with Secours Catholique (Caritas France).  He spoke to François Tcherkessoff.  Here is an edited version of the interview (translated by Caritas Internationalis).

What does the Church leadership say about the recent events?

The three patriarchs of Damascus from the Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Syrian churches urge dialogue, an end to the violence, a reform of the State to allow greater freedom, democratic elections. Some Christians fear the unknown with the possible rise of religious fundamentalism as in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt and so defend the regime. Continue reading

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Delivering aid inside Syria

A makeshift refugee camp in Lebanon about 30 minutes from the Syrian city of Homs. A Syrian refugee called Walid speaks to a Caritas social worker about the situation there. He has a gun wound to his leg. He says he was shot by a sniper. His friends used petrol to cauterise the wound because he says he would have been killed if he went to the hospital and ambulances could not reach him across the front line. The wound is still painful. He is taking some old clothes in the plastic bags (pictured) to try to sell them for medicine. Walid is one of the few Syrian refugees willing to speak on the record. He describes being arrested, made to sleep in a cell with 170 other men, being stripped naked and having burning plastic dripped on him. Photo by Patrick Nicholson/Caritas

Selim* has been working for Caritas Syria in Aleppo for three months helping people with food and other aid.

He says Aleppo has been hit hard by the economic crisis in Syria. The conflict and international sanctions have led to high levels of inflation and unemployment across the country. Caritas helps poor families and especially the elderly with food. Programmes are just getting underway, and so far they have helped 120 families and 45 elderly.

Selim says Caritas is also able to send aid to the conflict-hit city of Homs. The city has been a centre for the opposition. Heavy fighting over control of the city between the opposition and the government began twelve months ago and climaxed in March 2012 with a major government offensive. Continue reading

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Syrian church calls for an end to cycle of violence

A Syrian refugee in Bekaa, Lebanon. His family has recieved food, heaters and blankets from Caritas. Photo by Patrick Nicholson, Caritas

By Patrick Nicholson

The Catholic Church in Syria has made this powerful statement on the crisis there, where daily violence continues to have a deadly toll and more people are crossing the borders to neighbouring countries.

The statement is in French. It’s calling for an end to the violence and especially all forms of intimidation such as kidnappings and assassinations. It supports the humanitarian mission of UN Envoy Kofi Annan and especially the need to demilitarise the streets.

The Syrican church says in the statement (my translation), “The violence has gone beyond the limit and we can only forcefully urge wise minds to come to their senses and abondon all that is destroying the people and the country.”

The Syrian church is saying it stands in solidarity with all Syrians as they seek a dignified life. It supports the reform process, the need for a democratic and pluralistic society and the urgent need to start negotiations and bring an end to the cycle of violence through dialogue.

Meanwhile, the work of Caritas continues in Syria and with refugees in neighbouring countries. In Lebanon, the mobile clinic of Caritas Lebanon, with a full time certified nurse and occasionally a doctor on board, is touring the different places in the Bekaa on a daily basis making 15-minute stops to give access to basic patient care and medicines to those in need.

That’s just part of the Caritas Lebanon response. Caritas Lebanon has distributed over 400 food kits, 2800 hygiene kits, 100 baby kits, over 1200 undergarments, 100 heaters and 2800 blankets and sheets.

In Jordan, Caritas has been issuing vouchers helping Syrian refugees to receive infant formula and nappies from a Caritas affiliated pharmacy in Mafraq. So far, 30 needy Syrian families have benefited from this assistance. This comes as part of a plan that seeks to deliver this assistance to 200 infants for six months.

More refugees continue to come across the border, with their heartbreaking stories. Children in particular have been affected. According to the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria, 1,089 children – boys and girls alike – have been killed so far, and 464 wounded.

But sadly funding to help them is not coming in despite the real needs of people who have witnessed terrible suffering.

Here’s the Syrian Church statement.
Final Report of the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy in Syria Continue reading

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